loveholidays: Streamlining travel planning at scale with Google Cloud Platform

About loveholidays

Launched in 2012, loveholidays helps customers find their perfect holiday with an intuitive, bespoke way of searching that has helped make it one of the UK's fastest growing online travel agencies according to Fast Track.

Industries: Travel & Hospitality
Location: United Kingdom

About Rackspace

One of the premier names in cloud computing, Rackspace provides unbiased expertise, based on proven results, across all the leading technologies.

With Google Kubernetes Engine and Google Cloud Build, loveholidays redesigned its infrastructure for speed, stability, and scalability.

Google Cloud Results

  • Containerizes and migrates 30 loveholidays applications to Google Kubernetes Engine in just 3 months
  • Handles the peak holiday booking season without disruption and need for intensive infrastructure management
  • Quadruples network traffic with partners and suppliers, making more offers available to customers quicker
  • Empowers developers to work at their preferred pace and more independently of DevOps engineers

Triples its data cache, while halving the time to index

loveholidays aims to give its customers inspirational holiday experiences, starting from the booking process itself. Launched in 2012, loveholidays' success lies in its technology and the way it handles the search process. Other online travel agencies (OTAs) use APIs to connect their search engines to suppliers and partners. But the restrictions of API protocols often mean that customers have to make decisions and specify dates and destinations, at the very least, before they can even start searching. If they want to change their mind, they need to either start again or keep several browser tabs open as they work through the available options. By processing the actual data files containing all the listings from its suppliers, loveholidays can host all its holiday offers in all possible combinations on its website. This makes for a faster, smoother search experience that customers can adjust quickly and easily. In short, it allows customers to seamlessly translate their holiday aspirations into concrete plans.

"We're a fast-paced business but our setup had become a real bottleneck. We needed a new solution where we didn't have to choose between developing new features and keeping the website running. With Google Cloud Platform, we can grow the infrastructure alongside the business."

Jesse McLaughlin, CTO, loveholidays

loveholidays' intuitive booking process has proved popular with its customers, helping to make it fastest growing OTAs in the United Kingdom. By early 2018, the company had gained so many new customers that the existing IT infrastructure had reached its limits. Jesse McLaughlin, CTO at loveholidays, realized that for loveholidays to continue growing, it needed a new infrastructure designed for maximum scalability. The company has found the solution in Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

"We're a fast-paced business but our setup had become a real bottleneck. We needed a new solution where we didn't have to choose between developing new features and keeping the website running," Jesse says. "With Google Cloud Platform, we can grow the infrastructure alongside the business." In just five months on GCP, the company deployed the same number of development environments that would have taken two years to deploy previously, and builds are up as well.

"The number of builds we run has increased by at least a hundred times," says Dmitri Lerko, Head of DevOps at loveholidays. "We no longer have to cherry pick what we build, instead we get to build every single commit on every branch to gain early insights into code quality of the features we're working on."

Scaling on demand with Google Kubernetes Engine

The travel industry is highly cyclical. "Most of our yearly business is done between December and February, so that's often when our infrastructure is hit hardest," says Dmitri. The company would experience a significant boost in its customers during peak seasons, but because the exact numbers were unpredictable, capacity planning was difficult. Order too much compute and memory, and vital resources would be wasted. Order too little and service would be disrupted. "We'd make these decisions at the start of December, and then spend the next three months wondering if we'd done enough," says Jesse.

As the business rapidly grew, more and more server space was given over to production and keeping the website going. Resources were so scarce that the development environment had to be separated onto on-premises servers for testing. Developers could keep working but releases had to be planned up to five days in advance and testing had to be done as quickly as possible. By January 2018, Jesse and his team knew that the existing infrastructure wouldn't sustain another year of growth, so they began looking for alternatives.

"Google Cloud Build has been a tremendous success for us. It's a key technology that allows us to integrate between our source code and running Kubernetes clusters and applications. Being able to treat the infrastructure as code gives our developers a lot more control than they had before."

Dmitri Lerko, Head of DevOps, loveholidays

Working with Rackspace, its existing provider, loveholidays sketched out an idea of what it needed. The new architecture would be built around Kubernetes, an open-source container system developed by Google. After being introduced to GCP by Rackspace, the company ran a proof of concept alongside a leading cloud provider which didn't allow for managed Kubernetes clusters. GCP proved the better suited infrastructure because of its ease of use and the maturity of its managed Kubernetes services.

By the end of May 2018, loveholidays had gathered the resources and management backing needed to start migrating to the new infrastructure. Rackspace helped the company plan its first steps. With the holiday peak only six months away, time was of the essence. "It was very, very useful to get boot-strapped with Rackspace, and the team's expertise helped us make key decisions early on," says Jesse. "We still use the networking architecture set up by Rackspace and we have no plans to change it."

In just three months, loveholidays managed to containerize and migrate 30 of its applications to Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE), the core of the new infrastructure. Focused on services rather than virtual machines, GKE allows the company to scale up and down on demand without having to worry about managing infrastructure or configuring hardware. Soon after loveholidays began its migration, Cloud Build came out of beta, and the company wasted no time in using it to help automate its Kubernetes deployments.

"Google Cloud Build has been a tremendous success for us," says Dmitri. "It's a key technology that allows us to integrate between our source code and running Kubernetes clusters and applications. Being able to treat the infrastructure as code gives our developers a lot more control than they had before."

As well as automation, loveholidays has also improved transparency. Stackdriver monitors the system and exports the logs to a Cloud Pub/Sub stream. From there Cloud Functions takes the logs and integrates with the chat application used by the developers, to automatically publish updates on every new deployment. For the few stateful services still required, loveholidays uses virtual machines in Compute Engine. Cloud SQL manages the company's databases, while Cloud Memorystore takes care of its caching needs. Cloud Storage serves as a scalable, easy-to-use, and highly secure place to hold static assets of all kinds.

"We've tripled our cache of holiday offers to 600 gigabytes. With Google Kubernetes Engine, we can index that in just a few hours, compared to a day on our previous setup. In half the time, our customers now get triple the choice."

Jesse McLaughlin, CTO, loveholidays

Expanding horizons, reducing delays

loveholidays and its team worked hard to redesign and implement its new infrastructure in just six months, gaining a massive boost in terms of stability, scalability, and speed. By the time the peak period came around, the new solution showed the vast extent of its capabilities, handling the previous year's web traffic without any additional infrastructure management.

With GCP, loveholidays has done more than just survive this holiday season, it has also helped grow all aspects of the business. The company spends a huge amount of resources on connecting with its suppliers and partners, constantly refreshing its cache of holiday offers with the latest, most accurate data. After an expansion across Europe and the United States, loveholidays quadrupled its network traffic in less than a year. As a result of its new business ties and its ability to scale its infrastructure, it has dramatically increased its cache of holiday offers.

"We've tripled our cache of holiday offers to 600 gigabytes. With Google Kubernetes Engine, we can index that in just a few hours, compared to a day on our previous setup," says Jesse. "In half the time, our customers now get triple the choice." Thanks to this, loveholidays has seen a three times increase in the number of user searches, while requests from partners have increased tenfold.

For the loveholidays team, GCP has helped streamline and simplify workflows to an unprecedented level. Developers no longer have to plan deployments days in advance as deployments are performed without reducing capacity. "In the first few months, developers were still asking me, maybe out of habit, when to schedule their releases," says Dmitri. "I couldn't help laughing. We just don't need to worry about that anymore. With the elasticity of GCP, we're now using autoscaling to provide just-in-time capacity for our applications. Every single developer is empowered to test and launch what they want, when they want to."

With the migration complete and the peak season over, loveholidays is looking for more ways to optimize its system with GCP. The company is currently experimenting with Cloud Dataflow to see if it can speed up the cache indexing even further, while the Business Intelligence Insights team is exploring BigQuery for ways of improving the recommendation engine to customers. There are plans for further expansion overseas and loveholidays can take advantage of the global Google network. "It's the perfect time to go multi-regional for us and see what we can gain from that in terms of cost savings, lower latency, and improved disaster recovery," says Dmitri. "GCP makes that really easy for us. It's a natural progression."

About loveholidays

Launched in 2012, loveholidays helps customers find their perfect holiday with an intuitive, bespoke way of searching that has helped make it one of the UK's fastest growing online travel agencies according to Fast Track.

Industries: Travel & Hospitality
Location: United Kingdom

About Rackspace

One of the premier names in cloud computing, Rackspace provides unbiased expertise, based on proven results, across all the leading technologies.

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