JUSTPROUD is a unique fashion initiative that encourages participation from those in the fashion industry and produces limited-quantity merchandise that is developed for, and by, the JUSTPROUD member community. The founders of the company have a long history building community-based websites using cloud-computing models. When developing JUSTPROUD, however, the founders wanted a solution that offered better scalability than what cloud providers they had used, such as Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Rackspace, could provide. JUSTPROUD chose the Windows Azure platform for its compute and storage needs, including Microsoft SQL Azure and the Windows Azure Content Delivery Network. As a result, JUSTPROUD achieved its goal of simple, fast scalability. It also avoided capital expenses and reduced operating costs—all while delivering a high-performance application. Situation
Founded in August 2009, JUSTPROUD is a fashion platform that is created by, and for, its members. The community-based website aims to bring together five target audiences: fashion lovers, designers, models, photographers, and makeup artists. It enables community members to provide input on fashion designs, which are then voted on and, with enough votes, produced for distribution. It is one of the only fashion initiatives that encourages community-based collaboration among all of the players in the fashion industry.
The founders of JUSTPROUD have a long history with a variety of web agencies where they specialized in creating community-driven websites for big companies and big brands, such as Unilever and Pepsi. With each community-based website they have developed in the past, one common challenge has been unpredictable site traffic and the need to quickly scale up infrastructure in order to meet
||Unlike other providers where there’s a lot more overhead involved…, with Windows Azure, it’s a matter of simply changing a number in a configuration file and you scale up.
Chief Technology Officer, JUSTPROUD
demand without a loss in performance. As such, the founders are familiar with the concept of cloud computing, and they have used several cloud services providers in the past in an effort to achieve rapidly scalability, including Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Rackspace. However, neither provider offered the scalability that the founders needed. “With other providers, including Amazon EC2, we can certainly scale up,” explains Djon Kleine, Chief Technology Officer at JUSTPROUD. “But it’s a complicated process and required us to add and configure virtual servers and additional software. Plus, there’s the ongoing maintenance that those virtual servers require.”
Also, JUSTPROUD will receive highly-visible placement on some large, well-known web portals. With that level of exposure, the company anticipates rapidly increasing levels of web traffic and unpredictable burst traffic. This further drove the company’s need for a solution that it could easily scale as demand dictates.
In addition to a cloud services solution that would enable easy scalability without the hassle and overhead of server maintenance, the founders at JUSTPROUD wanted to build its website from the ground up with a solution that included a worldwide data center presence. As of July 2010, 60 percent of its members were from the United States, 20 percent from the United Kingdom, and the remaining 20 percent from Asia and other locations. However, the company expects those percentages to spread out over other regions as it matures and gains market traction. As a result, the company also wanted to ensure that it could offer high level of performance that customers expect—no matter where they are located. Solution
After its founding, JUSTPROUD joined the Microsoft BizSpark program, which connects promising startup companies with Microsoft’s global network of partners and potential investors. Through BizSpark, the company evaluated the Windows Azure platform as a cloud solution for its community-based web application. Based on its need for easy scalability and a worldwide data center presence, and combined with the founders’ experience using Amazon EC2 and Rackspace with previous projects, JUSTPROUD decided to build its service for the Windows Azure platform. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform, which is hosted in Microsoft data centers.
||SQL Azure is a no-hassle database solution.
Chief Executive Officer, JUSTPROUD
The application is built using Microsoft ASP.NET 4.0 and uses ASP.NET Model View Controller (MVC) for the presentation layer. It is hosted with Web roles in Windows Azure. In addition, the Web roles use Blob Storage in Windows Azure. The blob containers store member data and files uploaded by members, such as photographs of clothing designs and other images. The application also uses Worker roles in Windows Azure for processes such as data cleanup, and to trigger events such as email messages and other notifications.
JUSTPROUD also uses Microsoft SQL Azure, which offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 technologies. The company primarily uses SQL Azure as a backup database for different website functions. JUSTPROUD also takes advantage of automated replication and monitoring with SQL Azure. “Unlike on-premises databases that can be expensive to set up and maintain, SQL Azure is simple to set up and automates much of the management process for simplified maintenance,” explains Kleine.
The company deployed the JUSTPROUD web-based application in three Microsoft data centers—United States, Europe, and Asia—helping to provide its global customers with the same high level of performance no matter where they are located. To ensure that data is accurate across the three application instances, JUSTPROUD uses the SQL Azure Data Sync Tool to synchronize the databases between each data center. For high levels of performance and scalability, JUSTPROUD uses the Windows Azure Content Delivery Network to cache its Blob Storage files at strategically placed locations around the world.
Finally, JUSTPROUD developed a custom monitoring application for its Windows Azure and SQL Azure instances. The application monitors website traffic and, based on thresholds set by JUSTPROUD, will automatically add new instances when the load on the environment is too high and performance might be compromised. This enables JUSTPROUD to automatically scale up—and scale down, if needed—and tune application performance automatically. “If we’re asleep when unpredictable burst traffic hits,” says Geert Rietbergen, Chief Executive Officer at JUSTPROUD, “we know that the Windows Azure infrastructure we have in place will still grow elastically without manual intervention.”Benefits
As a result of implementing the Windows Azure platform, including SQL Azure, the founders of JUSTPROUD achieved the level of scalability the startup required. The company also avoided up-front capital expenditures and reduced operating costs, which are key benefits—all while delivering high levels of application performance to its globally dispersed customers.
By using Windows Azure, JUSTPROUD founders achieved the ability to quickly scale to meet demand with the simplicity that they found lacking in other cloud services providers. “Unlike other providers where there’s a lot more overhead involved with installing and provisioning new servers for your environment, with Windows Azure, it’s a matter of simply changing a number in a configuration file and you scale up,” explains Kleine. “With Amazon, we always had to do custom scalability and use custom solutions for deploying new servers, which took considerable time. Windows Azure gives us out-of-the-box scalability.”
Avoided Up-Front Capital Investments
As a small startup company, one of the key benefits of using the Windows Azure platform and cloud computing is that it avoided up-front capital expenditures. The company did not have to invest in server hardware and server licenses; instead, it relies on a cloud infrastructure and global data centers from Microsoft. JUSTPROUD estimates that it would have needed 17 physical or virtualized on-premises servers to manage anticipated traffic to its website. By using Windows Azure instances instead (estimated at 84 instances), the company expects to save U.S.$442,166, or 53.8 percent, over a three-year period by using Windows Azure compared to an on-premises solution (see Table 1).
Reduced Operating Costs
Without the need for on-premises infrastructure to maintain, JUSTPROUD also reduced operating costs. Specifically, the company did not have to hire additional staff to manage servers, nor did it have to redistribute existing personnel resources to infrastructure maintenance tasks. “If we had an on-premises infrastructure, we’d have to hire two systems administrators to start, and that need for personnel could continue to grow as we do. With Windows Azure, we don’t have to worry about spending money on those additional resources,” says Rietbergen. “Plus, our experience with SQL Azure compared to an on-premises database was extremely positive. SQL Azure is a no-hassle database solution.”
In addition, with the pay-as-you-go model that Windows Azure offers, JUSTPROUD is assured that it only pays for the computing and database resources that it uses, further optimizing its operational spend. Delivered Optimum Application Performance Worldwide
Because JUSTPROUD has members around the world, the company took advantage of Microsoft’s global datacenter presence and deployed its application to datacenters on three continents in an effort to deliver optimum performance, no matter the customers’ physical locations. “By deploying in multiple data centers with Windows Azure, we’re avoiding latency and performance issues and delivering the experience that our customers expect,” says Kleine.
The Windows Azure Content Delivery Network also gives the company the ability to cache blob content closer to members, further ensuring high performance. “We enabled the Content Delivery Network out of the box,” explains Rietbergen. “It was incredibly easy and offers us even greater ability to scale and maintain performance.”
Windows Azure Platform
The Windows Azure platform provides an excellent foundation for expanding online product and service offerings. The main components include:
Windows Azure. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. It provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, and bandwidth, and a content distribution network to host, scale, and manage web applications through Microsoft data centers.
Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 technologies.
Windows Azure AppFabric. With Windows Azure AppFabric, developers can build and manage applications more easily both on-premises and in the cloud.
AppFabric Service Bus connects services and applications across network boundaries to help developers build distributed applications.
AppFabric Access Control provides federated, claims-based access control for REST web services.
Microsoft "Dallas." Developers and information workers can use the new service code-named Dallas to easily discover, purchase, and manage premium data subscriptions in the Windows Azure platform.
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