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Travel publisher has its IT head in the cloud

When Lonely Planet adopted the Agile methodology, it realised it was hard to build a physical data centre in an Agile manner, so it switched to the cloud - more specifically, to Amazon Web Services.

Using programming techniques to build cloud-based infrastructure was initially laborious, said Lonely Planet online platform manager Darragh Kennedy (pictured above).

"We took our time and built it properly" so it could be repeated quickly as necessary. The company's build and development environments were the first to be moved to the cloud, and when it came to the production environment, "we soaked it in for quite a while before we cut over," he told iTWire.

This 'infrastructure as code' approach was an important part of Lonely Planet's adoption of the devops philosophy in 2009.

Systems can now be assembled in about 10 minutes. "For the first time ever, we can experiment with our infrastructure" to find the sweet spots.

If a product is successful or there's a sudden peak in demand, we scale it up; if it isn't, we switch it off, Mr Kennedy explained.

AWS's geographic coverage means the company can locate its systems in the most appropriate places. For example, lonelyplanet.com is in the US, but the editorial platform runs in Australia.

AWS "is definitely cheaper," he said, but the more efficient you become, the more you use it. "But with the price cuts... we haven't had to worry." (AWS has reduced prices 45 times since 2006, according to AWS vice president of worldwide field operations Mike Clayville.)

Mr Kennedy told iTWire it was easy to control costs with AWS. For example, there are almost immediate alerts if something untoward occurs, so there's no nasty shock when the bill arrives at the end of the month.

The transparent pricing and pay-as-you-go model means there's no lengthy negotiation and no need to obtain senior executive approval before trying a new idea. And the time and effort that previously went into three or four-yearly hardware refreshes can instead be put into making improvements to the products and systems.

One piece of advice Mr Kennedy offered people considering AWS was that it is important to get the architecture right: "You can't just forklift a traditional application."

"We really took our time and we didn't take shortcuts." The result was efficient and "marketing resilient applications" - that is, they are able to scale up and down smoothly when a campaign leads to significantly greater than normal use.

All of Lonely Planet's web-based systems run on AWS, he said, and while the company has a 'cloud first' policy for corporate applications (SaaS products in use include Google Apps and XenDesk) there are still some on-premises systems.

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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.