Huy Le, Operations Director of DataRobot, talked to us about how the company has worked with Amazon Web Services. He also offers great advice for startups that are faced with choosing a hosting platform. DataRobot, a Techstars Cloud company, helps data scientists of all experience levels build and deploy better predictive models. AWS Startups is a sponsor of Techstars and helps startups scale quickly, go to market faster, control costs, and stay lean.
How did DataRobot discover and then choose to work with AWS?
We connected with AWS at Techstars Cloud Class of 2013 in San Antonio. We received hosting credits through the AWS Activate program, a free program with resources for startups to get the most out of AWS.
AWS was a natural choice for us. One of the products AWS offers caught our interest: their Spot Instance offering. Using Spot Instances is like bidding for a product on eBay. You choose the server type you want to use and set the highest price you’re willing to pay. If there are servers with prices at or below your set price, you use the server and pay the current market price. Most of the time, the market price is just a fraction of the regular on-demand price.
Our application does a lot of number crunching. With Spot Instances our application can do massive number crunching at a fraction of the usual cost.
AWS’s wide range of server types and sizes was attractive, too. We use servers as small as t1.micro, which cost about $15 per month to run; and servers as large as r3.8x, which cost over $2,000 per month to run. AWS has a server size for every kind of need.
How have DataRobot and AWS worked together?
AWS’ SPOT team and our account manager have been instrumental in us making the best use of AWS Spot Instances. The SPOT team visited our office to learn about our application and advised us how to get the most out of Spot Instances and keep costs low. Our account manager also analyzed our overall usage and suggested cost-saving strategies. Overall, we have really benefited from the advice and support AWS has provided.
What do you think sets AWS apart?
A customer-centric philosophy sets AWS apart. When the customers speak, they listen—and they act on customer feedback. They are about helping customers succeed.
For example, I once experienced database performance issues. I called my contact at AWS and asked if there were other options to get faster storage systems. He told me that he had many other customers requesting better storage systems too, and AWS was working to fulfill those customer demands. About six months later, my contact reached out with news that AWS had just announced a better storage system. I was thrilled.
Another thing that sets AWS apart is its ability to provide additional capacity as soon as it’s requested. At times, we’ve needed our capacity limit increased by thousands of servers. AWS has been able to do that on the same or next business day each time. I’ve made similar requests with other service providers. It would take those providers more than a week to fulfill the request, and then the request would be only partially fulfilled.
Do you have any advice for other founders who want to build good relationships with their platform/hosting providers?
In short, you want a service platform that is scalable and secure, and you want to have a provider who is ready to assist you whenever you need help. Here’s my advice:
Select the right service provider from the beginning. Don’t put this off until you’re ready for customers. Every service platform is different. You’ll want to work with the same platform from the beginning so you don’t waste your time learning new platforms as your needs change.
Security needs to be the top criterion. Choose a service provider that has granular access control to your cloud account, so that you can grant different levels of access to employees on an as-needed basis.
Choose a provider that offers three key features:
- A wide range of server selections. Start with a small server and scale up as needed. Test your product on different, larger servers as you gain more users and prepare for product launch.
- Autoscale support. Ideally, you want your platform to automatically scale as load demand fluctuates. For consumer or social applications, expect to have bursts of traffic.
- PCI compliance and hardware encryption support if your product will be handling payments. And make sure you meet the additional compliance requirements for your specific product. If you’ll be using health care data, for example, you want a server provider that is HIPAA compliant.
What’s currently going on in DataRobot’s world?
We have great success with our private beta customers. We’re working relentlessly to polish the product and are excited to release it at the beginning of 2015. Anyone working on predictive analytics who wants to build better models faster is invited to sign up for beta access at datarobot.com. (We’ll provide VIP access to early sign ups.)
You can read other stories in our Sponsorship in Action series here.