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Real World Windows Azure: Interview with Craig Osborne, Principal Program Manager on the Windows Gaming Experience team at Microsoft

Posted on October 7, 2010

General Manager, Cloud Platform Marketing

As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we talked to Craig Osborne, Principal Program Manager on the Windows Gaming Experience team at Microsoft, about using the Windows Azure platform to support the enhanced gaming experience in the next version of Bing Games. Here's what he had to say:

MSDN: Tell us about the Windows Gaming Experience team at Microsoft.

Osborne: At Microsoft, it's not all about work. We are invested in the entertainment industry and we deliver multiple gaming platforms to millions of casual gaming enthusiasts. The Windows Gaming Experience team has a mission to create new experiences for casual gamers in the next version of the Bing search engine and integrate Microsoft games with social-networking sites.

MSDN: What were the biggest challenges that you faced prior to implementing the Windows Azure platform?

Osborne: When we started creating new services to enhance the gaming experience, scalability was at the top of our minds. Social games have the potential to go viral and attract millions of users in a short period of time, so we needed an agile infrastructure that could scale up quickly in the case of unpredictable, high-volume growth. We also had to develop the game-related services in less than five months-in time for the June release of the next version of Bing.

MSDN: Can you describe the solution you built with Windows Azure to address your need for a highly scalable infrastructure?

Osborne: We built nine services to support enhanced gaming experiences and host them on Windows Azure. There are three services that host the front-end web portals where gamers can access games and six gaming-related back-end services. The gaming services manage scores, preferences, and settings; gaming binaries and metadata; social gaming components; security token services to validate user authenticity; and social services, such as the ability to publish high scores to Facebook. We also use Microsoft SQL Azure databases to store game data and metadata. In order to deliver a consistent, high-performance service to users worldwide, we also use the Windows Azure Content Delivery Network to store assets for the Flash-based games.

The Game Hub feature displays the social components of the gaming experience, such as leader board information, gamers' favorite games, and social-networking feeds.

MSDN: What makes your solution unique?

Osborne: We were working with an aggressive schedule that initially seemed impossible. Realistically, it would have taken a year to build a traditional infrastructure to handle peak traffic and millions of concurrent users. We would have been lucky to even have machines racked by the time we wanted to launch our services. However, by using the Windows Azure platform, we exceeded our goal and delivered the services in three months and one week.

MSDN: What kinds of benefits are you realizing with Windows Azure?

Osborne: In addition to developing the solution in record time, we are confident that we have the scalability we need to address demand. At launch, we handled nearly 2 million concurrent users, but at the same time, we have compute and storage resources in reserve that will allow us to scale up to support at least five times the number of concurrent users, and the infrastructure can easily scale up to support tens of millions of users. Point blank, there is no way we could have built these services in the timeframe we had to work with by using anything other than Windows Azure.

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