Powering UNiDAYS' international expansion and rapid business growth with AWS Best Practice

The Challenge.

UNiDAYS provides a fully managed service to power and promote its brand partners’ student discount programs both online and in-store. Over 70% of all students in the UK use myunidays.com to gain significant discounts from the most relevant brands in fashion, music, electronics, food & drink, and magazine subscriptions.

With its website and app growing rapidly in the UK, UNiDAYS quickly expanded into the United States, Australia, Ireland, Denmark, New Zealand, and Germany with further global expansion plans for 2016 and beyond.

As well as running business operations, the founding team built and hosted the service on AWS themselves. Following early success and exponential growth, the infrastructure became stretched as it tried to keep up with such rapid expansion.

To ensure that UNiDAYS’ infrastructure was able to keep pace, they engaged Nordcloud to help them assess their existing environments against AWS Best Practice. In addition they were keen to ensure that their team retained the best practice knowledge and were able to quickly implement required changes following the engagement.

The Solution.

Nordcloud’s Best Practice Labs, which are closely aligned with the AWS Well Architected Framework, allows teams to receive best practice training using an environment they are already familiar with, their own.

During the Lab, Nordcloud sat side-by-side with the UNiDAYS team while evaluating their entire infrastructure against Security, Performance, Reliability and Cost Management best practises. Where items already met best practice, this was highlighted to ensure that the whole team had the knowledge.

Where areas for improvement were identified, Nordcloud discussed the various options and, drawing on our knowledge of implementing these across hundreds of projects, the pros and cons of each. Working with UNiDAYS, each was evaluated against their business requirements to ensure that the solution to be implemented best suited their business.

Once the most appropriate change had been chosen, Nordcloud worked with UNiDAYS to help implement it in at least one of their five AWS accounts, so their team would feel confident in completing the tasks once Nordcloud had left site. Examples included:

  • Setting up cost alerts for non-prod accounts.
  • Configuring cross-account user access so that UNiDAYS had a centralised point of user access management.
  • Enabling CloudTrail, archiving logs to Vault-Locked Glacier & alerting on CloudTrail Logs (e.g. for root account login).
  • Ensuing services were balanced across availability zones, using RDS Multi-AZ or AutoScaling Groups.

In addition Nordcloud spent time with UNiDAYS developers, testers and operations staff helping them understand how they could release software updates faster and more effectively. A continuous delivery pipeline was whiteboarded to ensure that all the companies requirements were captured, before discussing the different methods of deploying changes (e.g. Green / Blue, Rolling Updates). Discussion was also had around how much should be included within a ‘Golden Image’ vs. how much should be installed as part of the bootstrap.

During the Labs UNiDAYS gained a lot of best practice knowledge and we provided the framework for them to go ahead and optimise their AWS infrastructure. Following the Labs, Nordcloud compiled a detailed report that covered everything that was discussed, with each topic mapped to the relevant best practices. The options that were presented to help transform their account to best practice, along with the details of the selected options were, also included within the report leaving UNiDAYS a document which included a prioritised roadmap of required changes to meet best practice.

The Results.

By working together, the UNiDAYS team were able to fully optimise their AWS infrastructure whilst freeing up their time to focus on core business operations. The team is confident in the security and scalability of their platform and they’ll gain cost-savings from the use of auto-scaling groups. Once the continuous delivery pipeline is up and running they’ll also get software updates deployed quicker. For their end-users the UNiDAYS website is faster, has a higher-uptime, and is more secure.

Our collaboration continues as UNiDAYS’ trusted advisor and we also provide capacity with enterprise support.

"Improving efficiencies and ensuring we’re set-up to deal with rapid business growth, and further expansion to new countries is vital. For us, the Cloud is a key factor in this. We would recommend working with Nordcloud to any organisation who need help with the Cloud. The team was easy to engage with and we were really happy with their depth of knowledge and competence with Amazon Web Services. They took the time to understand our business objectives and were able to match them with bespoke technical solutions."

Tom Peach-Geraghty
Head of IT Operations, UNiDAYS

About the Company.

UNiDAYS provides a fully managed service to power and promote its brand partners’ student discount programs both online and in-store.

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