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SmartNews, Inc. Improves Its News App Browsing Experience By Reducing App Loading Time on AWS By 50%

2021

Delivering pleasant experiences to global users and strengthening medium to long term engagement with the users

SmartNews, Inc. operates the news app “SmartNews” under its corporate mission, “Delivering the world’s quality information to the people who need it”. At end of August 2019, the total number of its active users exceeded 20 million, and the total number of downloads exceeded 50 million, in Japan and the U.S combined.

Smartnews, Inc. released the U.S. version of “SmartNews” in 2014, as the company always aimed for worldwide expansion since its foundation in 2012. In 2018, the company was ranked as the 10th best source of driving customers to the media in English-speaking countries; in the same year, the number of U.S. users grew more than 5-fold year-on-year, making SmartNews one of the major news apps in the U.S. The company has 6 development sites in Japan, China, and in the US, and the organization’s services continue to expand globally.

Previously, the backend system supporting “SmartNews” operated only in AWS Tokyo region, resulting in a time lag of few hundred milliseconds for U.S. users browsing the news. “In order to provide pleasant experience to all our users and enhance user engagement, we needed to reduce server response time.” says Mr. Kai Inokuchi, who is responsible for the management of SmartNews’ Backend team.  

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With strong support from AWS in moving to a multi-region architecture, we were able to reduce the average response time of News API by more than 50 percent and complete the first phase as planned. We will continue to work with AWS to fully complete the migration.”

Mr. Youlin Li
Vice President of Engineering, SmartNews, Inc.

Access improvements with AWS global services and multi-regionalization of Japan and U.S.

Efforts to improve web traffic access from U.S. started at the end of 2018. SmartNews, Inc. explored multiple solutions, such as delivery from edge locations by content delivery network (CDN) or Geolocation Routing configuration using Amazon Route 53 for DNS, and as a result, came to consider multi-regionalization, which allows access to the system to federate. This led them to adopt the global service, AWS Global Accelerator.

“In SmartNews, news is customized and caters to each customer; therefore, the company has been experiencing challenges in caching hits. Using CDN for the purpose of caching seemed to be ineffective, and DNS was also not suitable, as it had issues with cache switch-over time and network speed. AWS Global Accelerator, on the other hand, has the shortest path to reach edge locations, and is able to provide routing to the best region depending on network topology. High-speed AWS global network can be used for the path from edge to endpoint, and even in the event of a failure, we are able to flexibly switch over to a different routing,” said Mr. Inokuchi.

However, when accessing systems deployed in multiple regions and referencing database (DB) and cache, it is necessary to distribute data to each region to maintain data integrity between Tokyo and overseas. The company adopted Amazon Aurora Global Database for its DB, which allows it to replicate Amazon Aurora used in Japan to multiple regions. SmartNews, Inc. aggregated data writes in the Tokyo region and placed read-only clusters in the international regions. As for distribution caching, it adopted Amazon ElastiCache for Redis Global Datastore. Likewise, SmartNews, Inc. placed the primary one in Tokyo and replications overseas.

“The online workload of SmartNews is mostly Read, and Write accounts for only a small portion. Therefore, we focused on speed for Read, integrity and ease of operation for Write, and decided to go with Read Local, Write Global,” explained Mr. Inokuchi.

Developed by the global development team based in Japan and the U.S., together with AWS in a one-team structure

After the architecture was designed, its second regional location was built in the U.S. East (Northern Virginia), and a Proof of Concept (PoC) was conducted in June 2020. The system was built in both regions on Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS). An Application Load Balancer was placed on the backend of AWS Global Accelerator and was configurated so that it will route client requests to the most suited region. The response time in the PoC was measured in multiple patterns while changing the configuration of DB and cache. As a result, a reduction up to 95 percent was achieved.

SmartNews, Inc. started building the production environment in September 2020, and went live in October. To minimize risks during migration, it started small by routing one percent of U.S. users to the second region as a first step, leveraging AWS Global Accelerator and Amazon Route 53 Geolocation Routing. Gradually it expanded to all US users by observing measured values, and in November 2020, its third regional location started its operation in the U.S. West (Oregon). Currently, the system is running in a three-region configuration, consisting of Tokyo, the U.S. east coast, and the U.S. west coast.

The project was led by the company's Japan and U.S.-based development team, having close communication with AWS. “We were able to have deep discussions with the SAs of AWS as if they were part of our team, and they gave us insightful information about multi-region architectures and global services. TAM also provided us information and follow-ups on the features in a timely manner, which were very helpful.” said Mr. Inokuchi.

Mr. Simon Wu, a software engineer and a member of the migration project, also commented about the roles and responsibilities shared with AWS. “Moving to the multi-region configuration was a huge challenge for us. By leveraging the right technologies such as Amazon Aurora Global Database and AWS Global Accelerator, the project moved forward quickly. In this migration, AWS played an important role by sharing knowledge, investigating on issues, and developing future plans. We look forward to continuing support from AWS, as this infrastructure supports the growth of SmartNews business.”

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Response time reduced by 50% from before; now expanding from the US to worldwide regions

As a result of moving to a three-region configuration, SmartNews, Inc.’s API response time in the US has reduced by about 50 percent compared to before. It has not suffered performance issues even with high-interest news such as the November 2020 presidential election, COVID-19 pandemic, as well as a four-time-daily push notifications.

SmartNews, Inc. plans to make all its API endpoints multi-regional during 2021. In addition, it also plans to change the management function of user accounts in the common system to a multi-region architecture that authenticates via AWS Global Accelerator to improve the development efficiency between Japan and the U.S.

This migration was a critical work for the company aiming to globalize, and it was essential to minimize the possibility of service downtime.

Mr. Youlin Li, head of engineering, commented that working with the AWS teams, they were able to learn in detail about the technology required in shifting to multi-region. “We also received tremendous support in the validations and development of production migration plans. Amazon Aurora Global Database and AWS Global Accelerator are also running well as originally designed, reducing the average response time of the News API by more than 50 percent, ensuring that the first phase in the process for multi-regionalization was successfully completed. We will continue to work with AWS to fully complete the migration.”

The company looks forward to expansion. “There are tremendous benefits working with AWS when expanding to other markets outside of U.S., since there are many regions available for use. We hope AWS would expand their regions on a global scale, and support the worldwide expansion of SmartNews,” said Mr. Inokuchi.

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Mr. Kai Inokuchi
 Engineering Manager,
Platform Backend, SmartNews, Inc.

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Mr. Youlin Li
Vice President of Engineering,
SmartNews, Inc.

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Mr. Simon Wu
Software Engineer,
SmartNews, Inc.


About SmartNews, Inc.

  • Established: June 15, 2012
  • Business: Development and operation of smartphone applications - primarily “SmartNews”, development and operation of Internet services

Benefits of AWS

  • Reduced API response time for the backend system by 50%
  • Improved multi-region user experience (UX)
  • Built the foundation for business expansion in the U.S.
  • Expand regions at the global level and the roll-out of SmartNews worldwide.

AWS Services Used

AWS Global Accelerator

AGA is a networking service that improves the performance of your users’ traffic by up to 60% using Amazon Web Services’ global network infrastructure.

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Amazon Aurora Global Database

Amazon Aurora Global Database is designed for globally distributed applications, allowing a single Amazon Aurora database to span multiple AWS regions.

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Amazon ElastiCache for Redis - Global Datastore

Global Datastore in Amazon ElastiCache for Redis provides fully managed, fast, reliable and secure cross-region replication.

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Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (EKS)

Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service (Amazon EKS) is a managed container service to run and scale Kubernetes applications in the cloud or on-premises.

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