case studies

Cerego Rapidly Delivers Learning on a Whole New Scale with Engine Yard

The Opportunity

No two people learn the same way or at the same rate. But everyone would love to be able to learn faster, remember more, and retain information longer. The mission of Cerego, a fascinating young company based in Tokyo, is to deliver breakthrough learning solutions that are tailored to individual learning aptitudes—and accelerate the transformation of information into lasting knowledge.

The Cerego Learning Engine enhances learning by focusing on optimizing the encoding, storage, and retrieval of information in your brain through its patented learning algorithms. Combining years of applied research in neuroscience with intensive analysis of data accumulated from over one million registered Cerego users, it tracks each individual’s performance and schedules information for review at the optimum time. Unlike any other technology on the market, it creates a unique learning profile for every individual and provides guidance on what to study and when.

However, all of that data processing, combined with the company’s rapid growth rate, was straining the limits of the systems in Cerego’s Tokyo data center. The company was faced with a decision: continue to build, manage, and maintain its own systems, or make the move to the cloud.

The Solution

Cerego chose to move to the cloud and selected Engine Yard, the leading Platform as a Service (PaaS), to boost the scalability and flexibility of its test environments.

“Our current focus is on languages—accelerating the process of learning English, for example,” explained Brian Tsai, COO of Cerego. “Particularly in Japan, as the population ages and the tax base decreases, companies will increasingly push overseas as a way to continue growing—so language skills will need to keep pace. We also believe there is a large and fast-growing market for this capability not only in Japan but in all industrializing countries.”

“For Cerego to take advantage of this opportunity,” Brian continued, “we need to be able to test rapidly and scale out efficiently. We’ve built our learning platform on algorithms that are computationally complex and data-driven, and our infrastructure needs to keep up with demand that is both intense and unpredictable. Engine Yard Cloud gave us the agility to meet our customers’ requirements rapidly, consistently and predictably.”

Before moving to Engine Yard Cloud, Cerego was running into capacity limits with its Tokyo-based data center, according to Zev Blut, Cerego’s Senior Systems Architect. “We simply ran out of available power at one point,” he said. “The data center had spare racks, but we were out of power capacity. We couldn’t grow.”

In addition, said Zev, marketing and public relations activities created spikes in demand that were difficult to prepare for. “We’d be featured on a TV show or we’d issue a press release and then experience a surge in demand,” he said. “That meant more infrastructure to manage and more trito the data center. Our data center was close to our offices, but after midnight the trains stop running and sometimes we couldn’t get personnel to the data center when we needed to.”

In short, “It was time for us to get out of the data center business,” said Zev. Cerego evaluated the “do it yourself” options but decided that it was inefficient and constraining to continue to acquire, manage, and maintain multiple hardware systems and software stacks. “We turned to Engine Yard because they gave us both the scale we needed and the deep technical expertise to support our agile developers—they weren’t just turning on machines for us.”

As an example, Zev points to the cloning capabilities of Engine Yard Cloud. “We use cloning to do database replication tests, to make sure the environment can handle the required query load,” he said. “We send live queries to the database and the clone database and use benchmarks to simulate the load on the system. Now, we can get a better picture of how our service is going to perform on the cloud, and we can use the clones to test major Chef recipes before we move them to the production environment.”

In addition, Cerego is using performance monitoring tools from New Relic, an Engine Yard Add-On partner, to analyze performance trends. “We look at the comparisons for yesterday vs. last week, and when we deploy we can see how the performance is holding uwithout actually degrading performance,” said Brian. “It’s great to be able to dig in and see which queries are causing issues—whether it’s the Ruby side or the network side. Using the combination of Engine Yard Cloud and New Relic, we can focus on constantly improving our application, instead of working on platform issues.”


According to Brian, the move to Engine Yard has helped Cerego pursue its growth plans with confidence and peace of mind.

“We know we have the scale to support our services, our product development efforts, and our customers—even in periods of unpredictable demand,” he said. “With Engine Yard, even when your own staff is overloaded you know you still have someone watching out for you.” Brian estimates that Engine Yard saves Cerego dozens of hours in administrative time per month by not having to set up or reconfigure the infrastructure needed to scale. In addition, the development team has become more nimble, as they spend more time coding and less time managing infrastructure.

“It’s also nice to know that experts are available when needed,” said Brian. “Tapping into the Engine Yard support team gives us access to an expert talent pool that’s available on demand,” he said. “They really know their stuff, and whenever we’ve had issues, Engine Yard Support has been great. They’re online 24/7 and have always been helpful.”

The net result for Cerego is not just higher capacity to handle traffic spikes or better use of scarce resources—it’s a higher comfort level with the cloud model. “Engine Yard has been instrumental in getting us off dedicated racks and has helped us become comfortable with a cloud-based solution,” he said. “That allows us to focus on our core business rather than our infrastructure.”


Industry: Education software

Location: Tokyo, Japan

Opportunity: Move to the cloud for increased scalability and operational efficiency

Solution: Engine Yard Cloud combines on-demand scalability and expert support


  • Ability to handle traffic spikes on demand without configuring and managing systems Consistent high performance for 80,000 unique visitors/month
  • Administrative time savings of dozens of hours/month by offloading system setuconfiguration, and management to Engine Yard experts
  • More nimble, scalable, and flexible environments
  • Excellent Add-On partner performance analysis tools from New Relic help identify and resolve issues quickly
  • Flexibility to expand quickly in fast-growing markets with total confidence in the underlying infrastructure and application deployment platform