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Global Weather Center Increases Global Scalability and Speeds Time-to-Market with Cloud Platform
AccuWeather, a leading provider of weather forecasts worldwide, needed a better solution for handling more than 4 billion daily data requests. To increase scalability, the company is delivering content from the cloud on the Windows Azure platform. As a result, the company has accelerated times for development and proofs of concept without worrying about provisioning infrastructure. It has also gained on-demand scalability, improved access to real-time weather data, and cut IT costs by up to 40 percent.
"With Windows Azure, we gain velocity because we can be innovative without worrying about complex infrastructure. A proof of concept that might have taken three months to execute now takes three days."
Established in 1962 in State College, Pennsylvania, AccuWeather provides weather forecasts for nearly 3 million locations worldwide through multiple channels including smartphones, websites, and broadcast media. With an ever-increasing array of mobile devices on the market combined with more people going online globally, the company looked for new ways to satisfy demand for its services.
AccuWeather served most of its content from its main data center in Pennsylvania. As digital traffic increased, the company supplied an increasing volume of multimedia content, including forecasts, current conditions, alerts, and images.
At first, most forecast requests came from the United States, but over the years, nearly half of all requests were international in origin. “As more connected devices came on the market worldwide, we went from 2 million to more than 4 billion requests a day within five years,” says Chris Patti, Vice President of Technology at AccuWeather. “Scale became a challenge.”
The company wanted to ensure a rapid response to users in any location, but hesitated to build out its on-premises infrastructure. “We were already spending too much money on servers,” says Patti. “Also, we wanted to put data closer to users and move away from having a single point of failure.”
AccuWeather considered several cloud-based options, including Amazon Web Services, before choosing a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering on the Windows Azure platform—including Windows Azure Cache Service and Windows Azure Cloud Services—a flexible framework built to handle billions of requests each day. The company believed that Windows Azure would provide a more comprehensive, easily managed set of services. “We’ve used other content distribution networks to cache content,” says Patti. “However, what we gained with the Windows Azure tier is geo-diversified distribution along with business logic.”
Within six months, the company migrated its application programming interface (API) to Windows Azure and went live in the cloud on April 2012. “Our API, which is hosted on-premises, runs with the same code that we’re running on Windows Azure,” says Patti. “Anybody can use Windows Azure without doing a lot of custom code, so it was very simple for us to make that move.”
The company is also using Windows Azure Traffic Manager to balance user traffic between two Microsoft data centers. In addition to ensuring continuous operations if one data center goes offline, the solution also improves performance by serving content from the closest location.
AccuWeather is currently serving its global traffic from multiple data centers in the United States with plans to expand to European and Asian data centers in the future. AccuWeather plans to move its website to the cloud within 18 months, to ensure optimal performance and availability as well as disaster recovery. Patti explains, “We want to reduce our dependency on a single geographic location.”
With the Windows Azure platform, AccuWeather is accelerating time-to-market, serving millions of people faster worldwide, and cutting its own operating costs significantly.
Speeds Time-to-Market and Innovation
Instead of spending months expanding its data center, AccuWeather accelerated implementation with a cloud deployment. “We went from learning about Windows Azure to production in less than six months,” says Patti. “It was really easy for the development team to test and deploy code in the cloud without having to set up servers. It’s push-button deployment, and that kind of speed is hard to match with other cloud providers.”
Besides speeding its initial deployment, AccuWeather looks forward to implementing new features quicker too. “Velocity is a word I use a lot,” says Patti. “It refers to speed as well as direction. With Windows Azure, we gain velocity because we can be innovative without worrying about complex infrastructure. A proof of concept that might have taken three months to execute now takes three days.”
Scales on Demand
With Windows Azure, the company has the flexibility it needs to adapt faster to changing conditions. “Our data and traffic are driven 100 percent by weather,” says Patti. “Before, we couldn’t do any type of adaptive scaling. Now, we can spin up virtual servers on Windows Azure to serve 20 minutes of traffic when we need it, then turn them off. That type of on-demand scalability is a huge benefit.”
Faster development and better scalability help the company respond more rapidly to business requirements as well as weather patterns. AccuWeather provides multimedia content to 72,000 websites for other companies, and it designs customized solutions for government, media, and other businesses. “People ask us for new solutions all the time,” says Patti. “We have some really big media partners, and we need to be able to meet their needs. With Windows Azure, we have the on-demand resources to be more agile and get products to market faster.”
Improves Access to Real-Time Weather Data
AccuWeather delivers weather information worldwide to multiple kinds of mobile devices and platforms, including Windows 8, Android, and iOS phones and tablets. Now, with Windows Azure, the company can support more types of devices, and deliver content in more languages, than ever before. “We can update content much more frequently in the cloud. And because we can cache on Windows Azure in almost any language, we can provide near-real-time localized information virtually anywhere in the world.”
Cuts Capital Expenditure Costs by 40 Percent
Deploying in the cloud is also helping the company cut costs and implement new capabilities affordably, including a disaster recovery solution. “We didn’t need to spend the funds to build out another site for disaster recovery,” says Patti. “With Windows Azure, we achieve business continuity while reducing our on-premises footprint.”
The company has cut its existing, on-premises API back-end servers from 16 to 4 server computers by handling its workload in the cloud, and saved US$100,000 in server costs. “We’re starting to see a 40 percent reduction in capital expenditure costs related to server overhead with Windows Azure,” says Patti. “Instead of hardware, we’re just paying for subscriptions costs.”