Missguided overcomes flexibility issues with AWS

Woman shopping online

Missguided, a multi-channel fashion brand aimed at female consumers aged 16-25, was recently forced to migrate to the cloud when peaks in traffic caused by social media collaborations and other campaigns meant a traditional hosting model from a single data centre was no longer fit for purpose.

A partnership with consulting and managed services provider Bashton Claranet in mid-2016 helped the company complete the transition within six weeks, rather than the planned three months, migrating approximately 170 servers to Amazon Web Services (AWS).

John Allen, CTO of Missguided, told IT Pro: "Peak planning was everything, it was all about how you would get through the next hump whether that was from a sale or Cyber Weekend or whatever. The business was really struggling in terms of scalability as a platform, and for a variety of other reasons. It wasn't just about having enough infrastructure, it was also about whether the platform even worked properly.

"What we were seeing was a need for growth, and the business was growing very rapidly at around 50% year-over-year. Scaling up wasn't a problem, it was dealing with the way marketing was driven almost entirely by social media."

These events in the calendar would cause short-lived but huge spikes in traffic, rather than sustained loads. Collaborations with celebrities or social media influencers would force the site to process ten transactions a second for 15-20 minutes, or a spike of 47 times normal traffic, before quickly calming down to a normal rate once again.

To cope with this, the system activated a visitor prioritisation system, which limited traffic to 20 per cent in order to ensure the site didn't fail completely.

"We needed to be able to deal with those acute spikes, and then turn down the volume in terms of capacity," Allen continued. "The logical thing for us to do was not look at other data centres, but look at cloud providers.

"So basically we were looking for a cloud provider that could give us a high degree of growth at an economy scale. In the end we need to do it efficiently, but also have the capability to ramp up very, very quickly to cope with enormous spikes."

Allen quickly narrowed down potential choices, eventually opting for Amazon Web Services over Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud: "Very quickly we got down to what the two best options for the PHP/Magento environment and AWS was one frequently referenced as not just a suitable platform, but an ideal one. It was clear that they were massively bigger than anybody else in the market."

After asking AWS to set them up with some reference calls with companies such as Superdry and Liverpool FC, Allen made the decision for Missguided to partner with Claranet on the project.

Allen said: "It was very important that we had the buy-in of the ecommerce team and the CEO. Ecommerce were very involved in the process, and the CEO backed the move completely. Then the finance team were there to support us in terms of the transition cost and in order to do this efficiently we left our contract with our previous hosting provider slightly early, rather than adding risk to our business by waiting until the very end."

On Claranet's involvement, Allen added: "Moving platforms is about technology change, but the technology change is always managed by people. One thing I didn't have internally was the right people with the right skills and I was absolutely adamant about getting to the point where we are masters of our own destiny, looking after ourselves.

"That said, we're not looking to be world-class experts, because we're not likely to see the types of broad challenges that a company like Claranet would have working with many, many clients. It's important that my internal team is part of the bigger team and they get to learn and are nurtured."

Now, rather than putting customers in a virtual queue during periods of intense traffic spikes, every single order can be processed. This has a direct impact on revenue simply because of the improved user experience.

"My head of ecommerce told me a good infrastructure move should be completely invisible and I think there's a lot to be said for that. Did customers notice? The answer is no, not really ... the significant thing the customers noticed was availability of the site under pressure.

"When we moved to AWS, although the pages didn't load noticeably faster, what was noticeable was we could open the floodgates and nothing would happen. We could take every single order."

By mid-2017, Allen said, there will be no single server infrastructure left anywhere in the network, with the company to become entirely cloud-based from the internal office to the website.

Caroline Preece

Caroline has been writing about technology for more than a decade, switching between consumer smart home news and reviews and in-depth B2B industry coverage. In addition to her work for IT Pro and Cloud Pro, she has contributed to a number of titles including Expert Reviews, TechRadar, The Week and many more. She is currently the smart home editor across Future Publishing's homes titles.

You can get in touch with Caroline via email at caroline.preece@futurenet.com.