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Why Etsy Is Moving Its Data Centers To The Cloud

At the end of a bold two-year project to move its operations to the Google Cloud, craft giant Etsy expects to be nimbler, smarter, and more cost-efficient.

Why Etsy Is Moving Its Data Centers To The Cloud
[Photo: Flickr user Ben Seidelman]

Earlier this year, craft site Etsy began its own artisan project of sorts, a two-year journey to bring its self-managed data centers to the cloud.

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“We’d been in a [physical] data center since the company was founded 13 years ago,” Mike Fisher, CTO of Etsy, tells Fast Company. But as the company started to look at what it needed to scale, the time came to consider change—both to better functionality and sustainability.

“Etsy, since its inception, has been focused on this idea of sustainability,” says Fisher. “That means everything from the way we own and operate our offices, food delivery, compost, and everything to of course renewable energy.”

The company decided to make a commitment to reduce the energy utilization from its data centers by 25% over the next few years, a task made significantly easier by the cloud. A data center runs 24/7, 365—but with the cloud, Etsy could scale things down when it didn’t need that peak capacity.

“I gave this example the other day that to spin up 150 servers might take us weeks to months at the data center by the time we order them and rack them and provision and so forth,” Fisher says. “It’s not exactly—but that equivalent as one of our [cloud] exercises we did it in about four minutes. So that’s the type of compute on demand that we can do.”

That speed gives Etsy a lot more power when it comes to machine learning, which benefits its users. For instance, the site can provide context-specific search rankings, where Etsy takes search results and applies those results to the context that the user made the search in.

In that scenario, it knows a user has clicked on a host of specific items before performing a search and can apply that information to list relevant items first rather than provide results of 200 different items in random order.

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“We’re looking to apply it to lots of other areas within the site,” Fisher says. Because of the cloud, “If we see an opportunity to apply something in an algorithm like that, we can do so without having to worry about computing constraints.”

Etsy Chooses Google Cloud

While many companies are moving to a multi-cloud strategy, Etsy opted to use just one provider: Google. Fisher says that while the company looked at a few different providers, it was also looking for one that understood its personal commitment to sustainability.

“We saw that with Google, their commitment to sustainability and renewable energy fell very much in line with us,” Fisher says. “And because they’re so focused on it, they were able to understand our perspective on it.”

Google also focuses on two things that are a huge part of Etsy’s business: big data and machine learning.

“We process 1.2 billion events per day. Those 33 million users/buyers who come to the site, they create all these types of events that we monitor, and we have to process all that data,” says Fisher. “That feeds into things like our machine learning. So, behind the scenes, we have this really massive big data machine learning infrastructure that powers us.”

Making the move to the cloud isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight—it’s a process that will be done strategically over two years to minimize the impact on its customers.

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“We’re a couple of months into it. We actually serve a majority of our images from Google already,” says Fisher. He says the move to the cloud will set Etsy up for a much more efficient and sustainable future.

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About the author

Emily is a journalist based in San Francisco.

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