Global nutrition star Herbalife wanted to increase its web presence as a way to expand its business. But for Herbalife, that meant supporting at least 100,000 websites for its independent distributors over the next few years. It met this extraordinary
scalability challenge by using the Windows Azure cloud-computing service. It gained faster time-to-market and sees tremendous savings compared to the estimated cost for an on-premises solution.
If Herbalife, the global nutrition company, had only wanted to create a single website as an online storefront, there might not be much to say. But Herbalife wanted to support far more than 100,000 websites. Many companies talk about achieving scalability
on the web, but most of them would have to really work to match Herbalife’s intended feat.
The company had a tool to give its independent distributors their own sites but it wasn’t as effective as Herbalife wanted it to be. To help them grow their businesses and, at the same time, build a consistent brand around the world, the company wanted to
give its distributors the option of launching their own websites, with their own branding and cobranding by Herbalife.
By taking the initiative, Herbalife could ensure consistency and quality across the sites, which would not have been possible with distributors each creating their own sites.
“The company’s initial attempts, with commercial software, didn’t give us the flexibility to create a great retail site that showcased our brand,” says Chris Morris, Vice President, Distributor Technology and Strategy at Herbalife.
Nor was Herbalife happy with the expense. Even a modest rollout of 9,000 sites in the first year involved substantial licensing cost, plus costs for hardware, database administrators, and related support. The projected costs of a full rollout, including
the construction and staffing of four widely dispersed data centers, were far higher, still.
To reduce costs, Herbalife considered hosting a custom solution on a cloud-computing service, which would address the company’s scalability needs without incurring the expense of building and maintaining its own data centers.
||We don’t pay for a third-party content delivery network; we don’t build our own data centers; and Windows Azure gets the content as close to our distributors and their customers as we need it. It’s a black box to us—and it works.
| Chris Morris
Vice President, Distributor Technology and Strategy, Herbalife
That led Herbalife to evaluate Windows Azure, the cloud-computing service from Microsoft. “We saw Windows Azure as a robust, full cloud services environment—Microsoft would manage the servers, so we could manage our business,” says Morris.
Morris and his colleagues used their existing Microsoft ASP.NET expertise and Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate tools to create the cloud-based website template, much as they would have created an on-premises solution. One difference: Herbalife took
advantage of Windows Azure Content Delivery Network to deliver real-time responsiveness to distributors and customers worldwide.
“We don’t pay for a third-party content delivery network; we don’t build our own data centers; and Windows Azure gets the content as close to our distributors and their customers as we need it,” says Morris. “It’s a black box to us—and it works.”
Herbalife initially deployed on Windows Azure Compute with four large instances: two front-end web roles to take and service orders and two back-end worker roles. Despite the growing use of the solution, Herbalife was able to streamline the architecture
to two medium front-end instances and two small back-end worker role instances.
The solution uses Blob Storage for content; Table Storage for site configuration; SQL Database to store content, membership, and customer order information; and Windows Azure Service Bus for highly secure connectivity to on-premise resources.
Herbalife gets the scalability it wants by using Windows Azure, along with fast time-to-market and substantial cost avoidance.
Expects to Support 100,000 Sites
Herbalife independent distributors are adopting their Windows Azure–hosted sites faster than anticipated. “We can handle the demand because we chose an easily and reliably scalable cloud-computing service in Windows Azure,” says Morris.
He and his colleagues estimated that they would see a few thousand websites built the first year. But they saw 4,000 sites created in the first month, and now expect about 100,000 within the next three years, with nearly all of the distributors eventually
taking advantage of the offering.
“We could never staff IT enough to support the continuous creation of thousands of distributor sites,” says Morris. “With Windows Azure, we don’t have to. We know the capacity is there. We know that it is being managed for high-availability to more than
meet the SLAs [service-level agreements] we need.”
An unexpected benefit was the fast time-to-market that Herbalife saw with Windows Azure, compared to on-premises development.
“Time-to-market is of enormous importance to us,” Morris says. “The business is demanding, and our distributors constantly want more sophisticated tools. Fast time-to-market for important tools helps to fuel this excitement.”
Achieves Substantial Cost Avoidance
The company estimates its first-year operating costs for the Windows Azure–hosted sites to be a small fraction of the costs of operating on-premise solution. It also expects that the cost of full deployment on Windows Azure will remain far below on-premise
costs for many years to come.
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