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Real World Windows Azure: Interview with Sean Nolan, Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft

As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we talked to Sean Nolan, Distinguished Engineer in the Health Solutions Group at Microsoft, about using Windows Azure to deliver the H1N1 Response…

As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we talked to Sean Nolan, Distinguished Engineer in the Health Solutions Group at Microsoft, about using Windows Azure to deliver the H1N1 Response Center Web site and the benefits that Windows Azure provides. Here’s what he had to say:

MSDN: Tell us about the H1N1 Response Center.
Nolan: In October 2009, public health officials were concerned that the H1N1 pandemic was becoming a serious issue for our national ability to deliver quality care. When faced with flu symptoms, people don’t always know what to do-stay home and rest, visit their physician, or go to the emergency room-so we saw an opportunity to help. We teamed up with experts from Emory University to create the H1N1 Response Center, a Web site where people can receive guidance based on a self-assessment.

MSDN: What was the biggest challenge you faced with the H1N1 Response Center Web site before implementing Windows Azure?
Nolan: The ability to handle burst traffic was the biggest issue. For example, when the media broke a story about the virus, it would cause dramatic increases in site visits. The same would happen in response to other trigger events, such as school closings. And of course, the most important time for our service to be available was during those bursts, so we needed a solution that could handle them seamlessly.

MSDN: Can you describe the solution you built with Windows Azure to help address your need for a scalable solution?
Nolan: We’re hosting the H1N1 Response Center on the Windows Azure. Visitors fill out a self-assessment that includes questions about age, gender, symptoms, and key medical conditions. Emory’s algorithms determine the severity of the situation and offer guidance that individuals can use as input to make decisions about next steps. If a trip to a doctor is appropriate, people can take advantage of an additional service built on top of Microsoft HealthVault healthcare Web site technology to prepare for the visit. We also send real-time data to public health officials by using Microsoft Amalga software for healthcare. Queue storage services and Worker roles in Windows Azure help us move data effectively between these components.

Figure 1. The H1N1 Response Center Web site.

MSDN: What makes the H1N1 Response Center unique?
Nolan: The H1N1 Response Center is a great showcase of how we can use Windows Azure to help people who are facing a scary and potentially dangerous situation, like H1N1. By ensuring that people have the information they need to make good decisions, we can reduce the burden on the public health system and keep healthy individuals from being exposed to the virus unnecessarily.

MSDN: What are some of the key benefits that you have seen since implementing Windows Azure?
Nolan: We’ve already talked about the ability to scale up and handle burst traffic dynamically. The site saw peak traffic on November 9, 2009 with 123,746 page views-an unexpected 365 percent increase over the previous day. In addition, by using Windows Azure we were able to go from idea to deployment in just three weeks. As anybody who has built out data centers can tell you, this is a really incredible timeline. Being able to use our existing skills and all of our familiar tools, such as the Microsoft Visual Studio development system, was another plus. Without all of this, there is no way we could have had the site ready in time for flu season.

Read more Windows Azure customer success stories, visit:  https://azure.microsoft.com/evidence

To see the Windows Azure Business Impact Article featuring H1N1, visit: 

To see the H1N1 Response Center in action, visit: