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Real-World SQL Azure: Interview with James Chen, Chief Technology Officer at LinkShare Labs

[This article was contributed by the SQL Azure team.]As part of the Real-World SQL Azure series, we talked to James Chen, the Chief Technology Officer at LinkShare Labs, a division of Rakuten,…

[This article was contributed by the SQL Azure team.]

As part of the Real-World SQL Azure series, we talked to James Chen, the Chief Technology Officer at LinkShare Labs, a division of Rakuten, about how his company is taking advantage of the Windows Azure platform, and particularly Microsoft SQL Azure, to power its new LinkShare Lightning application.

MSDN: Tell us about LinkShare. What services do you offer and what is your corporate vision?

Chen: LinkShare offers online marketing services, such as search engine marketing, lead generation, and affiliate marketing to connect advertisers with publishers, to help them both profitably grow their revenue. Going forward, our vision is to provide a single, flexible performance-marketing platform for the world. It will be the bridge from any publisher to any advertiser in any country. That means, for example, that a publisher in the U.S. could get compensated for lead generation in Japan.

MSDN: What differentiates LinkShare in the online advertising marketplace?

Chen: Unlike a generic ad network, LinkShare gets paid based on conversions—actual completed sales—not just the number of ad impressions or users’ clicks. But more than that, what differentiates us from competitors is that we focus on big, name-brand advertisers, and we offer expert consultative services along with our advanced patented technologies.

MSDN: What prompted LinkShare to start looking at cloud-based solutions?

Chen: It comes back to our vision. We wanted to provide a truly global system so that we could develop advertising applications that can be used anywhere. Behind this goal were two drivers: performance and cost. We needed a technology platform to build and run our applications on that could scale cost-effectively and that would require minimal development effort and support global deployment. Only a cloud platform—and cloud-based databases in particular—could meet those criteria. As a first step, we wanted to build and deploy our LinkShare Lightning cost-per-action marketing solution as a cloud-based application.

MSDN: Did you consider any cloud platforms besides the Windows Azure platform?

Chen: We looked at the other two leading providers. The first one would have required too much investment to make it productive for our developers. What made Windows Azure platform the clear winner over the second one is that Microsoft is a world-class provider of ‘platform as a service.’ Additionally, the commitment of Microsoft to cloud innovation and feature development is very important to us. Every quarter, new Windows Azure platform tools come out to support easy development, whereas with some competitors’ platforms, you have to do a lot of the work yourself by piecing together open source solutions to complete your development stack.

MSDN: LinkShare Lightning is highly data intensive. How does SQL Azure meet your database needs?

Chen: SQL Azure offers cost-effective, on-demand scalability. We have peak demand during the holiday shopping season that’s 10 times higher the rest of the year. We don’t want to add hardware for extra seasonal capacity, or change our software to handle the load for a short period of time; and with SQL Azure, we don’t have to. The best part of using SQL Azure is that we know our application is going to work no matter how big we scale it out.

MSDN: What are your plans for the platform going forward, and what benefits do you expect?

Chen: In order for us to scale our business globally and also profitably, we need a solution like the Windows Azure platform. Over time, this will save tens of millions of dollars a year and enable us to expand rapidly.

This main benefit of the platform is that we really don’t have to manage Windows Azure or SQL Azure in the traditional way that on-premises software and data centers require. I think almost all of the software development shops in the world will move in the direction we’re going—we’ll handle development full time, and everything else will be taken care of for us in the cloud. When it comes to providing the best ‘platform as a service’ to developers, I think Microsoft is the visionary leader by far.

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