PaaS implementation makes great story for Movellas

Virtual impression of cloud services

London-based Movellas is a community website where people share short stories and poems they have written. Readers of the stories offer feedback and can interact with the authors through the Movellas site.

Set up almost four years ago, the Movellas platform (applications and website) was originally hosted with a local Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider in Copenhagen. The Movellas development team was responsible for building the systems and on-going maintenance of the infrastructure. The systems are based on Linux and Unix.

Over the last 3-4 years, Movellas has grown – today it has about 1.5 million web and app users and over 70,000 stories accessible on the site. Originally hosting the Movellas platform with an IaaS hoster saved it from having to invest time, money and resources in building out their own IT infrastructure. However, with IaaS, the Movellas team still had many of the maintenance activities – loading up software, middleware, etc. Movellas wanted to focus development time on improving/extending the applications: not on maintaining IT infrastructure.

Magnus Kvalheim, chief technology officer at Movellas, learned about Platform-as-a-Service offerings and thought a PaaS service could help. The company has no hardware – intentionally. They wanted to save the time and investment that would have been required to build out their own infrastructure.

However, Kvalheim felt he and his team were spending too much time on IT maintenance activities. He wanted to empower his developers to develop and deploy the Movellas applications. He didn’t want them to spend time constantly maintaining the computing infrastructure and began to explore PaaS options. He thought that PaaS might provide the ability to quickly and cost-effectively build and deploy new applications.

“We see a lot of value in cloud offerings like Amazon Web Services (AWS),” says Kvalheim. “It’s reliable and easy accessible. Easy to setup, configure and provision. Once you have data and services running in the cloud – it’s only natural to also look for ways to run apps close to that data and services.”

Making the right PaaS

Movellas looked at a variety of PaaS services before choosing CloudBees including OpenShift, Elastic Beanstalk, RightScale and Jelastic. In each case, there seemed to be a drawback for Movellas’ needs. Some of the PaaS providers required fairly extensive changes be made to the Movellas applications in order for them to run on the platform. Some were in beta and not production-worthy. Others were difficult to configure and required a lot of maintenance.

Movellas then evaluated CloudBees and found that it provided the right functionality for the company’s requirements. The Movellas applications are written in Java, and with CloudBees focused on support for JVM-based languages, the CloudBees Platform was a natural fit. Movellas found the service to be flexible, easy to use and easy to configure.

No application changes were required to be made in order to run existing applications on CloudBees. Additionally, the Movellas team found deployment with CloudBees to be a fast, simple process. The development team is striving to deploy frequent, small sprints – constantly enhancing and improving the user experience. For example, one such enhancement was adding the ability for a user of the site to export a story to pdf. Whenever Movellas developers complete incremental functionality, the enhancements can be deployed to production on the CloudBees Platform in a click.

According to Kvalheim, “What is really cool is that we can make modifications in an afternoon, deploy them on CloudBees and have them instantly running in production.”

Movellas was also a long-time Jenkins Continuous Integration (CI) user. Jenkins, the open source platform, supports agile development and is used around the globe. Movellas wanted to continue to use Jenkins. Again, CloudBees had a good fit for their needs. On the CloudBees Platform, the development services provided in DEV@cloud are Jenkins services

Movellas could continue to develop the way they always had, now using Jenkins in the Cloud on the CloudBees Platform.

The service

Movellas operates a Java-based set of seven applications, using a Tomcat container on which to run. The systems are Linux- and Unix-based. The firm is using both CloudBees development services (DEV@cloud) and deployment services (RUN@cloud).

“Because the Movellas applications are developed in Java, deploying the application to CloudBees was painless,” says Kvalheim. “We use DEV@cloud (jenkins) and successful builds can be automatically deployed and provisioned to run services.”

The first application to migrate to the CloudBees Platform was the image service. This is the database of images (user profile images, book covers, etc.) used on the Movellas site. Images are stored on S3 (Amazon’s storage service) served from CloudFront - with CloudBees as origin server. They are processed and served up in real-time. It took Movellas staff one morning to migrate this application to the CloudBees Platform.

Realising value

Movellas wanted ease of use for developers. The team didn’t want to have to spend time constantly maintaining IT infrastructure.

"CloudBees removed a lot of the barriers to developers so they could focus on development – therefore, unleashing a lot of creativity in them,” says Kvalheim.

He says that his team doesn’t have to spend three to five hours configuring a new instance. “A developer can have an idea, build a prototype or even a fully functional piece of functionality,” he says. “He can make full use of AWS and CloudBees integrated services without breaking a sweat. Fire up an instance when needed, then shut it down when no longer necessary. This is the value provided from the instant on/instant off elasticity of the cloud.”

Movellas also found the service to be very cost efficient. The low cost of the CloudBees Platform, coupled with a huge developer productivity boost, translates to big savings for Movellas.

Kvalheim also says that deployment was fast and easy with no arduous, time-consuming process to think about. "CloudBees provisions instances very easily. For the developers, on a daily basis there are a lot of things they no longer have to even worry about – upgradability, scalability (can instantly add nodes to their cluster) and deployment to additional machines. It is so easy to add incremental functionality and deploy it,” says Kvalheim.

Ecosystem services provide instant developer access to more services. In just a click or two, Movellas is able to tap additional services from CloudBees Partners, such as MongoHQ (database), Papertrail (log management) and New Relic (performance monitoring). An example of the value of the ecosystem: Log management is important for understanding what is going on within the Movellas application, particularly when errors occur. Yet the logs generated are voluminous and hard to correlate. When Movellas ran into issues with its image application, the company needed more details in order to resolve. Using Papertrail to help them analyse logs, they were able to trace the issue and resolve it.

Next moves

Kvalheim says that Movellas will continue to improve and innovate to give customers the best possible experience on Movellas. Also, the company wants to empower developers by having a frictionless infrastructure. Many of these services will be running in the cloud on CloudBees.

“It’s an on-going process where the Movellas applications are enhanced and extended on a continuing basis,” says Kvalheim. “Having a complete infrastructure running on AWS is appealing – and CloudBees is the preferred partner in order to make that happen.”

“We think CloudBees is a great way to build, deploy and run apps on top of AWS. Two of seven applications are in production on CloudBees. We consider CloudBees for all new applications – and existing services/applications that may be better suited in a cloud (AWS) environment.”

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.