Roam Directories Goes Serverless With Iron.io and Other Cloud Services

Users expect immediate access to information, and this expectation is no different in the commercial real estate industry. Fast-moving companies need innovative web tools that enable property managers to upload, update and exchange building information with prospective tenants.

Roam Directories, founded in 2013, is a relatively new company in an industry filled with established firms. They created a commercial real estate directory that provides unique and engaging experiences for prospective tenants, while empowering property managers to deliver a rich set of materials that provide an enhanced view of a property.

To make this possible, Roam Directories built the Atlas directory, an interactive, digital touchscreen display that shows building tenants, visitors, and prospective tenants up-to-date photos, videos, architectural drawings, and other materials about the building they are visiting. The Atlas interface design and workflow that Roam Directories created for property managers is a big part of their success. Also key is the way they address process automation and IT infrastructure management to keep information up to date. The combination gives them fast innovation and reduced costs that lets Roam Directories offer the Atlas service at a highly competitive price.

From Application-Driven to Event-Driven Processing

In addition to delivering innovative design and interaction, a key goal for Roam Directories was to migrate their infrastructure to a “serverless environment” by employing cloud services. They wanted to reduce operational overhead, cut out non-essential capital acquisition, and eliminate worries about VMs, load balancers, and other application and data center concerns.

In making this transition, Roam Directories leveraged a number of cloud-based services that execute key tasks, such as data processing, imaging handling, user registration, authentication, email distribution, and social media streams. Their processing moved from application-driven to event-driven. Instead of large monolithic applications running constantly in the background, they moved to microservices (i.e. task-specific services running in the cloud that are triggered based on events, automated schedules, and other asynchronous application activities).

“Our biggest goal is to move our entire application to be 100% serverless. Naturally there are challenges related to things like user authentication, priorities, and processing. Our application does not do a ton of data handling on it’s own as we’ve done a good job leveraging third party services…We leverage other services to handle the tasks that a server/cluster normally would.” says Dennis Smolek, CTO and Founder of Roam Directories.

Roam Directories was in a fortunate position of being able to carefully select among a growing catalog of technologies to accelerate their transition to the cloud. This freedom meant choosing not only the best products but also selecting ones that didn’t create vendor lock-in or require specific platforms, languages, patterns, or process flows.

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Enabling Lean and Agile Development Processes

A big part of the migration for Roam Directories to a serverless infrastructure was leveraging the Iron.io platform as their main event-driven workload processor. This change allowed them to improve process efficiency and reduce costs in keeping with their lean and agile philosophy.

Now, email notifications, user registration, content filtering and monitoring services are all pushed to the cloud and managed by workers running within IronWorker, an asynchronous task-processing service provided by Iron.io. IronWorker delivers the muscle behind the scenes by efficiently orchestrating the individual tasks that are processed on demand as part of the Atlas service.

By leveraging the IronWorker service, Roam Directories is able to offload key tasks such as mass email events to the background, and thus free up valuable resources and save time as well as scale out the workload. Instead of using serial processes that could take hours, the company takes advantage of on-demand scale to distribute the work and shrink the duration.

A large number of the events and workloads requires Roam Directories to push outbound services and data to the Atlas touchscreen displays. Another set of equally important activity is related to data input. “Without a server to poll or query other data sources or opening up our datastore to less secure third-party services, we were left with a big question on how [to get data into our system] would work. We’ve leveraged workers and scheduled tasks within the IronWorker service to connect to all sorts of API’s and feeds and then decide what other actions to take,” according to Smolek.

This switch not only eliminates having resources run idle, it also lets them respond quickly to new data sources and inputs. To bring data in, they simply write some task-specific code, create a schedule, upload to IronWorker, and run it.

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Another benefit realized by Roam Directories, using this event-driven architecture, involves social media streams. A favorite example is what they’re doing with Twitter.

Twitter’s streaming API allows users to ‘listen’ to feeds and sources like hashtags or even just words in a string. We were originally going to have a server up and running 24/7 whose only job was to listen to Twitter.

It seemed very wasteful and expensive. Now with workers, we pull our listeners (users and hashtags) from Google’s Firebase service and initiate a stream to Twitter. Every 30 minutes, the worker restarts itself. As each tweet comes in, it automatically gets queued and then fires up another worker that processes the tweet, decides if we are tracking it, and sends it to WebPurify (a profanity filter and image moderation service) to make sure it’s clean. It then pushes the tweet into our Firebase account.

We are working to improve this a bit but it has made us go from polling and delayed processing to near real-time twitter tracking with the security that the content that shows on our screens will be moderated and filtered. All of this at scale, hundreds of tweets automatically queued up for processing with concurrent workers running and making it super fast.

– Dennis Smolek, CTO and Founder, Roam Directories.

The Move to Event-Driven Processing

At the beginning of the project, Roam Directories considered a few alternatives to Iron.io. When asked, Dennis explained how he arrived at his decision to use IronWorker. “I started with beanstalkd and Gearman but that meant dedicated boxes/services for workers, so I looked at SQS but that didn’t actually handle processing the message which IronWorkers do so well,” said Smolek.

These other task processing solutions may require significant effort to connect the components and orchestrate the workflows. Ops teams also must regularly manage the components and servers that perform the processing. The IronWorker platform provides the orchestration, management, and processing including retries, priority queues, monitoring, reporting, and more.

Automation is key for small startups and teams. Tools, like Zapier, are great to handle connecting one app to another, but with a full application you need to have more flexibility and management…With Iron.io, we have much higher levels of control and monitoring.

Going serverless is an insane money saver. For many front-end/support applications, a large portion of server time is spent idling. And no matter how well you design your systems to scale you will have a ton of CPU/Storage/Instances doing nothing but cost you money. We are on a developer plan with Iron.io and we expect to save at least $2,000/mo. We are a very early stage company and so that kind of savings is huge.

– Dennis Smolek

We’re pleased that the folks at Roam Directories are such strong fans of IronWorker. And we’re always glad to hear stories that reinforce use cases where Iron.io can help growing companies like Roam Directories move quickly, scale with little effort, and realize big cost savings along the way.


About Dennis Smolek

Dennis Smolek is CTO and founder of Roam Directories. He has worked in the interactive space for the past 10 years starting his own creative agency and developing high end interactive solutions.

About Roam Directories

Roam Directories’ mission is to create a new era of directories that deliver a unique experience to office buildings. With a focus on functionality, design, and customization, Roam Directories do more than simply list information like companies and contacts. Incorporating familiar concepts from web and mobile design such as high-impact images, quality typography, and interactive layouts, Roam’s touchscreen interfaces stand out from competitors.


How to Get Started

To give Iron.io a try, sign up for a free IronWorker or IronMQ account today at Iron.io.

As a reward for signing up, we’ll even provide you with a 30-day trial of advanced features so that you can see how moving to the cloud will change the way you think about application development.