JustPark drives towards scalable future with Google Cloud

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez February 2, 2022 Audio mode
Summary:
JustPark matches people with unused space to people that need to park their vehicle. Google Cloud is helping the company scale and get smarter.

Image of two cars parked in a parking space
(Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay )

JustPark does for drivers and owners of unused driveways what Airbnb does for holiday makers and people with unused property. Essentially, JustPark uses a marketplace model to match people that are willing to rent out their vacant space to people that need to park their vehicle. 

The company has experienced rapid growth in the 12 years since it launched and it is now managing parking spaces for some of the UK's largest local authorities and car parking companies. For example, it manages all of Northern Ireland's government-owned parking. 

It has a community of some 45,000 space owners, providing much needed parking space to 5.5 million UK drivers and 8 million drivers worldwide. It has doubled its customer base in the last two years alone and JustPark expects to grow a further 33% by Summer 2022. 

Scaling the company's technology during this time, with a small engineering team of 40 people internally, has been aided by a partnership with Google Cloud, which now hosts and manages its systems. We spoke with Jack Wall, Head of Engineering at JustPark, who said: 

We are 12 years old and for a lot of that lifespan we've been P2P. And the volumes weren't that great. But as we've moved into the commercial sector and started working with local authorities, those volumes have increased dramatically. We are dealing with entire countries. We are dealing with a lot more volume now compared to when we were just doing driveways. 

We were on AWS for a bit, where we were running traditional VMs. Then we started exploring containerization, as we liked that as a technology choice, and so Kubernetes was a natural progression of that. 

We started by running our own clusters on AWS, because nobody was offering managed services at the time. But when GKE (Google Kubernetes Engine) came along - which is a managed service - we really liked that proposition. That was what spurred the move to Google Cloud. 

Empowering developers

Wall said that running JustPark's technology environment internally was an overhead on the businesses' day-to-day proposition that the company just didn't want. Moving to a managed service with Google Cloud meant that the team could focus on its core business domain, instead. 

Wall added that whilst there were some difficult moments during the migration to Google Cloud - namely in transitioning the databases away from AWS - the development team and JustPark users now have much more consistency. He said: 

Containers and Kubernetes are run everywhere, so it was fairly easy to transition that workload in. Databases were a bit hairier. Certain databases we had on AWS were running MariaDB, which wasn't supported on Google Cloud, so we had some problems around that. But we used database migration services to achieve that. It was a nerve wracking time of my life, data integrity is paramount, but migration services did help us. 

GKE has given us a lot - we don't need to maintain it, we get a lot of stuff for free in that world, service discovery, etc. It has also enabled us to be fairly agile and enable developers to create their own infrastructure within that environment. That has had a massive impact on us. 

We have a platform team of one. We also empower our developers with a mindset of ‘if you build it, you run it', which has worked really well for us. We don't need dedicated specialists running out cloud infrastructure for us, because it's so easy for developers to do. 

The architecture we have now means we haven't had one outage in the last 12 months - we rarely go down. And if we're down, it means Google is probably down. That's really good for our users that are standing in their car park trying to pay for parking. We're always up. 

Getting smart with unused space

More recently JustPark has adopted Google BigQuery and Looker, with the aim of providing scalable analysis of its data, where it hopes to further hone its business model and improve its services.

Wall said that JustPark was previously doing this with "budget systems" and this is the company's first foray into using ‘big data' and BI tooling. He explained: 

JustPark is a marketplace platform, which is all about supply and demand. These technologies allow us to identify areas that we lack supply, where there is massive demand. And vice versa. 

It's enabling us to make those decisions about what's valuable to the business and where we should focus our efforts, either on space acquisition or driver acquisition. 

These tools will also support JustPark's expansion into supporting demand for electric vehicles. The aim is to make ‘data driven decisions that will help the UK continue to electrify its fleet'. In a release, Google Cloud said that JustPark's partnership will benefit from "full integration with Google Maps and G-Suite", which will allow customers to enjoy "all the benefits of accurate traffic and location information, as well as business administration". 

Commenting on JustPark's electric vehicle fleet offering, Wall said: 

We are moving away from just parking now, we are looking at fleet electrification as our next move. We have this big network of space all over the country that could be repurposed and could be used to aid the electrification of fleets. 

We are in talks with some very large players that are looking to electrify. It will be run on the same platform, just augmented for electric vehicle functionality. 

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