Case study: vWork relies on the cloud to support customer growth

Scale and customer growth does not scare the small ICT team at vWork, which has tapped the IaaS services of a global provider for business gain

Auckland-based cloud workforce scheduling provider vWork is expecting massive growth in the near future, including a doubling of staff by the end of the year.

"One of the driving factors for our business is that we are starting to see growth in the US market. We recently entered into a partnership with a large trade services provider in the US called Angie's List. They were searching for a scheduling product that they could use for despatch and they selected vWork late last year," says Jonathan Hoskin, infrastructure architect at vWork.

"We are expecting massive growth in the business. We need more people to develop, write, test and manage code. The basic model of our business is that as our user demands increase our infrastructure has to scale in a straight line," says Hoskin.

Scale always presents a challenge for small business. It involves going back, looking at the technology in place, planning for future feature sets and inevitably could lead to not just more work but also more capital infusions.

However, Hoskin is not too worried about that.

"We know we will get the scale we want. We have been working with Rackspace since 2010, and regardless of how big we get, if we want more servers we get it. Rackspace is many times larger than we need them to be. So we have confidence in being able to scale as we need to," says Hoskin.

Though entirely confident now, the situation wasn't always so. When the company started out in 2008, all ICT was kept in-house.

"My background is in server hosting and management, and back then we owned all our servers. We had them hosted in a data centre in Auckland," says Hoskin.

However, the team soon realised that the writing on the wall for vWork was to head towards being a true cloud product.

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"If we were to become a true SaaS player then the amount of scaling that required made it unsustainable for us to run our own equipment. We would have to pay a considerable amount for bandwidth and hosting as well. The cost factor alone would not scale," says Hoskin.

Driven by business needs, the team began looking for a reliable infrastructure-as-a-service provider.

"We looked at a couple of cloud vendors in New Zealand, but at that time there was nobody really doing that kind of high-level cloud hosting locally. The final choice came down to Rackspace and Amazon Web Services (AWS). We looked at both and considered a lot of factors, including cost and the effort involved in using the solutions.

"Even though it was cloud-hosted we wanted to have hands on approach to managing infrastructure and we found that Rackspace was the most amenable to that. The cost-value proposition worked in favour of Rackspace as well," says Hoskin.

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vWork's infrastructure is entirely hosted out of Rackspace in a multi-tenanted model, including a disaster recovery site. The company uses safeguards for protecting its data and restores production data daily to a staging environment. This way the disaster recovery strategy is tested on a daily basis.

The move to Rackspace has helped the small business cut costs and improve efficiency in operations, even as it has picked up customers around the world, including Europe, US and Asia Pacific.

"The only real ongoing cost for our overall ICT investment would be the monthly operation cost of running with Rackspace. We are constantly looking at those numbers based on scaling and user growth.

"We do a lot of modelling to understand the growth that we expect to see. We know that every n number of customers that we add results in requiring more compute resources or storage every x number of years. We run the business like a tight ship and we know that every user costs us a certain amount of dollars and cents. It works well for us. We have modelled that out as far as we can see, and Rackspace will continue to scale nicely to it," says Hoskin.

However, Hoskin cautions that the team constantly evaluates everything it does and invests in to keep on top of the business.

"We are quite an agile business in not just the technology that we use but everything. We are constantly questioning. We are so small that we can't considering anything to be standing still. We are always assessing everything we do. This includes how we host our apps as well as the individual parts of the app," says Hoskin.

Being a SaaS provider means the team has to worry about deploying and productisation on a daily basis and, according to Hoskin, they are still working. The company has made its deployment general enough that it can run on any cloud or hardware provider, and has optimised the deployment such that all a client needs is only a browser or a smart device.

Being a provider themselves, the team values seamless service above all else, and Hoskin believes Rackspace has come out on top through every evaluation cycle.

"Rackspace support is stunningly good. We just find that we can’t go anywhere else and get the same level of support. As demand for our product picks up, and our need to scale increases, it is likely we will continue to stay with Rackspace," says Hoskin.

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