Longtail UX is an Australian SaaS startup that boosts traffic to e-commerce sites by automating the selection of relevant long-tail search terms and the creation of custom landing pages for each of those terms.
The company has fully embraced the Infrastructure-as-Code approach, according to Troy Jendra, senior systems architect at Longtail UX.
“Ansible was a breath of fresh air,” confessed Jendra. It makes it easier to write configurations, and uses fewer CPU cycles because it does not need to run continuously. He explained that Terraform’s role is to spin up sufficient infrastructure so Ansible can run.
A recent project added support for CJK (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) characters to Longtail UX as part of a push into the Asia market, and that made it necessary to clone part of the infrastructure. Thanks to Ansible and Terraform, that task was easy to perform and completed in just half an hour. Thus, Longtail UX brought the new capability to market more quickly than would otherwise have been possible.
Ansible and Terraform together form “a cornerstone of our disaster recovery plans,” said Jendra. Fully automating recovery to improve on the current worst-case time of a few hours would take more time and effort than justified.
Apart from that, “it’s important to automate as much as we can,” said Andreas Dzumla, Longtail UX co-founder and CEO.
Avoiding Vendor Dependence
Even though Longtail UX runs on AWS, a deliberate decision was taken to avoid the vendor-dependency that would come from using AWS-specific services, such as AWS CloudFormation, in place of Terraform.
For the same reason, the company keeps things as simple as possible and sticks to AWS basics, such as EC2. It has recently started using Spot Instances to reduce the cost of running certain batch processes.
Jendra keeps a watching brief on AWS Lambda, and while the company does not currently have a use case he does see a time when it will jump from EC2 to Lambda.
“We’re pretty locked into AWS,” he admitted. However, the company uses AWS-specific services only where the benefits clearly outweigh the lack of portability. He likened the situation to 1990s attitudes toward using Microsoft-specific technologies.
The adoption of Kubernetes is not on the cards due to the relatively small size of Longtail UX’s DevOps team.
“We’ve doubled the size of our development team in the last six months,” said Jendra. It now comprises seven developers, a project manager and himself.
Dzumla expects it will double again in the next 12 months.
Jendra predicts that improvements to Longtail UX’s development stack will make it easier to on-board new hires.
“We currently utilize a Vagrant/VirtualBox dev stack (hooked into the aforementioned Ansible configuration), but find that very rough around the edges, and I only see it get worse as more attention is focused on Docker,” said Jendra.
DevOps is a philosophy, not a role, he emphasized. “Either everyone is doing DevOps or it doesn’t work.”
Fortunately, that understanding goes to the top of the company.
“Everyone needs to pitch in,” said Dzumla. “We do a lot of things that haven’t been done before, so we need senior people who don’t merely expect to do what they’re told.”