Moving to the Cloud with AWS

Seeking Alpha Moves IT Infrastructure to AWS

Seeking Alpha publishes online content about investment opportunities and strategies. The material it publishes is written by 15,000 independent authors and consumed by more than 7 million unique visitors per month. Headquartered in Israel, the company employs about 130 people.

The Challenge

Seeking Alpha used managed hosting for its platform’s infrastructure. Although the hosting company delivered excellent service, Seeking Alpha decided dedicated hosting was no longer the best fit. One challenge was that the hosting service required annual contracts for servers.

“At Seeking Alpha, we want to experiment and innovate in terms of both content and technology,” says Antony Gelberg, DevOps team leader and a research and development director for Seeking Alpha. “It’s harder to try new things when you have to rely on third-party assistance to bring up new resources and then commit for a year at a time.”

Annual contracts also restricted the company’s ability to scale. “When something exceptional happens—such as the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union—there can be a huge surge in visits to our site, with our users seeking immediate insights into how markets might respond to the situation,” says Gelberg. “We need to be able to handle unpredictable spikes with no impact on user experience, and without paying for those additional resources year-round.”

In addition, Seeking Alpha was spending too much time on maintenance and optimization. “Dedicated hosting on annual contracts is inflexible, and one can't easily refactor dedicated hardware,” says Gelberg. “Our engineers were spending a lot of their time just keeping things afloat.”

Seeking Alpha decided to let its current hosting contract expire. That gave the company about six months to move the foundation of its business onto a platform that would allow faster development and release cycles, eliminate capacity guesswork, and support programmatic configuration management.

“We were glad to see how committed AWS is to innovation, experimentation, and forward movement, because that’s how Seeking Alpha sees itself.”

Why Amazon Web Services

After evaluating other cloud platforms, Seeking Alpha chose to move its IT infrastructure onto Amazon Web Services (AWS) for cost savings and a wider range of options. “The onboarding cost was lower for AWS, and we really liked the broad range of services available,” says Avishag Baruch, the company’s chief technology officer and vice president of research and development.

There was a strong cultural fit between Seeking Alpha and AWS, too. “We were glad to see how committed AWS is to innovation, experimentation, and forward movement, because that’s how Seeking Alpha sees itself,” says Gelberg.

Seeking Alpha started planning the move in September 2015 and completed it in February 2016, with the new AWS solution going live in March 2016.

To host its staging and production web applications, mobile API, and business intelligence tools, Seeking Alpha deployed a solution based on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) instances and Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) object storage. The company uses Amazon S3 buckets to store public website assets and backups. Using Amazon EC2 on-demand elastic provisioning, Seeking Alpha can easily add capacity for unpredictable traffic spikes. For predictable workloads, the company relies on Amazon EC2 Reserved Instances (RI), which can be 75 percent less expensive than on-demand instances. Seeking Alpha is using the third-party Puppet tool to manage configuration of the solution, which also includes Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Amazon Elastic Block Store (Amazon EBS), and Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS).

The Benefits

In addition to upfront savings, the AWS solution supports more cost-effective resource use. “On AWS, we’re better able to tailor costs to needs,” says Ilya Kaplan, architecture team leader and a research and development director for Seeking Alpha. “By using on-demand Amazon EC2 instances, we don’t need to waste money over-provisioning capacity against occasional spikes.”

Another plus was that the move to the AWS Cloud didn’t require significant redesign work, which helped Seeking Alpha beat the six-month deadline for the move. “If we had had to transform our systems significantly beforehand, we might still be waiting to migrate,” says Gelberg. “With AWS, we didn’t have to significantly refactor our application code or database structure first.”

“Now that we are on AWS, we have gone from firefighting to minimize downtime, to almost forgetting what it feels like to have downtime."

Today, the site is much more stable. “Now that we are on AWS, we have gone from firefighting to minimize downtime, to almost forgetting what it feels like to have downtime,” Gelberg says, pointing out that—if issues do arise—AWS provides breathing room. “Being able to add capacity on demand eliminates panic-driven responses so we can fix things right, for better long-term results.”

The company’s engineers also have more flexible design and test capabilities. “On AWS, we can stay agile, design in small chunks, build, toggle back and forth, and never feel locked into specific designs and resources,” Gelberg explains. “The flexibility of AWS means that we can just try things without worrying about whether we are making a bad choice.”

This flexibility aligns well with the company’s development methodology. “Seeking Alpha is focused on growth and moving fast—it’s why we use an agile scrum methodology,” says Baruch. “It’s much easier to push forward with the stable, flexible environment and infrastructure of AWS.”

With that stable, flexible environment, the IT team is no longer in the position of explaining obstacles and can simply deliver what the business needs. “It’s so powerful when the business side comes up with a new vision they want us to build, and we can just do it—no barriers, no limits,” Gelberg says. “On AWS, the platform stays out of the way so our team can focus on doing the right things for the business.”

"It’s so powerful when the business side comes up with a new vision they want us to build, and we can just do it—no barriers, no limits. On AWS, the platform stays out of the way so our team can focus on doing the right things for the business."

Antony Gelberg,
DevOps Team Leader and R&D Director