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Building Scalable Cloud Infrastructure on AWS: A Startup’s Guide

By Rafat Alhawash • Published July 25, 2023

Learn to navigate the resources that Amazon Web Services offers to build scalable, affordable cloud infrastructures.

As a decision-maker at a small or midsize startup, you are constantly challenged to meet consumers' expanding expectations while maintaining high performance, dependability, and cost effectiveness in your operations.

With cloud services such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), the days of configuring and maintaining your own on-premises servers to manage your data are happily a thing of the past. Digitally speaking, utilizing cloud services in today's fast-paced digital world—when competition is at an all-time high and consumer demands are increasing by the minute—offers organizations a cost-effective way to be flexible and scalable.  

In this article, we'll look at some of the advantages of building a scalable cloud infrastructure, explore the tools and strategies needed to do so, and talk about how The Smyth Group teams can support you at any of the stages discussed below.

What is Scalability?

If you’ve ever driven in a city like Los Angeles during rush hour, you understand what it means to be beholden to an infrastructure that has not grown to accommodate the city's growing population and offers a dismal public transportation system.

On the other hand, cities like Tokyo that offer extensive public transportation systems can effectively control traffic and mitigate congestion despite surges in demand—all while maintaining punctuality. This is what it means to scale.

Cars stuck in city traffic during the twilight hour.

Just like a well-designed transportation system, in the context of cloud architecture, scalability refers to the ability of a system or application to handle increased workload and grow seamlessly as demand grows without compromising performance, dependability, or racking up astronomical expenses. You can easily accommodate expansion, handle surges in user traffic, and maintain a positive user experience with a scalable infrastructure, which leads to the organic growth of your company.

Infrastructure Planning

System requirements vary—what works well for one system won’t be the best fit for your use case.  That said, before we dive into the implementation, it is important to analyze the system requirements and the scaling needs. 

AWS offers more than 200 fully featured and robust services, which can help your company accomplish its objectives. Some of these services can be configured to autoscale based on demand. A virtual server functions like a real, physical server but is actually a piece of software that allows several servers to run on one actual machine and is hosted on the cloud. These servers, known as AWS Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), can vary in size and compute power. AWS Lambda is a serverless approach to offer compute power without the need to configure servers. 

On the other hand, DynamoDB is a high-performance NoSQL data storage, which means it can handle a considerable amount and variety of data. It can be replicated seamlessly across multiple zones and regions, meaning that your data will always be safe and available. RDS is a managed relational database service that hosts and manages relational databases and can scale up or down based on some configurable policies.

Provisioning Infrastructure

Now that we have a clear vision of the infrastructure components, the next step is to set up, or provision them. While the AWS console offers a user-friendly way to provision services, as your startup grows and you begin using more services, it might become  difficult to keep track of everything. 

Additionally, some features aren’t fully supported on the web console for advanced use cases. For example, you can construct and configure AWS Lambda functions using the web portal, but it can be time consuming and difficult to release a new version of the code. And while it is possible, the new version might not be done in time to accommodate other integrations that are dependent on it.

That is why our preferred approach is utilizing a different solution called infrastructure-as-code (IaC). This process allows a developer to write a code script that tells a program how to automatically provision, or set up, other cloud services.  This means you don’t have to manually set up each service—the setup process can be replicated, and this allows for scalability. 

A lead tool for IaC is Terraform by HashiCorp. Terraform allows you to define and manage your infrastructure resources in a declarative and version-controlled manner. With this tool, we can effortlessly configure and provision various AWS services such as EC2 instances (virtual servers), Lambda functions, DynamoDB tables, and RDS instances, ensuring consistency and scalability across your environment.

Scalable Computing

As discussed, there are many ways to scale computing power. In this section we will focus on scaling AWS Lambda since Lambda allows your startup to focus on what really matters, which is building application logic without worrying about managing servers.

For example, when implementing business logic functions using Node.js (a popular JavaScript runtime environment used for server-side applications) and deploying them to Lambda, you can leverage the auto-scaling offered by AWS Lambda. There is no need to manage the load at all as AWS Lambda will react to fluctuating workload by either scaling up or down. This means no more paying for idle servers.

Scalable Data Storage

Your startup's growth is mirrored in the complexity and amount of your data. The scalability and performance you need to manage heavy workloads are provided by multiple options.  When using DynamoDB, effectively setting tables will enable efficient data storage and retrieval, guaranteeing that your application will stay responsive as the user base grows.

When choosing Amazon RDS, there are multiple scaling options:

  • Vertical scaling, also known as scaling up or scaling down, refers to increasing or decreasing the capacity of a single resource.You can add more capacity in your database, which is as easy as toggling a switch by swapping the underlying server with a bigger one.
  • Horizontal scaling, also known as scaling out or scaling in, refers to distributing workload across resources. You can expand database activities over multiple nodes (i.e. servers within the network). For example, if there are specific operations that require read only processes (perhaps to generate analytics data), then AWS can handle that for you either by using Terraform to add a secondary replica or by configuring change quickly with a few clicks on the console.

Saving Money with Cloud Cost Optimization

While the Cloud offers many advantages, it can become expensive if used without understanding the pricing models for each of the services. But that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank trying to achieve the scalability needed to run your applications and services. AWS provides a number of methods for creating a cost-effective architecture. 

You may reduce expenses while maintaining performance and availability with the use of reserved instances, spot instances, and auto-scaling. Reserved instances offer a discount when you commit to a certain number of resources within a specific period of time (a great option if you know you’ll need them). Spot instances offer last-minute reduced prices for unused resources. These are ideal for tasks that can withstand interruption because AWS has the right to take back these resources if needed. 

By carefully choosing between these two options, you can reduce costs. Also, AWS Lambda and DynamoDB automatically scale resources based on demand, further aiding in cost optimization. 

To make things more visible for you as a decision-maker, AWS offers ways to help you be informed. You can see a detailed billing dashboard that will help you visualize where your dollars are spent and a budget limit can be added to help you get notified when it is exceeded. These features give you insight to make informed decisions.

Blocks stacked on top of each other in an ascending order.

Scaling Up

Scaling up becomes necessary when user demand grows and your startup receives more traction. To support this expansion, AWS offers a wide range of tools and tactics. And that is where we can be of help. 

Our teams have been building and scaling up applications for years on the cloud. We would love to discuss how we could partner up with you to bring our knowledge and expertise to facilitate the use of the cloud at scale!


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