Airbnb and The Power of Amazon Web Services

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By revolutionizing the way we travel, Airbnb is the unlikely dream that somehow became reality. And with the cloud computing powers of Amazon Web Services, they are scaling like never before.

First things first, what is Airbnb?

Airbnb is the company that revolutionized the way we travel.

By being a community marketplace, they connect home owners and vagabonds for the sole purpose of renting unique and quirky flats, villas, treehouses and caves all around the world. Offering unique holiday spaces with the possibility of socialising, Airbnb are now outperforming hotels in many major cities across the globe.

They are currently offering property rentals in more than 25,000 cities in 192 countries – and they continue to grow every single day.

And what is a Cloud Service?

The cloud refers to any software or service that run on the internet instead of on your MacBook or computer. This means that every time you post a photo of your dog on Facebook or watch The Crown on Netflix, you’re actually utilising cloud services. The greatest benefit of cloud services is that you can access your data from anywhere – as long as you have an internet connection, that is. Fancy learning more about the cloud? You can read our industry guide to cloud services here

This sounds all fine and dandy, but where does your data actually live? Rather simplified, your data is stored in enormous data centres located around the world. Instead of keeping your data in your hard drive, cloud providers such as Amazon keep it all safe and sound on their enormous data farms. In fact, these companies operate server farms so vast and power-hungry that they alone are responsible for more than 2% of the United States’ yearly electricity usage.

That’s a lot of power.

How Did Airbnb Start?

In 2007, flatmates Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky found themselves completely broke.

To pay their rent, they tried to come up with wild suggestions for earning money. “Hey”, Chesky suddenly said, “There’s a design conference here in San Francisco next week, all the hotels are fully booked. How about we buy an air mattress?”

It was a crazy idea. But they bought three. 

To accompany their new and seemingly strange business venture, they sat up a website,, and – surprisingly enough – their floor was soon filled with sleeping strangers, charged $80 each per night. “As we were waving these people goodbye”, Chesky recalls, “Joe and I looked at each other and thought there’s got to be a bigger idea here”.

And indeed there was. Today, Airbnb has completely changed the way we travel. It has over 10 million nights booked, and it can certainly cater to all tastes and requirements. Can they tempt you with a cozy cottage in the outskirts of Montreal? Or would you rather prefer to live out your Downton Abbey-dreams in a historic mansion in the Surrey countryside?

Whatever you want, chances are that Airbnb can provide it. Currently listed are private islands, idyllic treehouses, romantic caves, and – for the more adventurous souls – houseboats.

New properties are listed every single day.

The Ache of Growing Pains

Airbnb grew faster than Chesky and Gebbia could ever have predicted.

Pretty soon their website was struggling under the constant stream of clients that wanted to utilise their services. As Airbnb started to plan out their new business venture, Airbnb Experiences, they realized that something needed to change.

They simply couldn’t scale quickly enough.

As a result, the company decided to migrate nearly all of their functions to Amazon Web Services (AWS). CTO of Airbnb, Nathan Blecharczyk, explains that “the appeal of AWS was the ease of managing and customising the stack. (…) As our company continued to grow, so did our reliance on the AWS cloud and we’ve adopted almost all of the features AWS provides”.

In retrospect, Blecharczyk wish they would have migrated earlier: “AWS is the easy answer for any internet business that wants to scale to the next level. “

Automatic Scaling

The migration to AWS needed to happen quickly –  the fast-growing Airbnb did not want its community of users locked out of their marketplace for too long. In the end, the effortless and easy migration only resulted in 15 minutes of downtime.

After moving away from MySQL as their original datastore, Airbnb is now using RDS. The service, short for Relational Database Service, is a web service offered by Amazon in which you can run a scalable MySQL setup in the cloud – all while hiding the administrative overhead and eliminating the faff that usually comes with maintaining it. Additionally, their focus on safety means that Amazon at all times will have a dozen background tasks handling all things related to payments and analytics – without slowing down the site.

The new system eliminates the effects of long-running queries on the frontend performance, and it seems to perform significantly better than MySQL. Perhaps more importantly, Tobi Knaup, an Airbnb engineer reveals that “We are now well prepared for our future growth”.

Do you like our case studies? Click here to read the story of how dating app Happn scaled faster than anyone thought possible

The Amazon Benefits At a Glance

Airbnb benefited greatly from migrating to Amazon Web Services. The flexibility and responsiveness of AWS is helping to prepare the company for future growth, and Tobi Knaup reveals that “Amazon Web Services listens to customers’ needs. If the feature does not yet exist, it probably will in a matter of months”.

So what were the main benefits of the migration to Amazon?

  • Automatic Scaling: Airbnb can now automatically scale based on the needs of their ever-increasing customer base.
  • Running MySQL in the Cloud: This allowed Airbnb to reduce their management of MySQL and it had a positive impact on frontend performance
  • Focus on Safety: AWS has a strong focus on the security of its cloud, and the migration enabled Airbnb to ease their own workload without compromising security levels.
  • Saving Resources: With AWS, the engineers of Airbnb can now free up their time and focus on what really matters – innovation.

Do you want to see what Amazon Web Service can do for your business? Get in touch with one of our experts today on our contact page, and redeem your free IT consultation.

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