As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we talked to Pankaj Arora, Senior Solution Manager at Microsoft, about using the Windows Azure platform to deliver the company's 2009 Giving Campaign Auction Tool. Here's what he had to say:
MSDN: Tell us about the annual Giving Campaign Auction at Microsoft.
Arora: The Giving Campaign Auction is a grassroots initiative that runs an online auction site, called the Giving Campaign Auction Tool, where donors can list items and services for buyers to bid on. All of the money raised goes to charity. It is a yearly volunteer effort within Microsoft IT; without dedicated resources to develop and run the site, the volunteer teams usually struggle to find available resources.
MSDN: What was the biggest challenge the Auction Tool team faced prior to implementing Windows Azure?
Arora: With an initiative that only runs once a year for one month, the Auction Tool is highly cyclical in nature-and it boasts a high volume of site traffic. In fact, during the 2008 Giving Campaign, the Auction Tool went down during the last minutes of the auction when we see the most traffic, and we suspected that increased load was a contributing factor. So, what we were looking for was a solution that we could quickly scale to handle peak traffic spikes. Plus, because we're an all-volunteer team, we needed a solution that would enable developers to quickly build the Auction Tool in their off-time.
MSDN: Can you describe the solution you built to help address your need for a scalable solution that could handle traffic spikes?
Arora: We migrated the Giving Campaign Auction Tool to the Windows Azure platform with only minor code changes. It took the equivalent of one-and-a-half developers-who had no experience using Windows Azure-only two weeks to migrate the existing tool to Windows Azure. We started with four Web roles for the front-end service, but eventually we added an additional 20 Web roles to handle burst traffic. With Windows Azure, we can just click a button, add more Web roles, and scale up without worrying about traffic spikes. We also used Microsoft SQL Server on-premises, which worked seamlessly with the cloud components. To top things off, we used Microsoft Silverlight to build a new interface for the application.
MSDN: What makes your solution unique?
Arora: We raised a lot of money for charity with the 2009 Auction Tool, and part of that is because, with Windows Azure, we were able to sponsor the initiative without any interruption in service. In one month, the site hosted auctions for 875 items, had 15,838 unique visitors, supported 56,346 total sessions, and raised nearly U.S.$500,000-including $505 for the world's best bologna sandwich.
MSDN: What are some of the key benefits the 2009 Auction Tool team realized after migrating to Windows Azure?
Arora: We were able to scale up quickly, and the site stayed up and running for the duration of the auction. Another key to success is that the development was very efficient-this is critical for a team that is made up of volunteers who have a lot of other priorities. Developers were able to use their existing skills with the Microsoft .NET Framework and the Microsoft Visual Studio development system to migrate the Auction Tool to Windows Azure. In fact, development was so efficient and simple that other groups at Microsoft that have local auction-driven initiatives are taking advantage of the same model; they can easily tailor the existing Auction Tool codebase to their needs.
To read more Windows Azure customer success stories, visit:
To read the Windows Azure Business Impact Article featuring the Giving Campaign, go here.