Here’s how Calcey helped a London-based food-tech startup transform their business with AWS Lambda

When you think about it, the process of ordering food through an app does seem like magic. A few taps here and there, and voila! Your food is already on its way. But unbeknownst to us, there is a lot that goes on behind the scenes. Take the case of Fresh Fitness Food (FFF), a healthy meal delivery service based in London with whom we have had the pleasure of working with. Every day, FFF delivers thousands of bespoke meals to its customers across London.

To borrow a metaphor, if the complexity of a regular meal delivery app can be equated to the experience of driving a car on a busy road, the complexity involved in ensuring a bespoke meal delivery service such as FFF runs smoothly is akin to piloting a helicopter. Every minute adjustment from the user’s end can set off a chain reaction in the algorithm that powers the company.

Like most other technologically powered services, FFF too is powered by an algorithm whose main function is to carefully put together a set of bespoke meals to suit a given daily caloric requirement, which can vary from customer to customer. The actual meals are then prepared accordingly and delivered on a pre-set schedule. At first glance, this looks easy, but when you have to tweak thousands of meals a day, it quickly becomes a nightmare.

On a given day, FFF has to balance and create meal templates for anywhere between fifty to hundreds of new orders. While the existing infrastructure was capable of managing this workload, any change to existing recipes or meals invalidated all previous meal/recipe templates due to changes in the nutrients between meals. This created a need to re-balance and create new meal templates for a large number of orders within a short timeframe, and the existing infrastructure could not cope with this increased demand for speed and simultaneous processing power.

When we first spoke to the FFF team, we found that FFF was running its own legacy meal balancing algorithm on a regular server which was also used to host all their backend IT infrastructure. As a result, whenever the resource-intensive algorithm was run, it slowed things down enormously for the entire company. With the algorithm needing 2-3 minutes to process each order, re-balancing FFF’s full order volume would have taken up to 4 days, and left quite a few Londoners hungry and disgruntled in the process.

Our Solution

Once we realised that FFF’s ability to scale and grow as a business significantly depended on the efficiency of the meal balancing algorithm, it became clear that whatever solution we came up with must also be scalable seamlessly. Since FFF was not a large corporation with deep pockets, we also had to be mindful of running costs.

After careful deliberation, the Calcey team zeroed-in on using AWS Lambda to host the new meal balancing algorithm. AWS Lambda is a server-less service provided by AWS, and is used to isolate time consuming computing activities away from regular IT infrastructure. A process running on Lambda is easily scalable, provided the underlying dependencies can support it.

How AWS Lambda works /Credits: Amazon AWS

In deploying the retooled meal balancing algorithm for FFF, we had to throttle the performance of the Lambda service, in order to ensure harmony with the capabilities of the existing database. But we also gave FFF the ability to increase the number of concurrent executions by increasing the resources available to the database, should it ever become necessary.

Even with performance throttled, Lambda has been successful in speeding up FFF’s meal balancing algorithm tenfold. What would have taken four days will now take only eight hours. That’s good enough for FFF’s current scale of operations and near term growth plans. And the operating cost of this dramatic performance enhancement? USD 15 per month. Not to mention the significant cost savings reaped by shifting meal balancing from the existing servers to Lambda.

Our experience retooling a key business process using AWS Lambda is also a great lesson for developers and executives everywhere. Having understood FFF’s requirements, there was no need to overhaul the entire IT infrastructure, as suited up consultants may tell you. Instead, with a little bit of ingenuity and pragmatism, it is possible to fashion outstanding IT solutions to business problems without burning a huge hole in a company’s budget.

If your business is also looking to move key business processes to the cloud, talk to us and we will be happy to help!

Cover image credits: thecoach.co.uk