HK01 caters to 500% growth on open source, cloud

Alex Wang, CTO, HK01 Born as an internet company, local news platform HK01 fully embraces open source and cloud computing to enable seamless scaling of its media business.

Launched in 2016, HK01 is an internet company in Hong Kong that operates primarily as an online media platform. It provides local news content via mobile app, website, social media and a weekly print publication. With more than 500 employees, the company is said to run like a startup that allows it to scale in a nimble manner.

Since its launch about 1.5 years ago, HK01 has achieved 500% year on year growth. "This is a happy problem for us," said Alex Wang (pictured), HK01's chief technology officer, at the earlier AWS Summit held in Hong Kong. "As our readership expanded, our servers could not cope with the increased traffic. Our technology people had to work all day and night to update our infrastructure."

Boosting system scalability

Wang's IT team identified four key challenges to address: system scalability, database scaling, understand its users, and cost optimization.

The first challenge concerned HK01's IT system scalability and stability. For example, it had a log in system with which HK01 used to serve one million users. But later occasional traffic spikes meant that it could be serving 10 million users.

Next is to scale its database. According to Wang, the IT team might have started by using "very simple technology," such as PMP, MySQL, or just static web page. But as its number of users grew such that it received 1,000 requests per second, the IT shop needed to upgrade its infrastructure, while making sure no downtime resulted. "Today we serve about eight million users per month, and we have experienced no downtime."

To understanding its fast growing readership is the prerequisite to customize its news content delivery. "We want to provide relevant customer services to our users. This means we have understand our users first," Wang said. "But how should we understand the preference of our eight million users, provide them with suggestions and ad pushes, while we do not make ourselves 'noisy?'" he asked.

Finally, and typical to most media organizations, HK01 cared about cost optimization. "We are experiencing 500% growth, but we don't necessarily increase our costs by five times," he said. Indeed, HK01 had kept its costs stable following the adoption of cloud computing.

100% open source

To increase system scalability and stability, Wang's team adopted microservices. With microservices, one can scale each service individually. "For example, if you operate a member log in page, you can choose only to scale your log in server to save costs," he said. Another benefit with using microservices, according to Wang, is if one of HK01's systems goes down -- be it the log in system, image service or search engine -- it will not impact its other services and create a bad user experience.