ChronoRace electronically times competitors in sporting events and publishes the results on its website. But during large competitions, its web servers could not cope with the high volume of traffic. Working with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner RealDolmen, ChronoRace migrated to Windows Azure cloud services. The site now easily meets sudden peaks in demand and makes results available online immediately, enhancing the customer experience.
Belgium-based organisation ChronoRace offers an innovative service that transforms the experience of participants at sporting events. It electronically times competitors in races—including activities such as running, cycling, and sailing—and is involved in more than 350 competitions across Europe each year.
Competitors who register with ChronoRace wear an electronic device—a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag—during their race. Systems installed along the race track measure their times as they compete, sending this information in real time to ChronoRace systems. Meanwhile, high-definition cameras installed at the finish line record the finish of each competitor in a mini-movie, which they can view online after the event, along with their race times. The advertising shown with each movie forms a major part of the revenue for ChronoRace, ensuring the organisation can provide the service free to competitors.
Large events, such as the Brussels 20 kilometre (km) run, can attract up to 30,000 competitors, so during the subscription period the ChronoRace website is placed under extreme pressure. Until recently, its web servers struggled to cope with the sudden surge in demand. Similarly, after the events—when competitors checked their results and viewed their finish videos—the number of requests often created severe challenges. Christian Lemasson, Managing Director, ChronoRace, explains: “Web server crashes were affecting our business because people were often unable to access the site for hours at a time and were forced to try again later. As a result, we received as many as 5,000 messages of complaint each day from customers and organisers and the phone was always ringing. We were worried about not only losing credibility but also losing business.”Solution
One disconcerted competitor happened to be Christophe Van Mollekot, Product Marketing Manager at Microsoft. He contacted ChronoRace shortly after attempting to register for the Brussels 20 km race and put the organisation in touch with RealDolmen.
By this point, ChronoRace had explored a number of options. One was to spread the upload of videos over the course of several weeks, but this would mean disappointment for customers unable to view their video straight away. Maarten Balliauw, Technical Consultant, RealDolmen, says: “Another option was to buy additional hardware to supplement the existing web server and database server, but this would have been an expensive choice. It would mean using the hardware to its full potential for around 14 days during large events, with the extra capacity remaining unused for the rest of the year.”
Balliauw and his team are experienced in solutions based on Windows Azure, and were able to demonstrate the ease with which it could meet the needs of ChronoRace. It offers the same level of reliability as an on-premise solution, but is more agile, because new virtual servers can be brought online as required to meet sudden surges in demand. Developers can use a range of tools alongside their existing Microsoft Visual Studio skills to build applications faster.
RealDolmen, for example, developed and integrated a component that automatically scales the ChronoRace website to meet demand peaks, so the organisation doesn’t have to perform this task manually. Balliauw says: “From a development perspective, the cloud-based technology is similar to that of on-premise solutions, and this helped us to redeploy the ChronoRace application in just four days. The ChronoRace website scaled up to 18 virtual servers for one event, while only having to pay for seven on average.” RealDolmen also helped the business to migrate its database to Microsoft SQL Azure, which offers a highly available database service in the cloud. Benefits
The site went live on Windows Azure just days before registration opened for the 20 km race in Brussels. “We had 4,000 hits a minute for this event,” says Lemasson. “We were nervous, but registration went smoothly because the site scaled seamlessly and there were no problems.”
Hardware costs are cut. “If we had bought more web servers, we would have wasted a lot of money on capacity that we need only occasionally. The website has scaled up to 18 virtual servers for one event, but we only pay for around seven,” says Lemasson. “By contrast, one of our competitors is spending around 10 times more than us on hardware, which is how much we expected to pay. With Windows Azure, we only pay for what we use.”
Results are available almost immediately. “After the Brussels race, we deployed the videos on our website within three hours of the event completion. Before it would have taken up to four days,” says Lemasson.
Customer needs are met. Seamless registration and access to results and videos means customers now have little cause for complaint. “By migrating to Windows Azure, we expect our downtime to be reduced from 10 days a year to less than one day,” says Lemasson.
Cloud computing eases administration. Administering the site is easier than before. Lemasson says: “With Windows Azure and SQL Azure, we don’t have to worry about maintenance of the hardware or the operating system. We just have to think about our application, and it takes up less of our time.”
New opportunities are revealed. ChronoRace can now take on more large events and look at new ways to extend the competitor experience. “We aim to provide global positioning system (GPS) tracking for all participants, which we would never have been able to do before,” says Lemasson.This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.