Firefly Learning Ltd. (“Firefly”) is a London-based EdTech startup founded in 2000 by two 15-year-old students, Joe Mathewson and Simon Hay. With offices in five locations including London, Brighton, Sydney, and Singapore, Firefly provides online learning platforms to hundreds of schools around the world.
Unlike traditional e-learning platforms that only allow simple teacher-student interactions, Firefly offers a more complete interactive experience between teachers, students, and parents: its platform allows all of them to share and access information online, including assigning homework, tracking student progress, sending feedback, and sharing learning resources. In addition, the platform provides backend services to schools so that they can define the curriculum, run school clubs, and take part in community events all through internet-based tools.


Thanks to Amazon Web Services’ global ecosystem for the education sector, we landed our business in China in just three weeks. It has made business expansion simpler, quicker, and more vigorous.”

Simon Hay

Co-Founder & CEO, Firefly Learning

The Challenge

The pandemic that has swept across the world in 2020 has also accelerated the digital transformation of the education sector, and brought new opportunities to those that are quick to adapt. “In COVID-19, people worldwide face a very similar challenge. We must work together and invent a new way of delivering lessons to our students,” says Simon Hay, co-founder and CEO of Firefly. During the pandemic, Firefly’s total user base surpassed one million, with peak traffic reaching 13 times the daily average. How to handle this traffic spike became Firefly’s top concern.
2020 was not the year that Firefly first entered the Chinese market – it was working with many local international schools before that. Back then services were mostly deployed on local servers, with user data being hosted in Amazon Web Services Singapore Region. But as the number of Chinese customers continued to grow, hosting in Singapore meant service delay, casting doubt on Firefly’s future plans in China. “To better serve our Chinese customers and improve network performance, we decided to deploy a wholly separate system in China,” explains Simon about the motivation of setting up an account in the country.
For a UK company, choosing to “cloudify” services in China is no walk in the park. Firefly was unfamiliar with the country’s policy environment, and especially lacking in the know-how of applying for ICP (Internet Content Provider) license and in local resources. “My experience has been that when you are entering a completely new and unfamiliar market, you must find a reliable partner to help you adapt to local rules and build your business,” Simon stresses.

Why Amazon Web Services

“We run our business on Amazon Web Services in all corners of the world,” says Simon. “Our relationship with Amazon Web Services has been solid and dependable ever since we took our business to the cloud. In China, because we needed to build infrastructures from the ground up, we thought about choosing a local cloud provider. But after giving it some thought, we were convinced that Amazon Web Services was the right choice, not least because of our decades of experience with the company and its leading position internationally.”
After some testing runs, Firefly successfully deployed its China operations on the Amazon Web Services. With the help of Amazon Web Services EdStart and the Amazon Web Services China Connect Program, Firefly was able to set up its China account and complete ICP filing in just three weeks, compared with the half-year it took the other companies that entered the Chinese market before it. Furthermore, the Amazon Web Services EdStart team and Amazon Web Services China Connect team even helped Firefly find potential customers in China which accelerated its business launch in the country. Firefly has been using a combination of Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS), Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3), Amazon CloudWatch, and more.

  • A robust education ecosystem boosts Firefly to the “China Speed” – opening for business in China in three weeks
  • For Firefly, taking its business to the cloud in China and in such a short amount of time would be all but impossible without Amazon Web Services EdStart and the Amazon Web Services China Connect Program. Amazon Web Services EdStart, a virtual accelerator from Amazon Web Services, is designed specifically to help startups build the next generation of innovative solutions – online learning, analysis, and campus management, for example – on the Amazon Web Services cloud for the educational sector. By joining Amazon Web Services EdStart Program, a member would not only receive Amazon Web Services credit, collaborative marketing opportunities, and roadshow entry tickets, but also join a community composed of hundreds of EdTech companies around the world. The Amazon Web Services China Connect Program, on the other hand, is a special program that facilitates overseas education companies to establish a presence in China. It integrates local consulting partners, venture capital firms, and incubators to provide a wealth of resources that allow overseas businesses to gain a foothold and succeed in the Chinese market.
    Firefly joined Amazon Web Services EdStart Program as early as 2018, and was told about the Amazon Web Services China Connect Program at an educational entrepreneurs meeting held in the UK by the Amazon Web Services EdStart team, when it mentioned to the organizers about the technical bottlenecks it had encountered when entering the Chinese market. After getting in touch with Firefly, the Amazon Web Services China Connect team proposed several solutions for launching a business in China, and brought Firefly up to speed with the local laws and compliance requirements. With its help, Firefly created an account and completed the ICP filing in just three weeks, greatly accelerating its deployment to the cloud in China. The Amazon Web Services China Connect team also helped Firefly expand the Chinese market by connecting it with potential customers through the Amazon Web Services webinar – contract was signed merely two months after the event.
    Simon can’t praise these two Amazon Web Services programs enough. “Without Amazon Web Services EdStart and the Amazon Web Services China Connect Program, it would be unthinkable for us to roll out our business in China at such a speed. Not knowing where to get the latest information, it would have taken us months or even years to obtain government approvals before we could deploy locally.”

  • Cross-regional cloud deployment ensures uniformity of global services
  • To ensure uniformity in technology between its five offices around the world, Firefly has chosen the same Amazon Web Services setup in China as in the other regions: Amazon EC2 for network deployment, Amazon RDS for automated data processing, and Amazon S3 for data storage. The 99.99% availability of Amazon EC2 and Amazon RDS has greatly improved the stability of the whole system.
    As part of this migration, Firefly also needed to ensure the consistency and integrity of the Chinese business data that were once hosted in Singapore. “For Amazon Web Services, everything is under control,” says Simon. “The migration process did not take long, which is also why we chose to deploy servers in China – to avoid unnecessary latencies.”
    Simon speaks highly of the globally consistent IT experiences achieved with this cloud-based setup. “Uniformity in Amazon Web Services’ global services has greatly benefited our infrastructure staff. They can now follow the same set of procedures and avoid the unnecessary learning curve associated with different setups.”

  • Scalability and 99.99% availability allow Firefly to cope with peak traffic during the pandemic with ease
  • Thanks to Amazon EC2 Auto Scaling, which enables the proportioning of cloud resources in mere minutes, Firefly’s platform is able to comfortably adapt to the growing e-learning needs of global users, delivering a silky-smooth user experience to students and teachers around the world even during a 13-fold increase in pandemic-induced traffic. By 2020, Firefly boasts more than one million users worldwide. It is hosting 90% of its user applications on the cloud, a figure that is still rising. “Our ultimate goal is 100% migration to the cloud to make our apps faster and more powerful,” says Simon.
    “The pandemic has forced schools to complete in weeks the IT upgrades that were going to take years. This is as much a cultural shift as it is a technology shift,” adds Simon. “But I think from a long-term perspective, this is also a chance to speed up a technological makeover in education. In this ‘exam’, our experience in China has prepared us well for responding to a surge in international users. We handled peak traffic safely and smoothly with the help of Amazon Web Services’ professional teams.”

The Future

Once it has gone 100% cloud, Firefly plans to apply data analytic and AI technologies to the information it has about the students and hundreds of schools around the world. The hope is to discover which areas educators should focus on next and how to improve teaching and learning resources, so that the company can provide more personalized services to schools, students, and parents no matter where they are located.

Learn More

Learn more Amazon Web Services startup accelerator supporting EdTech companies, visit  Amazon Web Services EdStart  webpage.

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