​An Amaysim journey: A lesson in how to use cloud to take on the big boys

With the seven year-old company completing its shift to AWS, it is able to continue tackling the Australian telecommunications and energy sectors.

Amaysim was founded in 2010 to provide Australians with a cheap and simple way to get a mobile phone without being locked into a contract, but the company found itself locked into physical on-premises infrastructure.

Speaking with ZDNet during the recent AWS re:Invent conference in Las Vegas, Peter James, head of IT and operations at Amaysim, said his company learned pretty early on in its journey that in order to get the scale -- and market share -- that it was seeking, it needed to shift everything it had to the cloud.

In June 2014, Optus -- whose network Amaysim piggybacks on -- suffered an outage. Although the incident heavily impacted Amaysim, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it pushed the company to consider different ways for carrying out its business.

"Effectively, with the on-premises equipment we had, we [almost] couldn't recover from that outage in time because of the volume of data that was getting ingested at the same time," James explained.

"So we realised at that point we were never going to catch up -- we recovered -- but if it was longer, we wouldn't have been able to catch up with the hardware capacity that we had."

He said it catalysed Amaysim's move to AWS and the cloud.

Prior to AWS, Amaysim completely outsourced its operations team, using a vendor that provided the integration for the Optus network, and used on-premises equipment too.

A year before Amaysim undertook its initial public offering on the Australian Securities Exchange, James said the then-startup had teething problems with scale.

"The hardware we had bought six months ago was not keeping up with demand and we realised we needed to invest in that to drive home that customer experience," he said.

So Amaysim did a small "lift and shift" and effectively moved everything to AWS over the course of around eight months.

"That's been followed up with our main customer database moved to Aurora completely this year," he explained.

"I've still got a bit of physical stuff in datacentres here and there, and that's on the roadmap to go as well, but realistically I consider us all-in already."

What's leftover is the now-retired legacy operation from the Optus integration.

Thanks to the cloud, the company hit the ground running, and in addition to providing its flagship SIM-only plans to customers, it now also offers NBN and most recently energy plans.

In readying its NBN and energy plans, Amaysim has been busy acquiring companies.

It scooped up online pure-play energy retailer Click Energy for AU$120 million in May, as part of its long-term strategy to become the "remote control for the smart home", and completed its acquisition of Australian Broadband Services (AusBBS) in August last year, with Amaysim paying AU$1 million in cash and AU$1.5 million in shares upfront to own the company.

"We finalised the acquisition of Click in May, which actually was the same month we launched NBN as well, which is already quite aggressive, but it is sort of how we do things," he said.

"We launched energy five months after that. There's no way we would have been able to do that with on-prem hardware."

Although Amaysim was launched as a budget mobile operator, James said the company has always considered itself as customer experience-led, rather than budget.

"The idea behind our proposition is really if you don't like us, you can leave," he said.

"It's more than just price, it's experience; you want to be able to interact with your telco in an easy way."

When it comes to NBN resellers being tarred with the same brush as the National Broadband Network Company is, James said there are certain things out of Amaysim's control.

"What you can always change as a reseller of wholesale products is the customer experience -- we can control that," he said.

James said entering the energy market wasn't without its troubles, either, noting it is easier for customers to sign up for a mobile plan than it is for an energy or a utility plan.

"Far more regulation than in the mobile world," he said.

"It was about seeing how we could be 'agile disruptors' but still adhere to regulatory compliance."

The beauty of the cloud, however, means Amaysim is able to toy with the idea of allocating unused phone data credits towards energy supply, potentially.

When joining Amaysim, James was tasked with bringing more structure to the company's releases, and also the mandate of bringing in DevOps to the business model.

"DevOps is a culture; it's something the entire organisation has to be involved with," he explained. "But the biggest problem is culture not technology."

Although able to throw around the "agile" and "lean" buzzwords in the past, Amaysim now finds itself as a publicly-listed company with shareholder expectations and 1 million customers that it is now responsible for.

"We do want to keep that DNA of being a -- sorry about the buzzwords -- lean and agile startup," he explained. "But now we've got the responsibility to over 1 million customers to also provide reliability, and reliability is one of our core values which we really believe is the key to customer experience.

"It's great to say, 'move fast and break things' but you don't want to break things."

In 2015, when Amaysim first begun shifting its kit over to AWS, it did find an issue that was missed, with James saying CPU went "through the roof". Instead of having to fix that code in production, Amaysim added 10 boxes to it and fixed it within an hour.

"These days, that's hideous to us, having to wait that long -- that's failure," he explained.

For comparison, in October 2016, Amaysim did nine production releases; in October this year, it did over 90.

For FY17, Amaysim announced a total net profit of AU$11.5 million, down 7 percent year on year on net revenue of AU$326.7 million, up 29 percent. Statutory earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) were AU$33.8 million, up 35 percent.

Disclaimer: Asha McLean travelled to to AWS re:Invent as a guest of AWS.

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