As part of the Real World Windows Azure interview series, I talked to Yun Xu, Sr. director of business development at Gridsum about the migration of its Web Dissector service to Windows Azure. Here’s what he had to say.
Himanshu Kumar Singh: Tell me about Gridsum.
Yun Xu: Based in Beijing, China, Gridsum is a member of the Microsoft Partner Network and an independent software vendor that develops online business optimization solutions to help our customers measure and analyze website performance. (Click here to read the full case study about Gridsum and its solution on Windows Azure.)
HKS: What is Web Dissector?
YX: Web Dissector is an online application built on Microsoft ASP.NET and the .NET Framework that captures users’ website behavior and tracks webpage statistics and conversion rates, and then presents the data in an easy-to-use, web-based interface to help customers analyze the effectiveness of their online marketing initiatives.
Customers pay for Web Dissector based on the number of page views their websites receive in a given month. As visitors view webpages, we’re able to monitor site traffic and capture usage data, which we present to customers so that they can fine-tune their website content to meet business goals.
HKS: What markets do you serve?
YX: We’ve traditionally served customers in mainland China but our online business optimization services have grown in popularity. In particular, Web Dissector has captured the interest of companies in other geographies, including Hong Kong, Europe and the United States.
HKS: What challenges did you face in considering a move into markets beyond China?
YX: We wanted to meet increasing demand for Web Dissector and offer the service to customers outside of China but we already had to devote full-time resources to monitor our existing hosted server infrastructure, which was hosted in China on Rackspace. As we continued to grow, we had to add more servers to accommodate new customers. It became increasingly more difficult and time-consuming to manage our growing infrastructure.
We also knew we needed to host its service in global data centers in order to offer our international customers the same high-performance service that we offers our customers in China. We pride ourselves on delivering a zero-downtime network with 24-hour availability. Our services rely on compute-heavy processes, so we needed the ability to host Web Dissector in global data centers to continue delivering a highly available service. Otherwise, if a customer in the United States is retrieving data from an infrastructure hosted in China, they will experience significant latency.
HKS: Tell me about the move to Windows Azure.
YX: Following an evaluation of cloud computing services through Microsoft’s BizSpark program in January 2011, we decided to move our Web Dissector service to Windows Azure. In February 2011, we completed the move to Windows Azure, which only took a month because of our familiarity with Windows Communication Foundation and ASP.NET. We needed to modify only a small amount of code to make the move.
HKS: How do you leverage Windows Azure for your services?
YX: We use web roles in Windows Azure to host Web Dissector, which enables us to easily add new web roles to scale up its service and accommodate a growing number of users. By using Windows Azure, we can quickly achieve the scalability we need. It’s just as simple as adding new web roles and we don’t have to worry about procuring and configuring new servers. To better serve our global customers, we also use the Windows Azure Content Delivery Network so we can strategically cache Web Dissector to specific Microsoft data centers and put content closer to our customers’ locations.
HKS: What benefits are you seeing as a result of the move to Windows Azure?
YX: As a result of moving our online business optimization solution to Windows Azure, we have been able to simplify infrastructure maintenance, while still providing a high-performance service to global customers and increasing our revenues.
By relying on Windows Azure to host Web Dissector along with other services in the future, we also can serve more customers than we could with its previous hosting provider. In fact, we expect to increase our revenue by at least 30 percent in the next year as a result of expanding our services outside of China. We could not have done that without Windows Azure.
Windows Azure also gives us the ability to deliver highly available services without network latency—even to customers located outside of mainland China. We’ve started expanding to Hong Kong and plan to soon serve customers in the United States and Europe.
Finally, we now have a full-service cloud platform and do not have to spend considerable time managing and maintaining our virtual infrastructure. We don’t have to worry about installing operating system images, upgrading software, applying updates, or configuring security and firewall settings. Windows Azure takes care of all of those issues for us, and as a result, we reduced the time spent on IT maintenance by 30 percent and can focus on more strategic tasks, such as expanding our business.