Being based in New Zealand is something of a problem for the All Blacks. Not for the rugby team, nothing managed to get in the team’s way this year.
It’s another story for the allblacks.com website.
In the past the site has been hosted locally, but being at the end of a long thin pipe to the rest of the world’s rugby fans has caused problems.
Brendon Ford, chief operating officer at Provoke Solutions says it doesn’t help that the site has massive traffic surges. “When a team is announced the site gets smashed. When a game is on the site gets smashed”.
He says an average month might see the site get two million page views. At peak times it can ramp up to 15 million pages views in a month.
Ford and Provoke moved the allblacks.com site from infrastructure which was creaking under the strain to the cloud.
Cloud, elastic computing
That’s a obvious choice these days where online utility computing models can switch capacity on and off like opening a hydro-dam’s gates. The demand for the site is elastic, cloud computing can make sure the supply of web capacity is just as elastic.
However, what’s less obvious is the choice of Microsoft Windows Azure.
Ford says Azure has characteristics that are just right for the All Blacks site. Like any cloud service it means NZ Rugby no longer needs to own hardware. But it also no longer matters where the traffic is coming from. Azure can be local to everyone. There are hosts everywhere.
Windows Azure helps meet overseas demand
And that’s important because Ford says there’s an increasing interest in the All Blacks from outside New Zealand. He says while New Zealand fans could get a decent response from the site, the experience for fans in Europe and elsewhere could be disappointing.
Ford describes Windows Azure as a great IaaS (infrastructure as a service). He says it has a great price and is elastic able to rapidly scale up and scale down. Best of all, the All Blacks only need to pay for what gets used. There’s no need to keep a lot of kit sitting idle for much of the time.
There’s also flexibility from the development side. As Microsoft New Zealand platform and developer group director Nigel Parker points out, the cloud service may be branded as Windows Azure, but that doesn’t restrict you to Microsoft’s software, systems and tools.
Ford says the All Blacks had a huge investment in a CMS that was built using Cold Fusion. He says: “They didn’t want to bin that, so we migrated it to Windows Azure. Then we build a layer on top with enough flexibility that we didn’t need to constantly fire-up new virtual machines.”
Although Azure does a good job of ramping up automatically depending on demand, Provoke built the system so that it triggers more capacity as certain levels are reached. Sometimes this is controlled by the various apps running on the site.
There are challenges designing for elastic systems. Ford says there was concern about moving Cold Fusion, but that went well in the event. He says there can be SQL issues and you have to be careful “reaching back into line-of-business apps. It’s possible to do a denial of service on yourself”.
Another challenge is the move from desktop computers to mobile devices. As Ford says, what do you think Telecom NZ users are going to do with the gigabyte a day they can now download from Wi-Fi hotspots?
Ford says mobile is the future of the site. “It’s already been built to be response to any size screen. We’re now running video and streaming live information.