The Data and Storage Guru Interview with Ifor Evans CTO at PropertyGuru

A recent press release from ASEAN online property portal PropertyGuru announced a strategic investment of $175million USD to aid its ASEAN expansion. This caught our eye and we wondered what technology a new era born in the web type company uses to manage the vast amount of data they must create and manage, We took the time to chat with Ifor Evans, CTO of PropertyGuru Group about the technology he uses to manage and protect the data that ultimately is the life blood of a company that is built on electronic assets.

DSA - Running a site like PropertyGuru must require a lot of thought about uptime and availability - what technologies do you use for backup and DR?
Ifor -  We have increased our online systems uptime to better than 99.99% in the last year. We have indeed put a lot of thought into this – we operate under a HA (High Availability Policy).
 
Some of the ways we achieve this are by constantly and actively looking for single points of failure from our systems and removing them. We operate multiple instances of all server types (Web Servers, Database Servers etc) so that in the event of failure of a server the remaining ones can take up the load. We also ensure that all of our servers and services are spread across two AWS Availability Zones (Data Centers) which are at opposite ends of Singapore and do not share any infrastructure in common (Internet lines, power etc). PropertyGuru could suffer the loss of an entire Data Center and only suffer a temporary slowdown as the other took up the load and autoscaled to handle the complete traffic load.
 
All of our data (database, images, assets etc) are backed up both across multiple regions and to offsite storage locations.
 
Finally we conduct regular firedrills where we simulate anything from a single server to an entire Availability Zone to lack of access to our corporate office space and see how the systems react and what we can do to improve the response.
 
DSA. -  How much data does the business create and store and how do you handle data management and storage demands?
Ifor -  PropertyGuru, being the leader in its market, has about 7+ years worth of data about property listings both rental and sales. We also have similarly large amounts of collected user behavior on the types of properties and locations searched for.
 
This data resides in an advanced cloud based data storage facility with (currently) more than 40 TeraBytes of data. The cloud based storage facility is almost infinitely scalable although, obviously, cost becomes more and more of an issue as data volumes increase and the volumes of backups required multiply along with the data itself.
 
We have dedicated teams who focus on both the integrity, security and physical backing up of the data. We also have a team dedicated to the management of the data itself and the extraction of information and Insight from the raw data. This team works along side Product, Marketing, Sales etc. to generate products that leverage the generated Insight to the benefit of both PropertyGuru and our users.
 
DSA -  How about data privacy and sovereignty? Can users of your site be sure that you are keeping their personal data secure?
Ifor - . At PropertyGuru we take data privacy and protection very seriously. We are in complete compliance with the Personal Data Privacy Act of Singapore. 
 
We have policies and procedures in place, which govern the access control to our data.
Even within our Development Teams whenever data is required for testing and development the data is first anonymized and masked to protect our users privacy from even our own staff.
 
Finally, we have processes in place where users of our system can request to see what data we are holding about them and to be able to have it corrected or removed if the data is no longer valid, correct or relevant.
 
DSA - We hear a lot about software defined data center, is this something that you need to support your own Backend IT or do you use more traditional data center technologies.
Ifor -  We are currently not utilizing ITaaS (a software defined data center). Our infrastructure is however entirely in the Cloud (AWS) and is programmable from perspective of being scalable and flexible. We are more PaaS at the moment which is the more normal model being offered by cloud vendors at the moment.
 
However, we are currently investigating some new technologies e.g. Apache Mesos which will take us towards this goal but it is early days yet.
 

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