At The Races provides live horse-racing coverage, news, and analysis through its website and TV channel. To manage sudden surges in demand online during key events in the horse-racing calendar, the firm needed a cost-effective, cloud-based environment
that would scale up and down easily and reliably. At The Races chose Windows Azure, and since 2011 has experienced 50 per cent growth in users on its website.
At The Races is a United Kingdom (U.K.) TV channel and website, covering horse racing from the U.K., Ireland, and North America, and selected events from around the world. The channel is available through satellite and cable TV in more than 13 million homes
in the U.K. and Ireland. Around 1.5 million racing fans regularly log on to the website for racing information, previews, news, features, and other services.
Until 2011, the company was using a third-party hosting service to manage its website. The provider found it difficult to cope with surges in demand for predictable events, so At The Races decided to bring the service in-house. Miguel Garcia, Head of Technical,
At The Races, says: “We tried to find a different hoster, but the quote we received wasn’t cost-effective for us. The website had grown to the point where a dedicated in-house developer team seemed the right strategy.”
At The Races was worried that when there were spikes in traffic to the website—for example, during events such as Royal Ascot —operating costs could escalate with a traditional hosting platform. Conversely, during quiet periods in the racing year, demand
would fall. Garcia says: “During the Cheltenham Festival, we get a 100 per cent jump in traffic for the duration of the festival. The core company is quite small and managing a traditionally hosted site would have been beyond our current capacity.”
In 2010, Garcia attended a Microsoft event in Bradford hosted by Microsoft Gold Partner Black Marble, which specialises in the Windows Azure cloud operating system. Garcia says: “When Windows Azure was first announced, I had a ‘light-bulb’ moment. It opened
up the potential for a ready-made, fully administered platform capable of managing the website in much of its present form, which is what subsequently happened.”
At The Races, which was already using the Microsoft .NET Framework, migrated from Microsoft SQL Server 2000 to Windows Azure, merging data from four databases into one. Previously, servers could be inactive for 70 per cent of the time, racking up considerable
With a small developer team, At The Races benefited from the third-party AzureWatch tool—which automatically monitors traffic on the website—supplied by Paraleap Technologies, a Microsoft BizSpark startup specialising in cloud computing software services.
Garcia says: “With Windows Azure, we’re taking greater control of the website. We no longer need to conduct weeks of planning before major events in the horse-racing calendar because we can organise additional capacity at short notice. This is particularly
important for coverage of unpredictable events such as a big-breaking news story about a particular horse, event, or trainer.”
At The Races experienced a seamless transition from its previous hosted service to Windows Azure, which offers flexibility and performance reliability. Garcia says: “We have an extremely stable platform. The site is simple to configure and the few challenges
that we encountered during migration were simple to solve. Windows Azure is fast and incredibly easy to deploy.”
Windows Azure has given At The Races a ready-made, scalable platform capable of expanding easily to meet sudden spikes in demand. It also scales down during periods of lower usage. The in-house developer team is now spending less time managing the infrastructure
and can focus on developing new services for race goers.
Windows Azure scales easily to meet demand. Windows Azure can scale up easily for both predictable and unpredictable events. Garcia says: “Windows Azure is critical in helping us scale up to meet predictable surges in demand, such as during
Royal Ascot and the Cheltenham Festival. It also works for us during unpredictable spikes in traffic because it can scale up at 10 minutes’ notice. It’s helping us try out new ideas.”
Website experiences 100 per cent growth in users in first year. Windows Azure has freed the At The Races technical team to concentrate on delivering new services for horse-racing fans, having experienced 100 per cent growth in website users
in the first year. Garcia says: “These new services include a horse tracker that alerts customers by email when a particular horse is running. We’ve experienced a 50 per cent increase in traffic since 2011 and doubled the number of unique users since we moved
to Windows Azure.”
Windows Azure helps lower operating costs compared to hosted service. At The Races has experienced substantial savings on operating costs with Windows Azure and it has no need to invest in additional hardware.
Garcia says: “With Windows Azure, you pay for what you use. We can’t give a precise figure, but we’re now spending considerably less than we would have with a traditional hosting solution. This, in turn, gives us the licence to experiment more because the
costs involved are minimal.”
Developer team concentrates on new services for race goers. The business model adopted by At The Races is based on giving horse-racing fans access to the data-driven website free of charge. Over the past 12 months, the developer team has
introduced major enhancements because it no longer has to spend a significant amount of time on infrastructure management.
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