Published By: John Moore

Photo Taken By Gideonwills44 (own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d1/Data_Center.jpg

Admittedly, this post is going to be a bit of a commercial for Amazon Web Services (AWS),  but I think it is important to reflect on and illustrate how far the industry has come in supporting Software as a Service startup companies to deliver on their mission. While there are many options in the hosting as a service or cloud computing field, Amazon has delivered something that is a tremendous improvement over the way we used to set up an application hosting environment.

AWS lets LifeShare focus on what we do best, develop software to enhance the communication between residents, family members, and senior living facility staff. As a small company, any cycles spent not pursuing that mission show up as increased expenses and lost revenue opportunities.  A true startup company such as LifeShare is able to cut the time to market considerably, greatly improving the chance for success.

At the risk of dating myself, I remember when spinning up our application environment meant purchasing the hardware, transporting the hardware to the hosting center, installing the hardware in your secure cage in the data center, and then configuring the hardware to run our applications.

Managing your own hardware came with its own set of encumbrances:

  • You needed dedicated, specialized, hardware personnel,
  • Each server was set up manually, so there was a risk of inconsistently setting new servers up,
  • With self-purchased hardware, you had to plan for migrating to the next generation of hardware at some point – Moore’s law made machines obsolete in a 2-3 year period,
  • Remote management of servers was sketchy and often you had to be in front of the physical hardware to properly troubleshoot or reconfigure things.

Here is an excerpt of an actual conversation I had back in the day at a previous company when we had our hardware hosted with what we thought was a reputable hosting firm (who shall remain nameless). We could not access one of our servers with the remote management tool and needed one of the technicians at the data center to walk to where our server was located physically and troubleshoot the problem.

Tech #1: “I am at your server and it appears that the remote management tool is hung up and needs to be restarted.”

Me: “So, will restarting the remote management tool affect our application that is running on that server?”

Tech #1: “Not at all.”

Me: “You are 100% sure that this will not affect our application?”

Tech #1: “Yes, I am sure.”

Me: “Go ahead then.”

Tech #1: (after a brief pause) “Uh oh!”

Needless to say, we moved our servers to a geographically closer hosting facility soon after that incident, but we still had to dedicate a lot of resources to keep our application environment running.

With LifeShare’s servers hosted with Amazon Web Services and we reap the benefits of the rapid evolution of the cloud computing business. AWS offers us many benefits:

  • All of our servers are spun up with a set of scripts that are programmed to make sure all the proper software is installed and configured correctly every time we start up a server,
  • We are able to purchase the right sized hardware for the job with which each server is tasked and seamlessly migrate to more current hardware when needed,
  • We can spin up additional server instances, but we are not charged if we keep those instances dormant. This capability allows us to have some “spare” servers ready to be instantly spun up if we need the additional burst of processing capacity,
  • There are built-in monitoring and performance statistics available for us to monitor how our servers are performing as we add more and more clients,
  • We have more control over our monthly hosting cost budgeting through upfront payments for hardware and real-time monitoring of our data usage.

We recently had a valuable experience that underscored how much better off we are than the hosting model of the past. We noticed that after our last software release, certain types of servers were struggling to process requests. It was apparent to us that we had introduced something in our code in the last software release that was taxing those servers. To buy us time to troubleshoot, I literally executed 5 mouse clicks and we spun up an additional server to help handle the load. We were able to minimize the impact our code bug had on our clients while we developed a patch to fix the problem.

AWS provides a tailorable, scalable, consistently reproducible hosting platform that truly let’s LifeShare focus on delivering quality features and services to our clients. As with any quality resource, I find myself asking, “How did we ever get along without this?”