How iconik Built a Multi-Cloud SaaS
Back when we started designing iconik, we knew that we wanted to have a media management system that was hugely scalable, beyond anything our experienced team had seen before.
With a combined 50 years in the space, we had worked with many customer systems and not one of them was identical. Each customer had different demands for what systems should offer—whether it was storage, CPU, or database—and these demands changed over the lifecycle of the customer’s needs. Change was the only constant. And we knew that systems that couldn’t evolve and scale couldn’t keep up.
Identifying the Needs:
We quickly realized that we would need to meet constantly changing demands on individual parts of the system and that we needed to be able to scale up and down capabilities at a granular level. We wanted to have thousands of customers with each one potentially having hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of assets on the same instance, leading to the potential for billions of files being managed. We also wanted to have the flexibility to run private instances for customers if they so demanded.
With these needs in mind, we knew our service had to be architected and built to run in the cloud, and that we would run the business as a SaaS solution.
Mapping Our Architecture
Upon identifying this challenge, we settled on using a microservices architecture with each functional unit broken up and then run in Docker containers. This provided the granularity around functions that we knew customers would need. This current map of iconik’s architecture is nearly identical to what we planned from the start.
To manage these units while also providing for the scaling we sought, the architecture required an orchestration layer. We decided upon Kubernetes, as it was:
- A proven technology with a large, influential community supporting it.
- A well maintained open-source orchestration platform.
- A system that functionally supported what we needed to do while also providing the ability to automatically scale, distribute, and handle faults for all of our containers.
During this development process, we also invested time in working with leading cloud IaaS and PaaS providers, in particular both Amazon AWS and Google Cloud, to discover the right solutions for production systems, AI, transcode, CDN, Cloud Functions, and compute.
Choosing a Multi-Cloud Approach
Based upon the learnings from working with a variety of cloud providers, we decided that our strategy would be to avoid being locked into any one cloud vendor, and instead pursue a multi-cloud approach—taking the best from each and using it to our customers’ advantage.
As we got closer to launching iconik.io in 2017, we started looking at where to run our production systems, and Google Cloud was clearly the winner in terms of their support for Kubernetes and their history with the project.
Looking at the larger picture, Google Cloud also had:
- A world-class network with a presence of 93+ points in 64 global regions.
- BigQuery, with its on-demand pricing, advanced scalability features, and ease of use.
- Machine learning and AI tools that we had been involved in beta testing before they were built in, and which would provide an important element in our offering to give deep insights around media.
- APIs that were rock solid.
These important factors became the deciding points on launching with Google Cloud. But, moving forward, we knew that our architecture would not be difficult to shift to another service if necessary as there was very little lock-in for these services. In fact, the flexibility provided allows us to run dedicated deployments for customers on their cloud platform of choice and even within their own virtual private cloud.
Offering Freedom of Choice for Storage
With our multi-cloud approach in mind, we wanted to bring the same flexibility we developed in production systems to our storage offering. Google Cloud Services was a natural choice because it was native to our production systems platform. From there, we grew options in line with the best fit for our customers, either based on their demands or based on what the vendor could offer.
From the start, we supported Amazon S3 and quickly brought Backblaze B2 Cloud Storage on board. We also allowed our customers to use their own Buckets to be truly in charge of their files. We continued to be led by the search for maximum scalability and flexibility to change on the fly.
While a number of iconik customers use B2 Cloud Storage or Amazon S3 as their only storage solution, many also take a multiple vendor approach because it can best meet their needs either in terms of risk management, delivery of files, or cost management.
Credit iconik, learn more in their Q2 2020 Media Stats report.
As we have grown, our multi-cloud approach has allowed us to onboard more services from Amazon—including AI, transcode, CDN, Cloud Functions, and compute for our own infrastructure. In the future, we intend to do the same with Azure and with IBM. We encourage the same for our customers as we allow them to mix and match AWS, Backblaze, GCS, IBM, and Microsoft Azure to match their strategy and needs.
Reaping the Benefits of a Multi-Cloud Solution
To date, our cloud-agnostic approach to building iconik has paid off.
- This year, when iconik’s asset count increased by 293% to over 28M assets, there was no impact on performance.
- As new technology has become available, we have been able to improve a single section of our architecture without impacting other parts.
- By not limiting cloud services that can be used in iconik, we have been able to establish many rewarding partnerships and accommodate customers who want to keep the cloud services they already use.
Hopefully our story can help shed some light to help any others who are venturing out to build a SaaS of their own. We wish you luck!