Real World Windows Azure: Australian Sports Bookmaker Bets on Windows Azure for its Racing Microsite

As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, I connected with Shane Paterson, Network Operations Manager at Centrebet to learn more about how the company used Windows Azure to build a dedicated Spring Racing Carnival microsite to provide its customers with race and betting information during the Carnival’s 2011 racing season. Read Centrebet’s success story here. Read on to find out what he had to say.

Himanshu Kumar Singh: Tell me about Centrebet.

Shane Paterson: Founded in Alice Springs, Northern Territory in 1992, Centrebet is one of the world’s largest online betting and gaming operators. In 1996, we became the first licensed bookmaker in the southern hemisphere to offer online sports betting. With annual turnover of more than A$1 billion a year, we offer up to 6,000 sports and horseracing betting markets worldwide each week, as well as an expanding list of gaming products.

HKS:  What is your busiest time of year?

SP:  Our busiest time of year is during the Spring Racing Carnival, a month-long series of high-stakes horseracing events held in Melbourne, Victoria. The Melbourne Cup, in particular, sees thousands of once-a-year punters bet on the big race, held on the first Tuesday in November each year. We take around four times the number of bets during the Melbourne Cup than we take on an average day.  The traffic across our systems on that one day of the year is phenomenal.

HKS:  Why did you decide to create a dedicated Spring Carnival microsite?

SP:  Our online and mobile customers demand the most up-to-date information about the races and results, especially which horses are attracting the big money. If punters can see where the big bets are being laid, it greatly assists them in their own wagering. We wanted to build a dedicated microsite to provide vital and timely Spring Carnival race and betting information to our customers.

HKS:  What challenges did you face as you planned this new microsite?

SP:  The challenge was to get a site up and running for online and mobile punters in a short timeframe, without causing any disruption to our core betting operations. We would usually invest heavily in hardware to ensure we had the right infrastructure to remain operational during major sports events. This time we needed a cost-effective solution that wouldn’t be a drain on our existing bandwidth. And given the high number of users, the site also needed to handle large volumes of data quickly and distribute that information efficiently and seamlessly.

HKS:  What options did you consider for developing your site?

SP:  In canvassing our options, we initially considered building an internal cloud hosting solution, which would have cost us A$50,000 in hardware and been time-consuming to implement. On advice from IT consultancy and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Breeze, we selected Windows Azure.

HKS:   How did the development process go with Windows Azure?

SP: Together with Breeze, we built the new website on Windows Azure in just four months, in time for the start of Melbourne’s 2011 Spring Carnival. Windows Azure gave us the flexibility, scalability and performance reliability we needed to operate the site in the cloud without affecting our core infrastructure. It was also fast and incredibly easy to deploy.

HKS:  What new features and services does the new microsite provide to your customers?

SP:  By running the site on Windows Azure, we were able to put a lot of information at the fingertips of punters without putting any strain on the main processing engines that operate our core revenue-generating systems. The new site enabled our customers to access comprehensive betting information from the first major race meeting of the spring season in early October. This information included up-to-date prices; tips and big bets being placed; the form guide; and information about which horses to follow and which were leading the market.

Additionally, using BizTalk Server 2010 and SQL Server 2008 R2 as the website’s back end enabled us to populate our database with many different high-volume feeds – for example, the five biggest bets in the past hour – from existing internal systems and public Internet feeds.

HKS:  Did the site result in an increase in business for Centrebet?

SP: Our Spring Carnival microsite running on Windows Azure seamlessly provided timely race and betting information to our global customers during our busiest time of year. On Melbourne Cup day, we took more than 400,000 bets with the help of the new site.

HKS:  What about the technology benefits you’ve seen with Windows Azure?

SP:  By using Windows Azure to run the Spring Carnival microsite, we ensured our network performed consistently well, because data was distributed over a large number of machines rather than a single database. And we always had access to sufficient bandwidth and processing power to ensure the site continued to run smoothly when the numbers of users and transactions spiked dramatically.

Windows Azure was also quick and easy to deploy because we didn’t need to invest in additional hardware, eliminating the time our IT staff would have taken to install, manage and maintain the system. And we saved a considerable amount of money in overhead and staff resources; the hardware we were considering purchasing would have cost around A$50,000; we no longer need to spend this.

And rather than having to continually invest in local infrastructure and bandwidth, we can use Windows Azure to manage and distribute scaled volumes of information cost-efficiently, when and in whichever way we choose. With Windows Azure, we can scale up at 10 minutes’ notice, but also scale back during quiet times.

The beauty is you pay for what you use. Our investment in new hardware and management costs is minimal. IT staff spend less time managing infrastructure. When demand is high, we can bring new equipment into play in hours rather than months, which saves time and money.

HKS:  What business benefits have you seen with Windows Azure?

SP:  Launching a dedicated Spring Racing Carnival microsite in time for the 2011 season gave our customers continuous access to information they needed to place bets during peak times, which was good for punters and good for our business. Windows Azure made that happen.

The success of the Spring Carnival microsite has laid the groundwork for us to build microsites for other major sporting events, such as the Australian Football League and National Rugby League grand finals and the Autumn Racing Carnival. In time, we may look at moving some of our primary business activities to Windows Azure.

Read how others are using Windows Azure.