Spark Networks SE is the second largest dating company in the U.S. Formed from a merger between Affinitas GmbH and Spark Networks Inc. in 2017, the company is headquartered in Berlin, Germany, with offices in New York City, San Francisco, and Lehi, UT. The company's dating apps include Zoosk, which they acquired in July 2019, EliteSingles, Jdate, Christian Mingle, eDarling, JSwipe, and SilverSingles, among others.
“Following the merger with Spark Networks Inc., we had nine brands across various technology platforms,” explains Benjamin Hoskins, CTO at Spark Networks. “We started building out a new platform to replace all of these and realized we couldn't continue to run what we had on the current data center setup.”
Spark had been beset by long and repeated data center outages due to outdated hardware and multiple services running on the same physical servers with little virtualization or isolation. This prevented the operations team from detecting and resolving issues effectively.
“The data center that we were in wasn't fit for purpose,” Hoskins says. “Data, for us, is a main driver for business success and we couldn't even guarantee that it would be available. It made zero sense for us to run our business that way, so I proposed that we move our platform into the cloud.”
Most of Spark’s dating sites are based on the Affinitas web platform, which is a 10-year old Java system with too many stored procedures (which means that it wasn’t suited to the cloud). Replacing it was a long-term project, but Hoskins was keen to migrate operations to the cloud as quickly as possible. “We knew AWS was going to help us launch new products in a more efficient and cost-effective way,” he explains.
In December 2017, Spark decided to revive one of its old brands, which would be the first new product to be delivered via AWS. SilverSingles catered to people age 50 and over, and the plan was to relaunch it in six countries (the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Australia).
Hoskins explains, “Previously, when we launched a new brand, it would take roughly five weeks per country to launch because the old platform was based on a hardware configuration that required an instance per country. Relaunching SilverSingles on our old setup would have taken the best part of six months.”
With AWS, Spark rolled out SilverSingles across six countries in just 30 days, cutting release time by 300 percent. “We didn't have to order new hardware, or predict the capacity we would need in a year from launch, or negotiate more space in a data center, which you need to do if you're running your own hardware,” says Hoskins. “We were relieved not to have to deal with nonsense like that.”
The launch was, as Spark predicted, a roaring success. Within three months, SilverSingles constituted for 15 percent of all registrations in the portfolio.
Hoskins says that another key benefit was the fact that developers are well-versed in using AWS. They understand the architecture and know how to configure things correctly, so they can focus on what was critical.
“Using AWS has become just like breathing for developers. They don't even notice it,” says Hoskins. “They don't need to command line into a system to read a lot of configuration and understand how to configure and launch something. They also don't have to worry about when capacity is going to change. They can just focus on creating value, such as adding new brands to the platform.”
Spark Networks enlisted the help of Storm Reply, an AWS Partner Network (APN) Premier Consulting Partner, to help with its cloud migration. Experts from Storm Reply worked onsite with Spark’s migration and operations team to help implement a reliable, secure, and cost-efficient environment.
“One of the most important tasks was to familiarize Spark with the new cloud culture and to help them to adopt new processes that are better aligned with cloud technologies,” says Danilo Albino, managing director at Storm Reply. “The result was great. Not only from the technical point of view, but also because Spark adopted a completely new culture of automation, cloud-native, and DevOps methodologies.”
In addition to improved time-to-market for new products (quicker with the launch of SilverSingles), there were other benefits that came with the shift to AWS, most notably in how fast websites are now loading.
“Our previous page response times were taking between three and five seconds,” Hoskins explains. “After we moved to AWS, load times dropped to about a second. In some cases, we saw a 75 percent drop. It was amazing.”
The Spark Networks tech team has seen an overall decrease in downtime across the whole network of brands, which has never been so low. “Over the last month we had zero customer-facing downtime, which is a new record for the team - I even bought them all t-shirts when we got past 30 days,” Hoskins says. “There have been no customer outages while we shipped new features like the changes to our psychological profiling questionnaire and that's never happened before. It’s a combination of the team’s work on better test automation and more reliable monitoring, along with better underlying infrastructure from AWS.”
Storm Reply is an APN Premier Consulting Partner and a specialist for professional cloud computing services in the Reply network. Its goal is to use the cloud to create added value for midsized and large companies and to help them to utilize its full potential.
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