Apartments.com wanted a better way to handle the thousands of media files that it uploads daily. Key stakeholders attended an Architecture Design Session at a Microsoft® Technology Center to learn more about the technologies that it was considering. Apartments.com came away from the experience with greater technical understanding, increased confidence, and a better approach to its solution, which contributed to a shorter development timeline.
Apartments.com acts as a central point of reference for renters who are looking for the perfect apartment and for property owners and managers who are working to fill vacancies. The company lists millions of rental listings all over the United States.
Apartments.com drives renters to apartment communities by creating easy access to its listings through unmatched exposure on more than 1,000 Web sites and by reaching renters by incorporating the most relevant media, including online video walk-throughs and professional photography.
Apartments.com faced a common challenge for companies that must handle thousands of large files: how to upload all the files without having a negative impact on system performance. “We have to upload upward of 6,000 media files every day as our customers add to and change the site’s nearly 17,000 apartment listings,” explains Mike O’Shea, Senior Architect for Apartments.com. “We deal with both bulk and individual uploads through two different mechanisms, and we needed to find a more graceful way to accommodate that transfer of files.”
||At the MTC, we got real, bulletproof advice from experts who directly fielded our tough questions … they provided validation, not salesmanship.
Development Manager, Apartments.com
The company considered using Windows® Communication Foundation (WCF) as the basis for its solution, but it was a technology with which Apartments.com had little experience. “WCF sounded promising, but we were concerned about whether it was designed to do what we needed it to do,” says Matt Stratton, Manager of IT Operations for Apartments.com. “Plus, from a technical operations standpoint, we wanted to know about the technology’s stability and infrastructure requirements.”
Apartments.com accepted an invitation from Microsoft to attend an Architecture Design Session at the Microsoft® Technology Center (MTC) in Chicago, which would provide an opportunity to delve into the proposed technology. “Going to the MTC sounded like a great idea,” recalls Tim Chapel, Development Manager for Apartments.com. “I had had some classroom training on Windows Communication Foundation, but I was concerned about its real-world application. The MTC engagement seemed like a good way to evaluate how smoothly it would fit into our environment.”
In August 2008, a six-member technical team from Apartments.com spent two days at the MTC. The team spent the first day reviewing its backend architecture and describing its vision for the solution to the MTC architects. The architects, in turn, provided in-depth information about WCF and its capabilities, including error handling and serialization.
On the second day, the architects offered insight as to how other companies were using WCF. Also, one of the MTC architects brought in sample code that he had developed the night before to address some of the Apartments.com team’s design concerns. “It was pretty incredible that the MTC architects did homework on our behalf between our two days there, researching our questions and asking other Microsoft resources for information,” says Chapel. “And being given sample code that directly answered our concerns was terrific.”
Apartments.com also received information about another technology move that the company had not thought that it was ready to make. “When we visited the MTC, we weren’t even considering an upgrade to Internet Information Services 7.0 until well into 2009,” says Shane Stanford, Development Manager for Apartments.com. “But, in the course of our discussion, we learned that moving to the newer technology would provide us with a better solution and would ease the development burden. Not only was that really useful feedback for us, it certainly had a positive impact on our project.”
The team left the MTC feeling comfortable with both WCF and Internet Information Services (IIS) version 7.0 in the Windows Server® 2008 operating system, and began to deploy its solution in November 2008.
Apartments.com came away from its MTC experience with not only a technology decision, but also increased confidence in its future vision and ability to better serve its customers. “At the MTC, we got real, bulletproof advice from experts who directly fielded our tough questions,” says Chapel. “It was especially valuable to have the chance to work with engineers of such a high caliber—they provided validation, not salesmanship.”
- Reduced development time. Apartments.com launched its solution more quickly than it could have without its time at the MTC. “We got an amazing return on our time investment,” says Chapel. “Without the MTC engagement, our project would have taken up to six weeks longer because of all the time we would have needed to research the newer technologies.”
- Better solution functionality. The company believes that it was able to produce a superior solution due to all that it learned at the MTC. “The MTC engagement emboldened us to use newer technologies, which resulted in a more robust solution that’s easier to host and support, with limited infrastructure build-up,” says Stanford. “There’s less opportunity for failure because the solution is less complex and yet provides all the functionality that we need, including the ability to easily scale to meet future needs.”
- Improved relationships. Apartments.com appreciated the investment that Microsoft made in its success. “Microsoft showed such openness in reaching out to us through this project,” says Michael Tai, Director of Development for Apartments.com. “These positive encounters strengthen our relationship with Microsoft and help us understand how we can leverage our partnership even more to help our customers.”
- Increased confidence. For Apartments.com, the MTC served as a coalescing mechanism that helped the team come together around its technology decisions. “It’s hard to put a price on comfort, especially when it came to the decisions we were making,” says Tai. “The shared confidence and peace of mind we left with let us really hit the ground running and enhanced our ability to work together to deliver the solution.”