MSDN: Tell us about the EEA and the services you provide.
McGlade: We provide independent and reliable information on the environment for policy makers and the general public to help improve the environment and to raise environmental awareness across Europe.
MSDN: What was the biggest challenge the EEA faced prior to implementing Windows Azure?
McGlade: We collect environmental data from 600 partner organizations, as well as individuals, and we wanted to make that data easily accessible and understandable. Citizens have become increasingly responsive about changes to their local environment, and this increased demand for information raised a number of technical issues. For example, the EEA Web site servers, which we host on-premises, were nearly at capacity.
MSDN: Can you describe the solution you built with Windows Azure to help meet capacity demands for the environmental information that you're disseminating to European citizens?
McGlade: Eye On Earth is a two-way communication platform that gathers information from a variety of sources and allows citizens to take a more active role in information exchange through a dynamic and user-friendly Web site. Data is fed into Microsoft SQL Azure every hour, which supports rapid retrieval of data, making it possible for Eye On Earth to process and deliver information in near-real time. Citizens can check air quality and bathing water quality for destinations across Europe and, because Windows Azure is hosted in Microsoft data centers, we don't have to worry about capacity issues. Even during peak periods, such as when citizens are planning their summer holidays, we can rapidly scale up and handle the traffic.
Figure 1: Eye On Earth aggregates complex environmental data from across Europe.
MSDN: What makes Eye On Earth unique?
McGlade: With Eye On Earth, the EEA not only brings the most up-to-date environmental information to citizens across Europe, but also encourages them to share their own personal observations. Both the scientific data and the citizens' observations are then made available to other interested parties, such as urban traffic control, tourism, or healthcare systems. Eye On Earth helps organizations and citizens work together to address an increasing number of environmental issues that affect their communities.
MSDN: Have you had the opportunity to reach new markets since implementing Eye On Earth with Windows Azure?
McGlade: Windows Azure gives us the opportunity to access new information through partnerships with other public bodies, such as the United Nations Environment Programme and the European Space Agency. Built using the existing Eye On Earth solution, the Environmental Atlas of Europe presents stories about how communities across different regions work to reverse the damage to their local environment. We now have one of the world's most interactive repositories of environmental data and have turned powerful information into action.
MSDN: What are some of the key benefits the EEA has seen since implementing Windows Azure?
McGlade: With Windows Azure, we're able to manage load efficiently during times of heaviest use, giving us the ability to scale up and down seamlessly without complex operational procedures-that is key when you have an audience of 600 million people. Plus, by taking advantage of Microsoft data centers to host data from the EEA in the cloud, we reduce our investment in hardware and computers that would otherwise remain idle. Best of all, we're able to provide the real-time data that will help citizens make decisions that can improve their lives.
Visit the Eye on Earth Web site at: http://www.eyeonearth.eu/
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