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Real World Windows Azure: Interview with Jim Zimmerman, Chief Technology Officer at Outback Steakhouse

As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we talked to Jim Zimmerman, CTO at Outback Steakhouse, about using the Windows Azure platform to host the restaurant's social-…

As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we talked to Jim Zimmerman, CTO at Outback Steakhouse, about using the Windows Azure platform to host the restaurant’s social-networking application and the benefits that Windows Azure provides. Here’s what he had to say:

MSDN: Tell us about Outback Steakhouse.

Zimmerman: Outback Steakhouse is an Australian steakhouse, and we differentiate ourselves from other restaurants by emphasizing consistently high-quality food and service, generous portions at moderate prices, and a casual atmosphere.

MSDN: What business challenges led Outback to implement Windows Azure?

Zimmerman: We wanted to encourage repeat guests and reach potential new guests by creating a social-networking presence. Specifically, we wanted to build a “fan page” on Facebook and offer the first 500,000 fans a coupon for a free Bloomin’ Onion appetizer. However, a viral campaign like that needs technology and infrastructure in place to be able to scale quickly to meet spikes in demand. To host the application using a traditional, physical server model would cost at least U.S.$10,000, and we were looking for something much more cost-effective for this initiative.

MSDN: Can you describe the solution you built with Windows Azure to help you cost-effectively reach 500,000 Facebook fans?

Zimmerman: We built the application as a cloud application, establishing Worker roles in Windows Azure with caches and an asynchronous architecture for performance and scalability. We used Microsoft SQL Azure to store relational data and the Table service in Windows Azure storage services for background processing. We launched the application on November 5, 2009 and hoped to reach 500,000 fans in 30 days-we reached that goal in only 18 days without any issues.

MSDN: What makes this application unique?

Zimmerman: What’s great about this approach is that although this was a one-time offer, development with Windows Azure is so simple that we can use the solution architecture that we built with Worker roles to quickly and easily extend the application for new online offerings in the future.

MSDN: Have you been able to reach new markets as a result of using Windows Azure?

Zimmerman: Absolutely. We’re thrilled with the results and how quickly we grew our Facebook fan page. We are pleased with the opportunity we have to engage with these guests through a social-networking medium.

MSDN: What are some of the key benefits Outback has seen since implementing Windows Azure?

Zimmerman: One of the greatest things for us is that we were able to build a scalable, cost-effective solution in less than eight weeks. With Windows Azure, we have the flexibility to pay only for the resources we need, rather than committing to a set capacity and investing in hardware. We instantly scale up to ensure coverage during peak times and scale down when extra resources aren’t needed. At the same time we’re providing a reliable, positive guest experience for our Facebook fans-we don’t need to worry about application performance with Windows Azure.

Visit the Outback Steakhouse fan page on Facebook: www.facebook.com/outback?v=wall&viewas=1302781&ref=ts

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