“Bespin is unique in that—as a team—we feel they really care about us and our business … [They have] exceeded our expectations at a highly-competitive price point. We’re ready to take our relationship to the next level.”
– Mohammed Alzughaibi, eCommerce Technology Manager at Jarir Bookstore
Ranked in Forbes’s The Middle East’s Top 100 Companies 2020 and Brand Finance’s Saudi Arabia 50 for 2020, Jarir Bookstore is the market leader for books, electronics, consumer IT products, and office and school supplies across the GCC and beyond. Originally established in 1979 on Jarir Street in Malaz, Riyadh, Jarir has grown from a small store selling used books and art to expats into a public corporation boasting 60 bookstores across Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the UAE.
“When we launched our Magento e-commerce platform, it was hosted out of another AWS Premier Partner’s managed colocation facilities in the UK,” explains Mohammed Alzughaibi, eCommerce Technology Manager at Jarir Bookstore. “But, as a typical, on-premise environment, it had its limitations. We experienced a lot of downtime issues. Sometimes we were offline for as long as three days because of Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) attacks or infrastructure instability. One time we were down for five hours at the beginning of an Apple iPhone pre-order campaign. Not only did it cost us millions of dollars, but our brand image and the level of customer confidence in our online presence suffered.”
For an organization with aggressive plans for growth, it was an unsustainable model. Jarir decided to move to the AWS public cloud and take advantage of its extensive ecosystem capabilities. Having in-depth knowledge of the environment, the incumbent vendor was awarded the migration contract beginning in July 2019. But project delays, downtime, performance and scalability issues, and unjustifiably high billing caused Jarir to revisit their partner strategy in early 2020.
“Because of the issues we were experiencing, we needed a partner located in the same time zone and working the same days (Sunday to Thursday) as we were,” says Mohammed. “Since we couldn’t find a local player with the caliber of world-class services we required, we reached out to AWS. They recommended Bespin MEA because of their regional presence and comprehensive skill set across multiple cloud providers, including AWS.”
During the first month of their engagement, Bespin leveraged AWS Well-Architected to assess Jarir’s eCommerce environment. Based on five core pillars—reliability, security, performance efficiency, cost optimization, and operational excellence—AWS Well-Architected provides a consistent approach for evaluating and building resilient, secure, and efficient high-performing infrastructures for applications and workloads.
Bespin identified several quick wins—such as optimizing Jarir’s web servers’ autoscaling—before focusing on specific areas of the AWS environment to increase stability, scalability, security, and performance, followed by cost optimization and DevOps implementation.
“Little did we know that COVID-19 would test both our new AWS infrastructure and Bespin’s capabilities to the limit,” says Mohammed reflectively. “At the end of March, all 60 Jarir bookstores closed as the lockdown began, just before Ramadan (April 23 to May 23, 2020), which is generally our busiest time of the year.”
“Based on our previous experience,” says Mohammed, “we had very specific requirements for the project. Right upfront, we told Bespin that saving money was not the priority. We were looking for a stable, resilient, and scalable infrastructure to support the business’s demands and goals.”
Configured initially as one autoscaling group with one load balancer creating a single point of failure, one of the first things Bespin did was split the eCommerce infrastructure into two—GCC and international. This enabled Jarir to distribute web traffic and have more control and flexibility of the infrastructure at the application level. The next step was to fix the AWS Auto Scaling for the web servers previously misconfigured and causing delays in scaling in and scaling out. The result had been increased response times and negatively impacted the user experience.
During the assessment, Bespin discovered many complex queries at the database level, increasing the load on the Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS). Leveraging their in-depth knowledge of Amazon Aurora (a MySQL and PostgreSQL-compatible relational database built for the cloud), Bespin optimized and tuned the database queries, tables, and indexing. They also increased the scalability of Amazon RDS, implementing Amazon EC2 Auto Scaling to provide secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud at the database level.
“The Bespin team is incredibly proactive,” says Mohammed, “continuously providing us with ideas and techniques to improve our environment. In fact, I believe their implementation of database autoscaling immediately before COVID-19 was key to our coping with the increased traffic during the pandemic. If it weren’t for Bespin, we probably would have been facing one crisis after another. But once we saw how the system scaled during the first few days, we could sit back, relax, and focus on other projects.”
Despite deploying Cloudflare, a highly-customizable content delivery network (CDN) service, Jarir had a challenge distinguishing genuine traffic during peak times from a DDOS attack. Bespin addressed this limitation by adding AWS Web Application Firewall (WAF) to the environment, protecting Jarir’s web applications and APIs against common web exploits that compromise security, impact availability, and consume excessive resources.
For increased protection and visibility, Bespin also deployed AWS Config (a service enabling users to assess, audit, and evaluate AWS resource configurations), Amazon GuardDuty (a threat detection service continuously monitoring AWS accounts, workloads, and data stored in Amazon S3s for malicious activity and unauthorized behavior), and AWS Security Hub (a powerful security tool aggregating, organizing, and prioritizing your security alerts across multiple AWS services).
“Our internal security practice has always been reactive,” says Mohammed. “Based on the level of trust we have in Bespin’s team, we gave them the green light to implement whatever AWS capabilities they felt could add value and enhance security at the infrastructure level to protect Jarir’s digital assets. The next step is to leverage Bespin’s skills and experience to build a companywide security best practice.”
Challenged with scalability, application log rotation issues, and limited insight monitoring into both application and infrastructure, Bespin recommended that Jarir replace their legacy monitoring tools with something more in line with their AWS strategy. Optimizing performance at the storage level, Bespin implemented Amazon Elastic File System (Amazon EFS), a simple, scalable, and fully-managed elastic NFS file system for use with both on-premises resources and AWS Cloud services.
Bespin also implemented Datadog Application Monitoring. An open platform aggregating metrics and events across the full DevOps stack, Datadog provides end-to-end visibility into on-premises and cloud environments, enabling engineering teams to analyze application performance problems irrespective of location.
“We’ve been using New Relic One for application monitoring,” says Mohammed, “but we’re in the process of moving to new tools recommended by Bespin. While moving to AWS tools has a cost-benefit for Jarir, the main driver for us is to use tools familiar to Bespin, creating an end-to-end, seamlessly managed environment meeting our requirements.”
“While Bespin’s initial mandate was to ensure reliability and scalability irrespective of cost,” explains Mohammed. “Once that was accomplished, we looked for ways to optimize costs—especially for Amazon EC2 and Amazon RDS—and reallocate the savings to other areas.”
Leveraging the powerful machine learning insights of AWS Compute Optimizer, Bespin identified optimal compute resources across all of Jarir’s Amazon EC2 instances, including those allocated to Amazon EC2 Auto Scaling groups. The result was a 66% reduction in autoscaling instances—from 54 to 18 (12 for GCC and 6 for international)—providing significant cost savings. Bespin also disabled several unused services and optimized costs at the infrastructure level using AWS Saving Plans, a flexible pricing model providing savings of up to 72% on AWS compute usage.
“While DevOps is an essential component to Jarir’s digital transformation,” says Alzughaibi, “once Bespin had stabilized the environment, we decided to focus on cost optimization before implementing DevOps. As soon that phase is complete, we’ll leverage Bespin’s expertise to create an actionable plan that meets our strategic IT and eCommerce roadmaps.”
As a certified AWS DevOps Competency Partner, Bespin has already begun creating a DevOps roadmap for Jarir. Plans include deploying infrastructure as code using AWS CloudFormation, optimizing configuration management using AWS AppConfig (a capability of AWS Systems Manager) and AWS OpsWorks, and automating the testing and deployment of software with AWS CodeBuild, AWS CodeDeploy, and AWS CodePipeline.
RESULTS & BENEFITS
“Bespin stabilized and optimized our environment in March 2020,” says Mohammed reflectively. “It was just in time. We were ready for COVID-19! We just didn’t know it was coming. When our brick-and-mortar stores closed during the COVID-19 lockdown, website traffic increased by over 200%. During April 2020, we were seeing between 500,000 and 600,000 unique visitors each day—something we’d never experienced before—but there was zero impact on performance. The site auto-scaled exactly the way we wanted, with no downtime or user impact.”
“We’re in an excellent position from an infrastructure perspective,” continues Mohammed. ”When management recently came to ask me to prepare for a new iPhone pre-order campaign, I told them we’re already prepared. Considering our previous experience, they couldn’t believe it! It’s testimony to the skills and commitment of the Bespin team that we’re in the position we are.”
What makes Bespin different?
“Bespin is unique in that—as a team—they really care about us and our business,” summarizes Mohammed. “Even before we signed with them as our managed services provider, they were quick to jump in and sort out issues when the incumbent vendor couldn’t. Their willingness to do that on our behalf is the basis for our relationship. Since then, it’s just got better and better.”
“I can’t begin to tell you the number of times I’ve given them a call to bring something to their attention,” adds Mohammed, “only to find out that they’ve already noticed it and are working on a solution. As the one responsible for Jarir’s online presence, I couldn’t have found a better partner. We’re currently migrating to the latest version of Magento, and we’re thrilled to have Bespin on board. Sometimes we think we have great ideas, but they have extensive Magento experience and aren’t afraid to tell us what works and what doesn’t. That’s a real time-saver and value-add.”
“When Bespin first came on board,” concludes Mohammed, “they did such a fantastic job I thought it wouldn’t last. I thought that maybe it was just because we were a new customer. I didn’t believe they’d be able to maintain that level of service. But they have! As a result, we’ve expanded our relationship beyond eCommerce to other areas where we’re migrating workloads to the cloud. Bespin has exceeded our expectations at a highly-competitive price point. We’re ready to take our relationship to the next level.”