The retail business is a fierce world of high transactions and low margins. Within this world, e-commerce is particularly competitive; and excellence in online retail requires operational acumen. This is why, when online retailers need an edge against the competition, they turn to technology platforms such as TellApart for assistance.

With its suite of marketing tools—a customer data platform, predictive customer analytics, and a next-generation display ad retargeting application—TellApart helps online retailers identify (or “tell apart”) their best customers and prospects. Online retailers can then use this curated data to send personalized marketing messages to their best prospects. In doing so, retailers can drive substantial growth to their bottom-line.

Although data warehousing, predictive analytics, and customized marketing solutions have all been available independently in the past, TellApart believes it is the first company to bring all of these components together in a cloud-based platform. They’ve also introduced to the market a fresh, innovative business model to online retailing—retailers pay TellApart only when shoppers click through TellApart display ads and actually make a purchase.

Launched in 2009 and headquartered in Burlingame, California, TellApart has leveraged Amazon Web Services (AWS) from the beginning. From the earliest prototype models to their most current deployments, which serve tens of thousands of queries per second (QPS) to hundreds of millions of end users, TellApart has run every major part of its technology stack through AWS. In fact, the company does not run any processes on physical servers.

Co-Founder & CTO Mark Ayzenshtat esays, “Amazon is the only platform that allowed us to address the diverse set of technical challenges, which we faced initially, as quickly as we did with as small an engineering team as we had.” There were many challenges to be met:

  • Serving a large volume and variety of request types with minimal latency
  • Serving a large quantity of retailer product images with low latency
  • Recording logs for all requests, reliably storing them and collecting them from a central repository for subsequent analysis
  • Running a complex batch work-flow of jobs numerous times throughout the day and aggregating the data
  • Scaling up to accommodate sudden traffic spikes initiated by high volume shopping days or new retailers coming online with TellApart’s services

Meeting these technical challenges continues to be very important to the company and TellApart’s implementation of Amazon’s products has been instrumental to its success. The extensive scope of TellApart’s operations dictated an AWS solution that comprised a variety of AWS products:

  • Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) stores accumulated raw server data
  • Amazon SimpleDB stores millions of user property records and retailer product records
  • Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS) stores the logs and provides underlying storage for the HBase cluster
  • Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances are used in four different availability zones for serving ad impressions, real-time bid requests, and user recall site actions
  • A separate cluster of Amazon EC2 instances to run batch data processing, including aggregating user data
  • Elastic Load Balancing (ELB) balances requests across TellApart’s front-end server instances
  • Amazon CloudWatch and autoscaling monitors the server instances and ensures availability
  • Amazon CloudFront manages the retail product images and JavaScript code
  • Amazon Simple Query Service (Amazon SQS) manages TellApart’s proprietary in-house data replication across regions

The AWS products mesh perfectly with TellApart’s operations to meet all of the goals. Co-Founder & CEO, Josh McFarland, relates the following experience: “We’ve run our production infrastructure on AWS since the earliest days of TellApart. To be honest, there were many folks who said we couldn’t build a real-time bidding engine on top of AWS. We’ve proven them wrong, and today, we respond to tens of thousands of real-time bid requests per second, each in under 120 milliseconds.”

Having dismissed the naysayers, TellApart (and its clients) is thrilled with the outcome. As CTO Mark Ayzenshtat explains, “AWS has enabled us to build an infrastructure that is efficient, elastically scalable, low latency, and redundant. AWS is a key partner of ours, enabling TellApart to offer the fastest and most scalable technology in display ad retargeting to our retail clients.”

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