SAG Awards Drupal Website Moves to Windows Azure

SAG Awards Drupal Website Moves to Windows Azure

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The success of the recent Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards ceremony was buoyed by the move of its Drupal-based website hosted on internal Linux servers to one hosted on Windows Azure.

The SAG Awards site is a highly visible, high-traffic website running on Drupal. Hosting it on Azure provides a scalable, public cloud environment for SAG team. They can tune up or down the compute and storage requirements according to expected website loads, thereby getting a more scalable, manageable and cost-effective solution for running their site.

SAG also gets the benefits of PaaS – no need to manage the operating system patches, virtual machine images, network topology etc. This is particularly useful for SAG as the site has stable traffic for nine months, but which spikes for the three months from when award nominations open to the night of the event itself.

The SAG Awards site was previously hosted on internal Linux boxes. In previous years, performance was negatively impacted by site outages and slow performance during peak-usage days, with SAG having to consistently upgrade their hardware to meet demand for those days. That upgraded hardware was then not optimally used during the rest of the year.

The usage pattern for the SAG Awards site fluctuates, but spikes between November and February when the site is used for SAG award nominations in early November to the actual announcement of nominations in in mid-December. Peak usage is on the night of the awards ceremony where multiple uploads of pictures, news articles, and site visits happen.

What is even more impressive is that both visits and page views almost doubled on the night of the event. In 2011, some 222,816 people visited the site and 434,743 pages were viewed, while this year there were some 325,303 site visits and 789,310 page views, reflecting the stability and performance of the site on Windows Azure.

Microsoft started working with the SAG Awards team in May 2011, when their CIO Erin Griffin joined the Interoperability Executive Council (IEC) - founded by Microsoft in 2006 with a goal of identifying the industry’s greatest areas of need and to work together to create solutions - and attended a council meeting.

In September Mike Story, SAG’s chief architect, attended an IEC work stream meeting and asked for Microsoft’s support in porting the site to Azure. The Business Platform Division’s Customer Experience (CAT) team, the Interoperability group and Windows Azure all started working with SAG in early October and, on December 20, 2011, the site went live on Windows Azure.

“We moved to Windows Azure after looking at the services it offered,” said Erin Griffin, CIO at SAG. “Understanding the best usage scenario for us took time and effort, but with help from Microsoft, we successfully moved our site to Windows Azure and the biggest traffic day for us went off with flying colors.”

This is just one real world outcome from the IEC, which has counseled Microsoft on many interoperability topics and introduced a number of real world scenarios for discussion. The IEC, working together with Microsoft, has developed a number of solutions for these scenarios, with this one for the SAG Awards being the latest.

Curt Peterson, Microsoft’s Principal Group Program Manager, BPD Customer Experience, notes that the success of Sunday’s SAG Awards ceremony underscores how Windows Azure is a scalable, open Cloud platform ready for production use. “We are committed to making it easier for all our customers to use cloud computing on their terms with Windows Azure,” he says.

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