Because we’re using AWS, we can approach new markets knowing that if we get the response we hope for, we’ll be able to expand our infrastructure in a matter of minutes.
Ryan Birkin Director, Simfy Africa

Simfy Africa has been providing music-streaming services in South Africa since 2012. Its customers gain access to a global music library of more than 32 million songs through devices such as smartphones, tablets, and computers. Users can choose songs and create playlists, allowing them to stream music via the internet or by downloading it to their devices to listen at any time. Wholly owned by mobile entertainment company eXactmobile, Simfy Africa services are available in South Africa, Nigeria, and Angola, with a number of other countries expected to go live soon.

Growth is high on Simfy Africa’s agenda. “Our plan is to launch across Africa and the Middle East, with a music-streaming model that’s geared towards existing mobile subscribers,” says Director Ryan Birkin. When Simfy Africa launched this initiative—partnering with telecoms operators to offer music directly to mobile customers—hundreds of thousands of consumers signed up in a matter of months.

Simfy wanted to replicate this project with other telecoms operators across Africa, but the Simfy Africa team knew it had to look beyond its on-premises infrastructure to support the growth in subscriber numbers this would generate. “We were constrained by our hardware,” says Warren Le Roux, project manager at Simfy Africa. “Our biggest concern was scaling up to cope with new additions to our subscriber base quickly and without significant capital expenditure. We wanted a secure, reliable environment, with reduced latency to give customers fast access to music. Like most startups, we have a lean operations team, so an environment that required minimal management was another major driver for us.” 

Certain its future success could best be supported by the cloud, Simfy Africa evaluated a number of providers before deciding on Amazon Web Services (AWS). “Financially, and with regard to our in-house skills, it made sense to move to AWS. AWS has comprehensive worldwide coverage, which we will be using as we expand,” says Birkin.

The planning phase lasted about two months, but when it came to the actual migration, it took just one day for the four-person team to migrate to AWS. Simfy Africa currently uses the US East (N. Virginia) Region to store artist and album images in Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), but the majority of its infrastructure runs in the EU (Ireland) Region across multiple Availability Zones (AZs) to ensure high availability.

The Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (Amazon VPC) and AWS Identity and Access Management (IAM) help to create robust security. “Before, our application servers were essentially open to the world,” says Birkin. “But by working in our Amazon VPC and controlling access to resources through IAM, we have better security.”

Through careful monitoring of its environment in the month after migration, Simfy Africa identified the best Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances for its workloads and the most effective way to distribute resources using Elastic Load Balancing.

Birkin says that Amazon CloudWatch has provided an invaluable monitoring tool that has “empowered staff” by allowing them to view performance metrics and tweak configurations to ensure operations run smoothly.

Simfy is in the process of testing serverless compute service AWS Lambda, “to build even greater efficiency into our processes by creating a microservices architecture,” says Le Roux.

“We’re at an exciting point in our company’s evolution,” says Birkin. “And because we’re using AWS, we can approach new markets knowing that if we get the response we hope for, we’ll be able to expand our infrastructure in a matter of minutes.”

“We’re saving money on AWS too,” he continues. “Take scaling, for example: with our optimized Amazon EC2 instances, our five-year projections showed AWS being 27 percent more cost-effective than our existing self-managed hosted solution.”

Latency is often a big issue for businesses across Africa. With a service that relies on reliable, fast access to music, Simfy Africa is pleased to be working in the AWS Cloud, benefitting from a 71 percent decrease in latency compared with its on-premises setup. Birkin says, “Pre-AWS, network latency was at around 70 milliseconds, but now it’s less than 20 milliseconds. We’ve been very impressed with this aspect of our infrastructure on AWS. It’s made a real difference to the user experience. Access to information such as track and artist details is faster, but most importantly, the speed with which users can load songs has improved. This is great for our customers.”

Downtime and hardware failure used to be constant worries for the team. Now, “uptime isn’t a concern at all. We’re confident our AWS environment is sound and we can provide a great service round the clock,” says Le Roux.

Using AWS, the operations team at Simfy Africa now has more time to work with key telecoms operators to bring its music streaming service to a wider subscriber base. Birkin says, “With increased automation and all the AWS tools that save us time, the operations team can focus on integrating our technology with telecoms operators across Africa. It’s helping us deliver something new to customers and pursue our ambitious growth plans.” 

Learn more about how AWS can help build your digital media service in the cloud.