4-page Case Study - Posted 11/1/2010
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Classified Advertiser Reduces Costs and Boosts Website Performance with Cloud Storage
Autoplaza is a leading online automobile classified advertising company in Mexico with an average inventory of 27,000 classified ads. To support the popular website, Autoplaza rented server space, but as the site grew, Autoplaza had to add new servers every six months—a time-consuming, costly endeavor. Even with additional servers, Autoplaza had to limit the size and number of images customers could upload, and still experienced intermittent performance issues with the site. After evaluating Google App Engine and Amazon Simple Storage Service, the company migrated its on-premises storage to Windows Azure. Autoplaza now has a scalable infrastructure that can handle more customers and more images, and website performance has improved by a factor of three. The company can now focus on more strategic tasks than server maintenance and has reduced its operational costs by 20 percent. Situation
Headquartered in Mexico City, Mexico, Autoplaza is an online classified advertising company with 45 employees. Founded in 1999, Autoplaza primarily focuses on bringing buyers and sellers of automobiles in Mexico together. In addition to its automotive classified website, the company has two affiliate websites for auctions, as well as a site devoted to real estate in Mexico.
As one of the premier online automotive classified websites in Mexico, Autoplaza hosts an average inventory of 27,000 classified ads, each with approximately 30 associated images that sellers upload and attach to their ads. Images help sellers better represent the automobile they are selling and give buyers a visual representation to accompany ad copy—they are a critical ingredient to the website’s popularity and success.
||The cost to maintain and manage servers was exorbitant. One of our biggest benefits with Windows Azure is that we all but eradicated that cost and reduced our total cost of operations by 20 percent.
Chief Information Officer, Autoplaza
To support the popular website, Autoplaza rented dedicated server space with a third-party host, which, in addition to Mexico, has data centers in Canada and the United States. However, as Autoplaza matured over the last decade and attracted more buyers and sellers, it started to outgrow its server infrastructure.
Even with dedicated, on-premises servers in a third-party data center, the company had to restrict the number and size of images that customers uploaded. Without these restrictions, uploading images and downloading advertisements would take too long. In some cases, the traffic was such a strain that servers would crash. Even with the image restrictions, the company was growing so quickly that it had to add new servers to its infrastructure every six months to meet increasing capacity needs, provide the best user experience possible, and ensure a high-performance website for buyers and sellers.
In addition to the challenges that arose from its popularity, Autoplaza was responsible for its own server maintenance and management and spent considerable time and resources on these duties. The administrative tasks were so great that Autoplaza had to hire several full-time IT personnel dedicated to server maintenance, instead of focusing resources on developing new features.
Autoplaza does not want to stop with classified advertisements and images for automobiles. The company plans to add new features and capabilities to further enhance the user experience, such as the ability for sellers to upload videos and a platform for buying and selling motorcycles and other vehicles. With a physical server infrastructure that was already strained, adding these features would result in even more maintenance and management effort, and the company would still likely have to further sacrifice the website’s performance.Solution
Autoplaza decided to implement a cloud computing solution, that is, where web applications and services are hosted and managed over the Internet through data centers. Autoplaza evaluated several cloud providers, including Google App Engine and Amazon Simple Storage Solution. However, both services proved difficult to integrate with the Autoplaza existing code base, which is based on the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5
. In addition, both services would require significant data migration efforts, which the company wanted to avoid—the company wanted to reduce IT efforts, not further burden IT personnel.
To address its need for a high-performance, scalable infrastructure that didn’t require a growing number of IT personnel to maintain, the company decided to migrate to Windows Azure. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, bandwidth, and a content distribution network to host, scale, and manage web applications through Microsoft data centers.
||Now, with Windows Azure, we have freed up resources to focus on our core business.
||Juan Manuel Briones
Chief Executive Officer, Autoplaza
Autoplaza began the migration process to Windows Azure in March 2009. The migration process was fast, with developers relying on their existing development skills, which are firmly rooted in Microsoft products and technologies. “Autoplaza is already built on the .NET Framework, so the migration process was very straightforward for our developers,” explains Miguel Campos, Chief Information Officer at Autoplaza. By June 2009, the company had a working prototype for its new storage platform. In March 2010, Autoplaza implemented a second version of its solution on Windows Azure, adding multithreaded processes for increased performance.
As of September 2010, the company has fully implemented Windows Azure for its image storage needs. When a seller uploads an image to Autoplaza, the image itself is stored in Blob Storage provided by Windows Azure, while the image metadata is stored in the Table Storage service in Windows Azure. Worker roles in Windows Azure process the images and serve them up to web roles that post the images on the website with each associated ad.
Autoplaza designed its infrastructure running on Windows Azure to handle an increased number of images for each ad—up from 30 to 100. Plus, by using Windows Azure for its cloud-based image storage, Autoplaza can quickly scale up and add additional web and worker roles, tables, and blobs as the site grows and storage needs increase.
The company stores customer and ad data in a Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database, but plans to host that information in the cloud by using Microsoft SQL Azure in the future. SQL Azure is a fully relational cloud database based on SQL Server 2008 technologies and is also hosted at Microsoft data centers.
With the success of this project, Autoplaza also plans to migrate its auction and real estate websites to Windows Azure in the future, and will take advantage of Windows Azure compute services.Benefits
As a result of migrating Autoplaza to Windows Azure for image storage, the company can take advantage of the inherent scalability in the cloud solution and grow with confidence. Not only did Autoplaza boost its capacity to handle more customers, but at the same time it enhanced the customer experience by enabling more images and improving the performance of its website. By relying on Windows Azure and Microsoft data centers, Autoplaza improved its ability to focus on its core business and strategic tasks, and reduced its total cost of operations.
Increased Scalability to Handle Additional Customers
|The Autoplaza website uses Windows Azure for its storage platform;|
storing images in Blob Storage and image metadata in Table Storage service.
By using Windows Azure, Autoplaza can quickly scale up to handle more traffic as the website grows in popularity. Instead of spending time and other costly resources adding new dedicated physical servers in a data center, the company relies on hosting at Microsoft data centers. It can spin up new web roles and increase its blob and table storage capacity with only a few clicks as it nears capacity. “We anticipate that we will increase our customer base by 15 percent by the end of 2011,” explains Campos. “With Windows Azure, we can handle that increase—or more—with no problem.”
Boosted Website Performance
In addition, thanks to the scalability of Windows Azure, Autoplaza has improved the performance of its website. Sellers can upload images faster, buyers can download ads and images faster, and website service has not been interrupted because of server crashes since implementing the cloud computing solution. “Everything is faster with Windows Azure compared to our strained physical server infrastructure. Overall, our site is faster by a factor of three, and we can provide our customers with a high-performance service,” says Juan Manuel Briones, Chief Executive Officer at Autoplaza.
Even more impressive is that Autoplaza improved its website’s performance while at the same time more than tripling the number of images that customers can upload from 30 to 100.
Improved Ability to Focus on More Strategic Tasks
By relying on Microsoft data centers and Windows Azure, Autoplaza has a service management solution that enables it to redirect IT resources to more strategic tasks. Instead of maintaining and managing on-premises servers, personnel can better focus on implementing new features that keep customers engaged and help the company maintain its position as a leader in online automotive classified ads in Mexico. “Now, with Windows Azure, we have freed up resources to focus on our core business,” explains Briones. “This allows us to add more content, such as advertisements for motorcycles and other vehicles, or to develop new models for bringing buyers and sellers together.”
Reduced Operational Costs
By eliminating the need to manage and maintain servers, and by redirecting those personnel resources, Autoplaza reduced its total cost of operations by 20 percent. “The cost to maintain and manage servers was exorbitant,” says Campos. “One of our biggest benefits with Windows Azure is that we all but eradicated that cost and reduced our total cost of operations by 20 percent. That is huge—and we expect the savings to grow as we implement more features of the Windows Azure platform and migrate more of our services to the cloud.”
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. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage web applications on the Internet 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.
Windows Azure Marketplace DataMarket. Developers and information workers can use the new service DataMarket to easily discover, purchase, and manage premium data subscriptions in the Windows Azure platform.
To learn more about the Windows Azure platform, visit: For More Information
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For more information about Autoplaza products and services, call (55) 4424 2000 or visit the website at: