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Children’s debit card provider Gohenry banks on Google Cloud to ease IT infrastructure growing pains

The CTO and COO of child-focused, parent-controlled debit card service provider Gohenry discusses how moving to the Google Cloud has helped its IT infrastructure avoid user-related growing pains

Learning to budget and how to manage money are widely considered essential skills children should learn in preparation for adulthood, and are ones the team at Gohenry is focused on helping its users develop through the provision of parent-controlled debit card services. 

As Louise Hill, the company’s co-founder and chief operating officer (COO), points out, at the time of the company’s launch in 2012, there was no other service on the market that let children spend money in the same way adults do by using debit and credit cards.

The UK economy, meanwhile, has become increasingly cashless and reliant on digital transactions in recent years, but parents still dole out pocket money in physical cash to their children despite this, Hill tells Computer Weekly.

“As a parent, I use cards for online shopping, to get money out of the ATM and to make contactless purchases, and realised that my kids were using my iTunes account to download music, for example, while having no clue that in doing so they were spending money. So kids were being left behind, in that respect,” she says.

By giving children their own debit cards, they become accountable for what they choose to spend their money on and in what quantity, which should help them get to grips with the basic principles of budgeting and forward-planning their expenditures.

“It works on so many levels, in terms of providing children with a financial education and guidance on how to use money effectively, which we believe to be a practical tool for life that everybody needs,” she adds.

Hill appears to be far from alone in her thinking on this, given the rapid pace of take-up Gohenry has seen for its services in recent years. “Our growth has been above 30% year on year for the past three years, and we are growing at a significant pace,” she says.

“Our customer base has doubled in the past two years, and we announced in March this year that we had reached over a million active customers. It is substantially above that now.”

The Gohenry growth spurt

The surge in take-up witnessed by the firm over the course of the past few years may have been harder for its IT infrastructure to accommodate had it not migrated “99%” of its systems to the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) three years ago.

The migration was overseen by the firm’s long-standing hosting provider partner, Rackspace Technology, which the Gohenry team had originally turned to several years prior to the Google migration to help it cope with an earlier growth spurt in user numbers.

“Many years ago, we had just a few computers to run our infrastructure, then five years ago we moved our infrastructure to Rackspace because we needed more power so we used some of the servers in their datacentre,” Gohenry CTO Jeff Faubel tells Computer Weekly.

“Three years ago, we started to realise that we needed even more power – to the point that every month we needed more and more servers. So we decided to move our infrastructure to the cloud.”

The scalability the public cloud could offer was a big factor in Gohenry’s decision to move its IT infrastructure off-premise to ensure the company could accommodate all this growth.

“The number of customers [we have] is growing very rapidly every month, and we also launched in the US in 2018, and we’ve seen our customer base growing very rapidly,” says Faubel.

“The power required to serve those customers is not just about the numbers, because customers come in, they start using the service and use more and more functionality within it [over time], and we can see that the power required is exponential as opposed to incremental.”

With these usage trends in mind, several years ago the company embarked on a market evaluation of public cloud providers and what they could offer, and decided that a move to GCP would be the best fit for all concerned, says Faubel.

“We felt comfortable with its offering, it really seemed to listen to what we wanted to do and like it wanted to be part of our journey,” he says. “It felt a lot more intimate than some of the other providers, and that’s why we went with Google Cloud. We haven’t regretted that decision at all.”

Digging deep into the Google Cloud portfolio

The migration itself went ahead without a hitch at 3am on a Monday morning three years ago, says Faubel, and coincided with a shift over to a Google Kubernetes Engine-based microservices architecture for its infrastructure at the same time. 

The adoption of microservices has brought resiliency benefits to Gohenry’s infrastructure, while ensuring it has the scaling capacity needed to accommodate the time-sensitive spikes in usage the company frequently encounters.

“The Google infrastructure allows us to meet that requirement straight away through the use of tools that enable auto-scaling, for example, when we need power on a Friday evening or a Saturday morning, when kids are shopping. The cloud allows us to do that without any manual intervention,” says Faubel.

Resiliency and uptime are considered essential for the successful running of all online services and apps, but especially where Gohenry and its users are concerned, continues Hill.

“As adults, if we go into a shop and use our debit cards, or if we’re at a train station and try to buy a ticket and that doesn’t work, we could just pull out another debit card or a credit card until we find one that works,” she says.

“Children have Gohenry and nothing else. So our services being available 100% of the time, 24 hours a day, is critical. We can’t let our customers down, because they are kids and they only have Gohenry.”

Since the migration, the amount of Google Cloud compute resources the company uses has increased, but so too has the breadth of cloud services it taps into within the tech giant’s broader portfolio.

As detailed by Faubel, Google’s fully managed, serverless, data warehouse technology BigQuery is one of the services it now uses, alongside the company’s data workflow orchestration tool Composer and its cloud application monitoring service Operations.

When combined, these services collectively have an important role to play in helping the Gohenry technology team make sense of the growing quantities of user data it is accruing as the size of its customer base grows.

This is particularly true when it comes to rolling out new products and services in the future, and ensuring Gohenry continues to meet the financial needs of its customer base as they mature.

For Gohenry, the migration – coupled with the move to a microservices architecture – means the firm’s tech team is also confident in its own abilities to ensure its infrastructure can withstand any growing pains it may encounter of its own in the years to come.

“The infrastructure we’ve built over the years gives us confidence that we can spend as much marketing money as we like without needing to rearchitect our infrastructure, so that gives us the confidence to go strongly into the US, for example, or do something else in the future [to fuel our growth]. It’s stability, scalability and confidence that we’ve built here,” says Faubel.

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