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Real World Windows Azure: Interview with Matthew Davey, Founder of TicketDirect

As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we talked to Matthew Davey, Founder of TicketDirect, about using the Windows Azure platform to run the company's ticketing system. Here's what he had…

As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we talked to Matthew Davey, Founder of TicketDirect, about using the Windows Azure platform to run the company’s ticketing system. Here’s what he had to say:

MSDN: What service does TicketDirect provide?

Davey: We provide online and on-premises ticketing services for 80 venues in New Zealand and Australia. We’ve really grown from a small rugby-specific ticketing business to a company that was responsible for 45 percent of professionally ticketed event sales in New Zealand in the first half of 2009.

MSDN: What was the biggest challenge TicketDirect faced prior to adopting the Windows Azure platform?

Davey: The problem in the ticketing business is that we have highly variable load patterns, so we have highly elastic needs. We can sell a few hundred tickets an hour for most of the week, but when a big event goes on sale at 9:00 in the morning, we get an enormous spike in load against our application. It’s a difficult issue to resolve because to handle peak loads, we’d have to invest so much in our server infrastructure that it just becomes economically infeasible. Instead, we handle server demand spikes by limiting the number of requests passed on to the server. This keeps server demand manageable but requires sacrificing some of the user experience.

MSDN: Can you describe the solution you built with the Windows Azure platform to help you manage peak demand in an economical way?

Davey: We are in the process of migrating our existing application, which is built on the Microsoft Visual Basic 6 development system and runs against Microsoft SQL Server data management software. In our first phase, we’re taking advantage of the scalability in Microsoft SQL Azure to improve the speed of ticket sales. We can spin up hundreds of SQL Azure databases during peak times, and then we switch them off when we no longer need them-and we only pay for what we use. For the second phase, we’re working on a new browser-based sales application that incorporates the Microsoft Silverlight 4 browser plug-in technology. In the final phase of migration, we will rewrite the existing Visual Basic application as a Windows Azure application.

MSDN: What makes TicketDirect unique?

Davey: In the past, we’ve really differentiated ourselves with the user experience of our platform and the greater degree of control that TicketDirect Venues have over their ticketing operations. Windows Azure helps us apply more of our internal resources to delivering an even better experience to our customers because we don’t have to use those resources to manage or troubleshoot hardware platforms. Silverlight 4 also plays a big role in helping us dramatically improve the user experience.

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

Davey: We know that Windows Azure will play a big role in our future growth for sure. I’m a whole lot more confident about things working correctly with a big vendor like Microsoft than I would be trying to do this stuff alone. As TicketDirect expands globally, we’ll be able to take advantage of worldwide Microsoft data centers, which will help us expand our business and stay ahead of our competitors with the world’s fastest and most scalable ticketing system-something we couldn’t have done without cloud computing and Windows Azure.

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

Davey:  Windows Azure and SQL Azure are uniquely well-suited to a ticketing business. Before this, nobody had cracked the problem of the dramatic scale-up and scale-back needed to handle peak loads economically. We are saving money on two fronts. First, we’re saving on the direct hardware cost of purchasing extra servers that could accommodate peak loads but would otherwise sit idle. Second, we’re able to reallocate IT resources that would normally spend time maintaining that infrastructure; we can focus on what we do best-selling tickets and providing a rich and friendly experience for the customer.

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