America’s Largest Telecommunications Provider Goes Reactive

Verizon Wireless deploys Lightbend Reactive Platform and doubles overall business and performance results using half the hardware

Verizon Wireless operates the largest 4G LTE cell network in the United States, covering more than 98 percent of the country. With more than 146 million subscribers and 175 million monthly unique site visitors, Verizon is the largest telecommunications provider in the United States. The company handles 2.5 billion transactions a year and ranks in the top six web sites in the country.


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Source: IBM Keynote, Reactive Summit 2017

To support customers online with business transactions and orders, Verizon for many years based its systems on Oracle Commerce Platform. Working with this platform posed many challenges. The application was a humongous monolith. Software builds and changes required new code to run all night since the code base was so large. To set up a testing, development or production environment required five to 10 days of work because of all of the complexities. Emergency production fixes took 24 hours.

At the same time, demands on the system were exploding as Verizon moved more and more customer transactions online and added support for a range of new features, including Alexa, Google Home, Facebook chat bots and more. Because of the system architecture and complexities, it took the Verizon team on average two months to roll out any new features on the system.

For more than a decade, Verizon’s engineers had to recreate the entire e-commerce site in parallel with a special light code base that disabled logging, removed all complex transaction requirements and was subjected to massive load testing. This bespoke web site only ran in production for a few days each year, even though it took more than six months to create. The Oracle Commerce Platform couldn’t handle the massive increase in site traffic on special holiday sales days and for the iconic annual iPhone new product launches. Verizon’s site never crashed on the holidays or after a new iPhone launch, an industry record unmatched by any other cell provider. But all of that special code was tossed out every year and never re-used.

Last year Verizon set up a special team of architects to review alternatives to the Oracle platform. They quickly embraced Reactive principles. Over a two-month period, they evaluated every major platform on the market. The final two choices were Spring Boot from Pivotal and the Reactive Platform from Lightbend. Verizon needed a system that could support them in production for three to five years before procurement would approve a purchase.

In the end, Lightbend had technical advantages, particularly around async, non-blocking I/O over Spring Boot and Pivotal. Verizon quickly built out a new system for both the Verizon app and the mobile platform.

What Verizon liked about the Lightbend Reactive platform (specifically Play and Akka), were its ability to scale as needed, the hot reload features and the ease of use by ops teams. The Reactive Platform also delivered blazing performance through features like support for stateless, asynchronous non-blocking I/O, the ability to bounce a server in seconds, minimum GC, and a JVM footprint of under 500Mb. The legacy Oracle system required 20Gb of reserved memory since everything was cached locally. The hot reload cut development cycles in half.

The before and after results were stunning.

Under Oracle, there were hard limits to the load the infrastructure could handle. Productivity was slow, it required state on the server JVM, code blocking, and custom code with multithreading. Bounce to server took 40 minutes.

In the mobile phone network industry, average customer response times through the Web site are around six to seven seconds. On Oracle, Verizon was at six seconds. With Lightbend and the Reactive Platform, that time was slashed to 2.4 seconds. Oracle ATG could handle up to 1,600 orders a minute. Lightbend has been tested to 12,000 orders per minute and Verizon expects to increase that number over time, almost an order of magnitude jump.

The performance and user experience benefits translated into amazing bottom line business results as well. Sales on the new platform increased 235 percent. Conversion rates jumped 197 percent. Build times took 40 percent less effort. TCO was cut in half.

Using half the resources on both the hardware and human side of the equation, Verizon Wireless achieved results twice as good as with the previous platform. The CIO is now taking the new Lightbend system to other major business groups at Verizon, such as billing and point of sale, to encourage them to move to the Reactive Platform.

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