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BlaBlaCar: Accelerating growth for a world-leading long-distance carpooling platform

About BlaBlaCar

BlaBlaCar is a world-leading long-distance carpooling platform and a global, trusted community of 90 million drivers and passengers in 22 countries. The platform connects people looking to travel long distances with drivers heading the same way, so they can travel together and share the cost. From cars to e-scooters, BlaBlaCar aims to become the go-to marketplace for shared mobility.

Industries: Transportation

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BlaBlaCar migrated to Google Cloud to support its growing global community with a scalable, data-driven infrastructure that makes it possible to understand and meet users’ needs in real time.

Google Cloud results

  • Gives drivers and passengers a reliable form of transport thanks to 99.9% availability on Google Cloud
  • Supports analysis of many petabytes of data per day with BigQuery to help BlaBlaCar serve users better
  • Enables developers to focus on creating new features and improvements instead of managing infrastructure, thanks to managed services
  • Helps data scientists focus on matching the right passengers with drivers while Cloud Bigtable monitors database infrastructure

Supports a platform that serves more than 90M users

It was December 2003. Entrepreneur Frederic Mazzella was trying to reach his family home in the French countryside, but all the trains were fully booked. For a moment, he thought he might not make it home for Christmas, but then his sister offered to take a long detour from her route to pick him up by car. It was a kind gesture that sparked an idea in Fred’s mind.

As he noticed the sheer number of people driving alone on that same road, Fred saw the potential to turn all those empty seats into a new travel network. Over the next decade, he worked with co-founders Francis Nappez and Nicolas Brusson to transform this idea into the world’s leading long-distance carpooling platform: BlaBlaCar. Today, it’s a community that unites 90 million drivers and passengers in 22 countries worldwide.

Through its website and mobile app, BlaBlaCar connects drivers and passengers looking to share a ride and the cost of a journey, and has saved an estimated €14 billion in traveling costs since its launch in 2006. What’s more: by doubling the occupancy rate of cars instead of the number of cars on the road, the app operates a carbon-saving network. BlaBlaCar carpoolers saved an estimated 1.6 million tons of CO2 in 2018 alone.

“We were looking to enter two highly competitive markets while reaching into a third market that we felt had great potential. We realized that moving to Google Cloud would help to make this expansion possible, allowing us to test markets and products at scale, efficiently, and with minimal investment.”

Olivier Bonnet, Chief Technology Officer, BlaBlaCar

To create more efficient, affordable, and friendly ways of traveling, the company is now branching out to different modes of transportation. BlaBlaBus operates coach services between European cities, for example, and BlaBlaLines enables daily commuters to share short-distance trips, helping to solve the traffic problems of many large cities.

But to continue expanding and developing its offering, BlaBlaCar needed a new approach to technology. The company’s on-premises infrastructure was built to support one market (France) and struggled to keep up with the company’s fast expansion. So BlaBlaCar decided to migrate to a cloud-based infrastructure with the scalability needed to support its growing global community. To address this need while maintaining operational efficiency, in 2018 BlaBlaCar turned to Google Cloud.

“As we were entering a diversification phase, we were looking to enter two highly competitive markets while reaching into a third market that we felt had great potential,” shares Olivier Bonnet, Chief Technology Officer at BlaBlaCar. “We realized that moving to Google Cloud would help to make this expansion possible, allowing us to test markets and products at scale, efficiently, and with minimal investment.”

“Google Kubernetes Engine automates the full life cycle of Kubernetes clusters. This allows our teams to focus on higher-impact projects to improve the reliability of our website, such as streamlining our deployment processes, unifying our observability, and empowering product teams to ship with growing confidence.”

Nicolas Salvy, Head of Infrastructure & Operations, BlaBlaCar

Future-proofing the infrastructure with Google Kubernetes Engine

In 2012, as BlaBlaCar rapidly expanded from its native France to several countries across Europe, then Latin America, Russia, and India, its existing infrastructure started falling behind, making it more and more difficult to answer its customers’ needs. They were experiencing issues with returning carpool search results consistently, processing payments, and putting drivers and passengers in touch. For BlaBlaCar, it was an unacceptable situation. The company was set on growth, but it was also committed to improving its products and the customer experience. As its previous infrastructure struggled to keep up, BlaBlaCar’s engineering team was spending increasing amounts of time maintaining servers instead of being able to build and enhance platform features. That’s when the company decided to begin its cloud-native journey.

“When you’re thinking about doubling the number of servers,” says Infrastructure Engineer Simon Lallemand, “you start thinking, ‘What should I do to be more efficient?’ The answer is not to hire more and more people just to deal with the servers and installation. You need to move away from short-term fixes and look for a more future-proof solution.”

For BlaBlaCar, that solution is containerization, which allows developers to quickly create ready-to-run, self-contained applications that can be deployed, tested, and updated independently from each other. Previously, the company ran its containerized applications and workloads on its on-premises server, but in order to automate deployment and management of these containers at scale and further simplify its daily operations, the company decided to migrate to Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE). This enabled it to reduce operational overhead with self-managed auto-repair and auto-upgrade features and ease competency management.

“Google Kubernetes Engine automates the full life cycle of Kubernetes clusters. This allows our teams to focus on higher-impact projects to improve the reliability of our website, such as streamlining our deployment processes, unifying our observability, and empowering product teams to ship with growing confidence,” says Nicolas Salvy, Head of Infrastructure and Operations at BlaBlaCar, who shares that app availability has gone up to 99.7% since the implementation, eliminating highly variable latency issues.

“Before using containers on GKE, it would take sometimes a day, sometimes two, just to create a new service,” says Simon Lallemand, Infrastructure Engineer at BlaBlaCar. "Containers enable us to copy a new service in a matter of minutes instead and help us with capacity planning in our data center because we have fewer constraints due to this abstraction between the services and the hardware we run on. For the developers, it also means they can focus only on the features that they’re developing and not on the underlying infrastructure that delivers them," he explains.

Using data to help passengers and drivers find each other

When BlaBlaCar first began, it was focused on building momentum and popularity by gaining more users, and this objective led its data analytics and data science team to focus on marketing intelligence. To support their exploratory approach to data without having to worry about managing infrastructure, these teams selected BigQuery as their data warehouse of choice, becoming BlaBlaCar’s earliest adopters of cloud managed services. As the company grew, their priority shifted to keeping existing users happy and keeping them coming back to the platform. Realizing that the key to making this happen was to ensure more successful shared journeys, the data teams shifted their efforts to refining the platform’s passenger-driver matching algorithm. In order to gather, process, and analyze large amounts of data for this project, BlaBlaCar took advantage of the scalable data warehouse solution it already had in place.

“Our users come to BlaBlaCar to travel together and will only come back if the experience is a positive one. So, the data analysis involved in matching the right passengers with the right drivers is instrumental to successfully serving our users,” says Emmanuel Martin-Chave, Head of Data Services at BlaBlaCar. “With BigQuery, we can analyze our daily 72 terabytes of data needed to do this at blazing-fast speed,” adds Kineret Kimhi, Engineer Manager at BlaBlaCar.

Next, to handle the growing amount of data generated from the expanding global community, BlaBlaCar moved further toward a service-oriented architecture with Cloud Bigtable, a fully managed, scalable NoSQL database service for large analytical and operational workloads.

“We wanted to go with a managed service to reduce the cost of the maintenance. More importantly, for the app development team, we wanted to focus on producing the logic of handling user actions, instead of spending our time monitoring issues on the database infrastructure,” recalls Souhaib Guitouni, Software Development Engineer at BlaBlaCar. “Cloud Bigtable ticked all of those boxes. To test it, we deployed the service on our on-premises data center. And by moving to Google Cloud, we slashed our latency times by two-thirds.”

The company also integrates these services with the fully managed relational database Cloud SQL. This way, more time-consuming tasks are automated, such as database provisioning and storage capacity management, so BlaBlaCar can focus instead on leveraging machine learning algorithms to help passengers and drivers efficiently find the best carpool at the right price.

“Our business and global community is built around a philosophy of friendship and mutual support. With a scalable infrastructure and real-time solutions on Google Cloud, we’re maximizing millions of users’ chances of having a successful experience. The more successful experiences we create, the more our fraternity can keep expanding.”

Olivier Bonnet, Chief Technology Officer, BlaBlaCar

On the road to more innovation

With support from the Google Cloud Technical Account Management program, BlaBlaCar had completed 90% of its migration to Google Cloud by the first half of 2020. And then, the company did the unthinkable: it asked its community not to travel.

In light of the unfolding coronavirus situation, BlaBlaCar suspended its bus network in Europe and soon after, co-founder and CEO Nicolas Brusson sent an email to the entire BlaBlaCar community of carpoolers, urging them to stay home to comply with country and city directives around the world and help to contain the spread of the virus.

As long-time users of Google Workspace, BlaBlaCar quickly adapted to a fully remote working environment, and with little user activity on the platform, its engineering team focused on technical migrations from its PHP monolith to a microservice-oriented architecture on Google Cloud.

Meanwhile, with travel off limits, the company asked its members: “As a global community, how can we help you?” The company then organized a remote hackathon dedicated to finding solutions to coronavirus-related challenges and applied its technical expertise to an app called BlaBlaHelp, which runs on Google Cloud and enabled people to help each other buy basic necessities throughout the lockdown. In under two weeks, the free-of-charge app was live in 10 countries, gathering 10,000 members in its first 24 hours. They used it to find trusted helpers or offer assistance to vulnerable neighbors who would be more at risk if they went out to buy their own groceries.

Next, BlaBlaCar plans to decommission its on-premises data center by early 2021 and is continuing the migration of two recently acquired European coach and bus companies to Google Cloud and its new software factory.

“Our business and global community is built around a philosophy of friendship and mutual support. With a scalable infrastructure and real-time solutions on Google Cloud, we’re maximizing millions of users’ chances of having a successful experience,” says Olivier Bonnet. “The more successful experiences we create, the more our fraternity can keep expanding."

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

Contact us

About BlaBlaCar

BlaBlaCar is a world-leading long-distance carpooling platform and a global, trusted community of 90 million drivers and passengers in 22 countries. The platform connects people looking to travel long distances with drivers heading the same way, so they can travel together and share the cost. From cars to e-scooters, BlaBlaCar aims to become the go-to marketplace for shared mobility.

Industries: Transportation