Olery CTO: We are a 100% cloud company
Delivering business intelligence to the hospitality industry, Olery’s transition from a startup with a headcount of three to a 20-person company in just two years required an IT setup that could scale as it evolved. As a result, the company turned to the cloud for everything from service delivery and product development to sales, marketing and productivity, according to Wilco van Duinkerken, Olery’s chief technical officer.
Olery is an Amsterdam-based provider of a software as a service which offers businesses in the leisure and hospitality industry insight into their online reputation. The company gets updates from hundreds of review websites for the hotels it monitors and aggregates all of those reviews, providing a certain amount of textual analysis on top of that, presenting the information back to hotel managers and hotel group managers in an easy-to-tailor dashboard accessible via any web browser.
Van Duinkerken says the company needed to find IT solutions that worked for a small team of developers without a particularly high capital expenditure that could scale as rapidly as the company grew, which is part of the reason why Olery decided to go 100 per cent cloud – something few organisations have been willing to do.
“We made the choice to have no on premise solutions at all, so whatever we do we will find a cloud solution for it,” van Duinkerken says. “I don’t want any system administration in-house, and the moment you have something connected on premise you end up spending so much time doing system administration tasks,” he added.
“The second aspect is that most of these cloud services grow with you as a company. At the beginning we were three people, so you can use the free versions or the light versions of products and try them out without having to invest much, but as the company grows, so do the services,” van Duinkerken says.
The SaaS solution in addition to the company’s own infrastructure for internal purposes both run on Amazon’s cloud, and Olery partnered with 9Apps (the guys who literally wrote the book on setting up and managing resilient and reliable architectures on AWS) to implement the company’s architecture, which can rapidly scale from 30 to 1500 machines. It uses New Relic to monitor applications, and Air Brake to monitor application errors and crashes.
Van Duinkerken says that the company has been fortunate not to have had any significant issues with the cloud services Olery uses, but suggested the few the company has had have been very valuable learning experiences overall.
The company initially had some issues with Air Brake. When it scaled up its virtual servers to around 300 machines it had an API failure, but the system failed to stop processing. “So we were scaled up and had 300 machines re-trying every single second, calling this API to get reviews out of the system. It looked more like an attack than normal behaviour really, but that’s what happens at scale… It taught us to be more secure in the end,” van Duinkerken, adding that the company has since implemented more robust procedures for dealing with these kinds of issues.
But van Duinkerken says one of the biggest benefits associated with going 100 per cent cloud started to become clear when Olery began using FoxWeave, a cloud-to-cloud integration service to link up certain transactions between Salesforce.com, Gmail, Unbounce and Wufoo. Without something like FoxWeave, this kind of integration can be fairly complex.
“We have a relatively small development team which is focusing very hard on getting the next new hotel feature up for the service, so they didn’t have much time to devote to what Sales and Marketing were asking them for,” van Duinkerken says. “They asked to use FoxWeave to link everything up themselves, and it turned out to be very successful. It enabled them to perform their own IT function, hooking everything up together with Foxweave, and it allowed IT to focus on developing the next feature for the service,” he added.
“If you want to talk about management buy-in, this is pretty much the best you can get – have the people do it themselves,” van Duinkerken says.
At the moment the company is expanding rapidly and sooner or later, Olery’s MongoDB cluster won’t be enough to handle the plethora of reviews – between one and two million daily, not to mention the social media integration – that the company needs to crunch through in order to offer the service. Van Duinkerken says he is actively exploring Hadoop and other big data technologies that will help keep Olery at the forefront of providing insights to the leisure and hospitality industry, but “with the extra complexity you get the challenges so far outweigh the benefits,” van Duinkerken says, adding that the company will likely have to adopt a new database architecture by the year’s end.
With everything being stored in the cloud Van Duinkerken said that the company had to adopt a fairly strict security policy, though he believes security is down to the people – perhaps more than the cloud systems themselves.
“We have to select services that are very secure, but more importantly we want people to have complicated passwords, password managers and so forth. The security’s really in the people,” van Duinkerken says, adding that anyone who is caught violating the company’s policy on password sharing more than twice has to buy dinner for all twenty staff members.
“From a risk perspective, it’s far harder to get into our 37Signals database server and much less likely than it is to lose a password, or even for someone to break open my door and steal my computer or the CEO’s computer,” van Duinkerken says.
Above all, van Duinkerken is excited about the possibilities enabled through emerging cloud services and technologies. Though it’s rare to see any business move 100 per cent into the cloud van Duinkerken says the company’s IT setup undoubtedly offered some significant benefits to the business – particularly by allowing IT to focus on generating new functionality for Olery’s Saas offering, and enabling Sales and Marketing to leverage cloud in order to make them more effective.
“I think it’s pretty cool that Sales and Marketing can make these services work for them without IT even getting involved – even slightly more technical things. That’s the beauty of where the cloud is heading and what it’s enabling us to do,” he says.