Auto Trader (UK): Using Istio to increase agility for the United Kingdom's largest automotive marketplace

About Auto Trader (UK)

Auto Trader (UK) is the United Kingdom's largest digital automotive marketplace and simplifies the journey of buying or selling a car for consumers and retailers.

Industries: Technology, Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: United Kingdom

Auto Trader (UK) migrates to Google Cloud Platform, using Kubernetes Engine with Istio to help improve security, increase agility and visibility, and improve resource utilization by up to 75%.

Google Cloud Results

  • Creates a more agile production environment, reducing deployment time by almost 97%, from 10 minutes to 20 seconds.
  • Supports a more secure infrastructure thanks to mutual TLS authentication on Istio, avoiding a six-month engineering effort
  • Enables greater oversight of applications with Istio, leading to 75% more efficient CPU and RAM allocation

Under 5 minutes to build and launch a new application

New or used? Petrol, electric, or hybrid? Hatchback, SUV, or coupe? Deciding which car to choose can be a tricky process. The automotive market offers a lot of choice, but can be difficult for consumers to navigate. Online platform Auto Trader (UK) aims to simplify that journey for consumers, retailers, and manufacturers by connecting buyers and sellers, and offering a range of useful tools. The tools available include detailed reviews of dealerships and new cars, valuation tools, and integrations with car finance and insurance partners.

"Historically, we were known as an entrepreneurial media print business: we connected buyers and sellers through regional magazines featuring classified ads," says Russell Warman, Head of Infrastructure at Auto Trader (UK). "Since 2013, we have been a completely digital business, and we are now the UK’s market leader, with 55 million cross-platform visits every month and an audience four times larger than our nearest competitor. We offer about 50 customer-facing applications in total."

"The company has a history of innovation, as the first Auto Trader (UK) website was created in 1996," he adds. "We continually strive to develop new and innovative solutions to help address the needs of our customers and retailers, whether that's facing uncertainty around Brexit, or the future of the diesel car."

"In selecting a cloud provider, we had two main goals: improved security and increased agility. As a big organization, it can sometimes be hard to keep up with smaller firms looking to disrupt the marketplace. In a cloud environment such as Google Cloud Platform, it's easier to experiment."

Russell Warman, Head of Infrastructure, Auto Trader (UK)

Auto Trader (UK)'s infrastructure was previously deployed from its own data centers via a private cloud. When the company wanted to improve its security and encryption, and create a more agile architecture to enable faster innovation, it chose Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

"In selecting a cloud provider, we had two main goals: improved security and increased agility," says Russell. "As a big organization, it can sometimes be hard to keep up with smaller firms looking to disrupt the marketplace. In a cloud environment such as Google Cloud Platform, it's easier to experiment."

Creating a more agile infrastructure

Auto Trader (UK) wanted to upgrade its security layers and implement mutual Transport Layer Security (mTLS) authentication between its apps, but retrofitting these changes to its previous infrastructure would have been difficult. "We have two big data centers, a private cloud, and other, older levels of infrastructure," says Karl Stoney, Delivering Engineering Lead at Auto Trader (UK). "Implementing mTLS would have involved modifying hundreds of applications and building complicated additional elements, and that wouldn't have been transparent to the team. Instead, we decided to achieve our security goals by migrating from a virtual machine-based infrastructure to a containerized one on a public cloud, as this also enabled us to make system improvements along the way."

To do that, Auto Trader (UK) moved its backend applications to Kubernetes Engine (GKE) and implemented Istio, an open-source, transparent service mesh. "We were looking for a trusted vendor to off-load management of Kubernetes," says Karl. "We chose Google Cloud, because who could manage it better than the company that created it?" Many of the capabilities that Auto Trader (UK) was looking for come out-of-the-box with Istio, as it enables a lot of visibility over applications in terms of response times and other important service metrics.

"We wanted to have confidence that our applications would work on the new platform, and with Istio we were able to health-check and optimize our applications as we migrated them," Karl explains. "As a result, we have spotted problems that we previously weren't aware of. We had a slow memory leak in one of our key search applications that was perceptible only once we ran the application on the new GCP infrastructure. We were quickly able to visualize the problem, which had been previously hard to diagnose. We were then able to iterate through fixes and see the results of our changes immediately, meaning we could resolve a complicated issue in days rather than weeks."

"With Istio on Kubernetes Engine, thanks to the CPU and RAM optimizations we have put in place, we are 75 percent more efficient in terms of usage, without impacting performance. That's fantastic, as we're able to manage and predict future spending more reliably."

Karl Stoney, Delivering Engineering Lead, Auto Trader (UK)

The increased visibility thanks to Istio has also enabled Auto Trader (UK) to optimize its CPU allocation. "Previously, all instances were allocated the same CPU and RAM because we couldn't accurately measure the impact of making changes," says Karl. "Now, we can easily adjust CPU and RAM in GKE, and immediately observe the impact across all performance metrics."

The team has also been able to put in place automation to reduce operational overheads. "In terms of development, we've implemented a platform on GKE that automatically provisions, builds, and deploys our developers' applications. The operations system looks after everything for them using Cloud Load Balancing to spread instances over three zones and serve their domain names using Cloud DNS. Those processes are automated, and are easy to integrate with the rest of the infrastructure."

The Auto Trader (UK) infrastructure also uses Cloud SQL and Cloud Memorystore, as well as preemptible VMs on Compute Engine for certain preproduction machines. "Preemptible instances are cost-effective and encourage us to build for failure," says Karl. "That ultimately means what we build is more stable."

Working with Google on Istio

Auto Trader (UK) has a history of technological innovation, and a working culture of experimentation. "Our organization is mature from an engineering perspective, which enables us to get involved with early engagement access programs," says Karl. "We became involved with Istio a year or so ago, when it was still in the development phase. We were really interested in the technology, as it offered a lot of the capabilities we wanted, so we were keen to drive it forward."

"We found the Google account management team really engaging and approachable," he continues. "Over a period of four months, we had biweekly calls with the Istio developers, and also did a lot of open source work to make sure the broader community could also benefit from it."

"Without the engagement from the Google engineers, we wouldn't have been able to get to where we are today in terms of the capabilities we have been able to access for security and operational visibility," says Russell. "It was mutually beneficial, as we provided them with real-life problems and the opportunity to understand what was happening on the ground for customers. It's been a real journey on both sides, which has enabled us to go from zero to running 140 applications in production on Istio within the space of four months."

"From a business perspective, migrating to Google Cloud Platform means we can get ideas up and running quickly. It's enabling us to build brilliant new products such as Retail Accelerator, which provides rich data insights for our customers' vehicle stock. These new services help us stay ahead."

Russell Warman, Head of Infrastructure, Auto Trader (UK)

Increased security, faster deployment

Auto Trader (UK) is already seeing the benefits of migrating to GCP, both from an operational and development perspective. "Our security has been improved in a number of ways," says Karl. "Now, as Istio enables mTLS, when a customer makes a request using one of our products, it is completely encrypted right through to the application handling that request. That's a huge step forward in terms of security, without needing an engineering effort on our part that would have taken six months to implement. The fine-grained level of control over network policies on Kubernetes also means our applications are inherently more isolated, so the network is more secure in the case of an attack."

Auto Trader (UK) has also seen gains in efficiency since migrating. "With Istio on Kubernetes Engine, thanks to the CPU and RAM optimizations we have put in place, we are 75 percent more efficient in terms of usage, without impacting performance," says Karl. "That's fantastic, as we're able to manage and predict future spending more reliably."

"In terms of production, the delivery platform enables the product team to take a concept and get an application into production in under 5 minutes," says Karl. "The speed of deployment has also increased, as on the private cloud it took up to 10 minutes to deploy an application into an environment, whereas with GKE, we've seen deployment times as low as 20 seconds. From an organizational agility perspective, that's amazing."

"It has also enabled us to try out a whole range of new technologies, as previously we were limited to Java applications," he continues. "Now the developers can deploy whatever they like onto the new platform with the same level of visibility, monitoring, and support. That means we can test out new ideas quicker."

Auto Trader (UK) is now planning to complete its migration, and focus on consolidating its infrastructure on GCP. "Our architecture consists of around 500 logical services," says Karl. "Around 140 of those are already in production on GCP, and we plan to migrate the rest over the next year so everything is built, managed, and monitored in the same way."

"From a business perspective, migrating to Google Cloud Platform means we can get ideas up and running quickly," says Russell. "It's enabling us to build brilliant new products such as Retail Accelerator, which provides rich data insights for our customers' vehicle stock. These new services help us stay ahead."

About Auto Trader (UK)

Auto Trader (UK) is the United Kingdom's largest digital automotive marketplace and simplifies the journey of buying or selling a car for consumers and retailers.

Industries: Technology, Retail & Consumer Goods
Location: United Kingdom