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Portrait of a maturing AWS startup

Even a startup born in the cloud can quickly outgrow its surroundings. Recognizing the growing pains has its benefits, as one AWS user experienced.

A lot of startups these days are "born in the cloud," and run the entirety of their IT operations in Amazon Web Services. What happens when those AWS startups start to mature and scale? Some begin acting in surprisingly enterprise-y ways.

We are a cloud-first technology company, but we decided we wanted to treat the cloud for what it's really good at …
Weston JosseyTapjoy head of operations

I recently spoke San Francisco-based Tapjoy, whose business is to display ads and other content to users on mobile devices. The AWS startup, which was founded in 2007, serves up over 2 million daily ad engagements from more than 270,000 mobile apps.

For a long time, the infrastructure supporting that traffic was hosted exclusively in AWS, where it runs between 400 and 700 instances at any given time, according Weston Jossey, head of operations at Tapjoy. This year, the company decided to move part of its IT operations away from AWS, to dedicated servers running in a colocation facility.

"We are a cloud-first technology company, but we decided we wanted to treat the cloud for what it's really good at, namely, experimentation, growth, elasticity and for burst workloads," Jossey said. "But we also want to position ourselves with our core infrastructure -- to optimize it, run it as efficiently and as cheaply as possible," he said.

For Tapjoy, that meant moving a portion of its operations to the Equinix DC4 data center facility in Ashburn, Va., about a mile from Amazon's U.S.-East data center. Workloads are split along fairly predictable lines.

"Inbound app server traffic is the most dynamic, and it makes sense to keep it on AWS," Jossey said.

Those requests are fed over a VPN back to the colo, where it runs the applications that answer the question, "What's the best ad to show to this user?" Those include a data warehouse, a Hadoop environment, plus a variety of services running in Linux on OpenStack.

Tapjoy's reasons to invest in dedicated non-cloud resources are as much about operational maturity as they are about cost. As a heavy user of AWS, Tapjoy enjoyed significant discounts based on the number of reserved instances it purchased. Achieving operational maturity requires an in-depth understanding of what makes it tick, and for Jossey, that includes running your own infrastructure.

That said, there are no plans to move entirely out of AWS, even if the company grows much larger.

"At this point, it's pretty clear that operating inside a cloud needs to be part of everyone's game plan, no matter what," Jossey said. To that end, he urges established enterprises to look to the cloud for efficiencies, the same way his company looked to traditional IT for ideas about operational efficiency.

"It's not about one being better than the other; the two together are more powerful than they are apart."

Alex Barrett is editor in chief of Modern Infrastructure. Write to her at abarrett@techtarget.com.

This was last published in October 2014

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