Challenge: Missguided's success is built on its ability to deliver a fast, seamless experience for its customers, but intense sales days meant they would have to prioritise traffic to keep their website running.
Solution: Claranet migrated around 170 servers into AWS within six weeks (twice as fast as intially expected), moving the whole system onto a completely different architecture, removing all bandwidth and availability issues and putting in a place a new disaster recovery system.
Result: On intense sales launch days every single order can be taken as it arises, with no need to deploy their queuing system or to delay any order processing. The only challenge is whether they have enough product to fulfil the orders.
Missguided is a ‘rapid fashion’ multi-channel brand, aimed at the 16-25 female market. Started from scratch in 2008 by Nitin Passi, who still owns 100 per cent of the business, it now has turnover in the hundreds of millions. It has enjoyed rapid growth in the UK and has subsequently expanded its operations into Australia, France, USA, Germany, and Spain. The company’s long-term mission is to transform the successful medium-sized business into a global fashion brand.
Missguided has achieved its rapid growth off the back of a strategy that is rooted in speed and agility. Its target audience has a taste for the latest fashion trends and makes purchasing decisions spontaneously, with most orders on Missguided’s websites being for next-day delivery. Missguided’s success is built on its ability to offer a lot of fresh styles – it replaces approximately 25 per cent of its range every month – and to deliver a fast, seamless experience for its customers.
Part of its go to market strategy has involved the launch of collaborative fashion lines and flash sale events, which can create a rapid upsurge in traffic and orders. John Allen, CTO of Missguided, commented on the implications of this strategy for the infrastructure arrangement:
We launched a collaborative range with fashion and beauty influencer Carli Bybel on 19th July 2016. Carli tweeted to announce the range and we immediately experienced 47 times normal peak traffic in a four minute period. Clearly that sort of load is unprecedented and the site couldn’t cope. We had planned for this, and were able to activate our visitor prioritisation system, limiting the traffic to 20 per cent. The site didn’t fail because we were stopping traffic but it meant that we were effectively holding people back; customers were not as satisfied, and in some cases they were very dissatisfied. When you’re pursuing a high-octane growth strategy driven by intense days of sales, this impacts the whole business.”
When Missguided met Claranet, the retailer was working with a provider utilising a traditional hosting model from a single data centre. With ambitious goals for global growth, this arrangement was no longer suitable: Missguided required scalable and flexible infrastructure that could grow with the company and seamlessly accommodate sudden surges in traffic and orders on the website.
Given the frequent surges in traffic, we needed a highly scalable and reactive system that would rapidly respond to our promotional events. We recognised that a cloud solution hosted in AWS would address the load, flexibility and adaptability issues. AWS recommended that we talk to Claranet, an AWS Premier Partner who had seen through similar transitions on our technology stack, which includes Magento. We quickly found that Claranet had a very good story to tell, with real world case studies, which clearly demonstrated clear understanding of the platform. They also had the specific expertise and skills necessary, and a common understanding of what a business like ours needs to be successful.”
Initially, the Missguided team wanted to accomplish the transition within 12 weeks, but key product launch events subsequently drove them into making it happen a lot faster. Claranet managed to complete the migration in half the time, migrating approximately 170 servers into AWS within six weeks, and moving the whole system onto a completely different architecture. All bandwidth and availability issues had been designed out of the solution and the single points of failure were removed. A new disaster recovery system was also put in place.
When the Claranet team flipped the proverbial switch at 1 am on a Thursday night, they ensured that they had the means in place to combat any potential incidents rapidly and effectively. Claranet’s ongoing support system monitors memory usage, CPU usage, and other relevant metrics. Should these metrics reach a certain value, the system automatically raises and reports an incident.
Moreover, Claranet worked with the Missguided team to build automated bots that simulate the user journey, interacting with the website. Should any of these interactions fail, an incident service automatically kicks into action. With this proactive approach to management in place, Missguided can pursue their high-octane growth strategy with confidence that their IT infrastructure can support sudden surges in traffic.
The benefits of the new solution for both Missguided and its customers were immediately obvious. Carli Bybel and Missguided made a commitment to relaunch their collaborative range almost immediately after the first launch sold out. The whole process was re-run on 25th August on the new AWS system, with an almost identical upsurge in traffic (around 45 times normal peak load). This time, however, the system was able to take every single order as it arose; there was no need to deploy the queueing system nor to delay any order processing. Within a few minutes it became clear to the Missguided team that the new system was stable and could cope with whatever was being thrown at it. Allen commenting on the new system, said that “the only challenge we had then was whether we have enough product to fulfil the orders – and that’s a great problem to have.”
The migration to AWS has also allowed Missguided to move onto the Amazon Aurora database engine, taking its maximum database throughput from 2 million transactions a minute to well in excess of 5 million. This has had a direct effect on revenue, as it allows the website to take all orders without avoidance during its critical high-intensity moments. Moreover, the previous platform suffered from very high latency, resulting in regular overnight down time. With Aurora, this is no longer necessary. For a business model reliant on the freshness and immediacy of the product, these extra hours of trading daily are vital – and Missguided have already seen the benefits, especially in the US, New Zealand and Australia.
Claranet’s dedication to getting skilled people onsite to understand our requirements and ensure the migration process went well was impressive. I've done a number of these over the years, around 14 at my last count, and although there were issues this was definitely the slickest data centre move I've ever done. The work they’ve done to move us onto a scalable platform has had a direct impact on the focus of the Missguided team. I now have time to focus on wider strategic business projects rather than constantly working out how to support the website during a range launch.
As a result of a successful transition, with the help of Claranet, we have already started deploying new trading platforms and back-office systems in AWS. To scale up used to take us anything between four and six weeks to add in servers. We can now do that in literally seconds. Claranet were able to take us on that journey and they’ve got a lot of experience in that area. We've now reached a point where strategically we've decided to push as much as possible onto the AWS platform, preferably everything one day, and Claranet are continuing to help us to do that. This relationship has really moved the business forward and it's set us up for something much bigger in the future."