Why Kathmandu reached for the AWS Cloud.

The largest and most important of Kathmandu’s 150+ stores is its online one.

After a period of below par technology performance culminated in poor online customer experience during a quarterly sale, Kathmandu decided to look for an alternative provider.

“We work so hard to create a great brand experience,” says Web Development Manager, James Deane, “it’s essential that our web store enhances this experience at all times, and our infrastructure provider at the time wasn’t able to respond to the performance issues.”

Web Infrastructure fails to manage peaks in traffic

Kathmandu is a global brand.

The company, started in 1987, now boasts 150+ bricks and mortar stores across New Zealand, Australia and the UK selling clothing and equipment for adventure travel.

The star in Kathmandu’s stable is the online store. Its success is fed by the bricks and mortar stores, which provide the experience that allows hundreds of thousands of customers to develop confidence in the Kathmandu brand. However, in 2014 it became apparent the online store infrastructure could not scale up to handle the mountainous peaks in online traffic generated by Kathmandu’s sale events.

Legendary 'Big Sale' slows site

Since the early 1990s Kathmandu has held three legendary ‘big sales’ annually. As interest in the sales grew so did the pressure on the site infrastructure.

The system could handle the traffic generated on 345 days of the year, but the huge spikes in traffic during the sales stretched its capacity and customers were increasingly faced with a slow or unresponsive site.The issue came to a head during the 2014 winter sale. “Despite our best efforts to prepare the infrastructure in advance for a big scaling event, it wasn’t enough. Our infrastructure provider at the time wasn’t able to respond in an appropriate time frame so the site wasn’t brought back up to speed for around 12 hours,” says Deane. The knock on effects included increased (costly) traffic to the call centre.

AWS Cloud provides the elasticity Kathmandu needs

Kathmandu needed a solution that allowed customers to shop at any time of year – including peak sale periods– and enjoy a satisfying experience.

“We spoke to Fronde and together came up with a migration plan to move to Amazon Web Services [AWS] to deliver a more feature-rich, future proofed, scalable infrastructure that will meet Kathmandu’s needs as we grow,” says Deane.

Fronde was able to tailor the cloud-based solution to Kathmandu’s needs, test, and go live in just 12 weeks. Whether it’s business as usual or the first day of a big sale, customers can now browse the store and make a purchase quickly and smoothly, at any time of day or night from any device.

Technical Snapshot

All systems run in the AWS Sydney region, running in multiple availability zones for redundancy.

AWS service used include:

  • Amazon VPC for secure network topology
  • EC2 instances for compute
  • Amazon RDS for database
  • Cloud formation for environment configuration
  • EC2 Autoscaling

The platform is the foundation for Kathmandu’s Magentoe Commerce platform. The website infrastructure benefits from key AWS advantages, such as:

  • The ability to automatically scale the eCommerce application based on surges in customer demand
  • Simple management of complex infrastructure aspects e.g. the highly available database tier

Fronde also continue to supply Managed Services for the application platform, ensuring ongoing optimisation of AWS resources and a simplified billing process.

Delivering great user experience costs less

Kathmandu’s new platform is highly efficient, requiring three servers to cope with consumer demand through even the most extreme periods, rather than the previous six. The company now only pays for peak capacity when they need it. The previous system had Kathmandu paying a flat rate for their peak requirements; capacity they didn’t use on 345 days of the year.

“The capacity of the website grows automatically. As more customers use the site we add more servers to meet the demand. When the demand drops we gradually shut down those servers,” says James Valentine, Chief Technology Officer at Fronde.

“The benefit for the customer is that they always get a great online experience.The benefit for Kathmandu is they only pay for those servers when they need them.”

Team freed up to focus on Customer Experience

The Kathmandu web team’s role has changed for the better.

Where previously they spent their time maintaining the website, they are now free to focus on improving customer service features. “Fronde and Kathmandu work together to achieve a great result,” says Valentine. “We provide the infrastructure and take away all the mundane heavy lifting, such as provisioning servers, so the online team can focus on providing an awesome online experience.”

The road map Kathmandu has for its digital future is focused on enhancing customer experience. Offering customers the opportunity to rate and review products, making the site easier to search, and trialing an ‘order online, pick-up in store’ service are just a few of the enhancements in the pipeline.

Kathmandu’s previous system was constraining the company’s growth. Fronde’s solution has liberated the business from those constraints, allowing Kathmandu to focus on what the company does best, delivering innovation and service to its customers.