Sqills uses AWS and New Relic to keep up with its rapid growth
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Founded in 2002 in Enschede, a city in the eastern part of the Netherlands, Sqills' aim from the start was to fill a need in the public transportation industry by providing off-the-shelf booking and seat reservation software for rail and bus operators. Within just 10 years, Sqills is well on its way to becoming the worldwide product leader for public transportation sales, reservation, and distribution software.
At the heart of the company’s success and continued rapid growth is its sales and distribution platform, S3 Passenger. Sqills designed the platform to reduce costs, increase revenue, and improve customer experience by replacing the bespoke proprietary systems that used to dominate the industry. At the same time, they also built S3 Passenger to take advantage of a SaaS delivery model and the scalability and agility of the cloud. Recently, this meant migrating S3 Passenger from a local cloud provider to Amazon Web Services (AWS) to meet the company’s goals of global expansion—a journey supported by New Relic, which Sqills has relied on for years to monitor its all-important application performance.
Pinpointing the root cause of performance issues
Today, Sqills has an international footprint, and a customer base that includes such transportation giants as the high-speed railroad operator, Eurostar; the European bus service, Blablabus; the national rail transportation operator of Ireland, Irish Rail; the French high-speed railroad operator, Ouigo; and the UK public transportation service provider: Rail Delivery Group.
Sqills S3 Passenger platforms handle vast amounts of transactions each day, so Sqills must ensure optimal performance of its platform at all times. “Our platform is mission-critical for the companies that utilize it,” says Joost Doevelaar, communications officer for Sqills. “Any amount of unavailability or performance degradation means that no tickets are being sold. That situation is simply unthinkable.” Patrick Wolbert, operations manager at Sqills, agrees: “Because booking a reservation is such a time-sensitive matter, people are not going to complete the transaction if they have to wait too long for the system to respond. That’s why we need to make sure we're doing everything possible to optimize the purchase process.”
Application and infrastructure performance dashboards that everyone can understand
This was hard to achieve without a system-wide performance monitoring solution. “It was challenging to pinpoint the root of any arising performance issues based on the information we were getting from the CPU, the memory usage, or hard disk usage alone,” Wolbert says. “We needed a way to make performance more transparent, and we found it in the New Relic monitoring platform.”
Today, the entire Sqills organization uses New Relic to gain round-the-clock, system-wide visibility into application and infrastructure performance. Employing a DevOps model in which developers are responsible for the performance and operation of the code they create, the Sqills development teams have set up New Relic monitoring for each microservice that makes up S3 Passenger. The advantages are clear.
“For example, we’ve connected New Relic to Slack so that alarm triggers are communicated and can respond to a tool like PagerDuty,” Wolbert explains “That way, if something is happening, New Relic will send out an alarm to an on-duty engineer from our DevOps team who can respond to the problem. There’s even an escalation layer, consisting of me and another colleague. This means that if things go bad, we can communicate that information directly to management on the customer side.”
But it’s not just the development teams that rely on New Relic. Nearly every Sqills employee has a New Relic account, and New Relic Insight dashboards are on display throughout their offices. That way everyone can get an at-a-glance glimpse of S3 Passenger’s performance at all times. “I am not a technical person,” says Doevelaar. “But New Relic makes application performance visible to me. It makes it easy to see what’s going on and how business is developing. And if somebody like me understands it, that means there are a whole lot of people who are far smarter than me technically who are already taking steps to correct any problem that I might see. That kind of visibility ensures that, as a company, we are constantly aware of what’s going on. It's impossible to surprise us.”
Migration to the cloud with AWS, made easy
Determined to maintain its position as a worldwide market leader, Sqills began looking beyond its local cloud provider for a global cloud provider that could support its goals of global expansion. “If we want to service customers around the world, we need to be able to demonstrate that we have the global reach to do so and the technical expertise to constantly improve our product without disrupting the daily business of our customers,” Doevelaar says. “That’s why we began migrating from our Netherlands cloud provider to AWS a little over a year ago.”
Wolbert concurs: “Although our cloud and data center provider is well-known in the Netherlands, this was not the case in other countries. It makes a big difference for us to be able to say, ‘We host stuff at Amazon’ because everyone knows Amazon. Add to that Amazon’s compliance with security standards like PCI DSS [Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard] certification, and the move was even more of a no-brainer.”
With the migration to AWS nearly complete, the transition couldn’t have gone more smoothly, thanks in large part to New Relic. Already accustomed to using New Relic to monitor the performance of every S3 Passenger instance, the Sqills team simply took the platform along when it migrated to AWS.
“Since we’re monitoring the performance of our product 24/7 with New Relic, we have several KPIs that we’re constantly measuring,” Wolbert says. “If we perform the migration itself, which takes approximately an hour per platform, and performance remains unchanged, we know that the migration has been a success. We’re constantly looking to see that API calls are responding within a certain amount of milliseconds—and New Relic conveys this information directly to the development teams responsible for that part of the product.” Sqills also used New Relic to evaluate their code for provisioning infrastructure servers and configuring server redundancy, all of which they rewrote for optimization within their AWS environment.
Support during daily deployments
Sqills immediately identified improvements to address in its application thanks to New Relic, but to this day, the company continues to reap benefits from the platform. “New Relic provides a graphical overview of performance that’s accessible to everyone,” Wolbert says. “As a result, we saw a steep incline in the quality and performance of our application as soon as we started using New Relic, and we continue to use the platform today to search out and address weak spots.”
The DevOps teams at Sqills deploys daily. They rely on New Relic daily to see the impact of those changes and spot problems long before they surface for customers. According to Wolbert, it’s this kind of New Relic-inspired awareness that links the entire company to its common mission: “Even though each DevOps team is working on its specific component, we all share the information that New Relic provides, which means that everyone has a sense of whether we’re moving in the right direction, and what to do if we aren’t. That leads to the biggest benefit of all: a faster time to market for product improvements and features,” says Wolbert. “The proactive monitoring provided by New Relic means that our developers are spending less time troubleshooting and more time delivering products—improving the quality of our platform far more quickly than they would be able to without New Relic.”