Nigel Parker's Outside Line

Juxtaposing the web, media and mobile for New Zealand developers.
  • Nigel Parker's Outside Line

    NV Interactive Take New Zealand Cricket to the Microsoft Azure Cloud


    Those that know me will know that I have a great passion for cricket. I am lucky that I am able to combine my passion for the game with my passion for technology. Four years ago I was lucky enough to work as a technical project manager on the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Following that event I supported our partner Provoke to migrate the NZ Rugby Union to Microsoft Azure to manage peaks of up to 15 million visitors a month. Leading up to the Cricket World Cup in New Zealand and Australia, NZ Cricket needed to review their infrastructure and mobile apps to support a similar peak in traffic and users to capitalize on the opportunity presented by hosting a global tournament in our backyard.

    The Cricket World Cup is the third largest sporting event in the world - sitting behind only the Summer Olympics and the FIFA World Cup. It is televised in over 200 countries to a global audience of over 2.2 billion extraordinarily passionate viewers. To put this into context, at the previous tournament in 2011 the semi-final match between India & Pakistan on March 30th 2011 drew a global television audience of 1 billion viewers – a record that still stands across all sporting codes. Tickets sales for this years’ tournament have surpassed 750k and are forecast to exceed 1 million total attendance across New Zealand and Australia before the end of the tournament.

    I took my family to the pool match at Eden Park last Saturday between New Zealand and Australia. My father took me to world cup opener at the same ground in 1992 and to this day I remember many of the games from that tournament, something that I want to share with my daughters. Needless to say the game didn’t fail to deliver and I found myself with an elevated heart rate for most of the match!


    This year, New Zealand’s BLACKCAPs have a very real chance of winning the entire tournament for the first time – and this possibility has captured the nation’s imagination. Three weeks in New Zealand is currently #1 in the tournament standings with four wins from four matches.


    New Zealand Cricket is the driving force behind the game in this country. They are the governing body for professional cricket in New Zealand and are responsible for developing, administering and promoting the game at all levels from grassroots up to the international level.  With the eyes of the world turning to New Zealand, they knew they needed to step up and deliver. Enter NV Interactive and Microsoft Azure.

    NV Interactive have been supporting the technology behind New Zealand cricket since 2006 and are a great partner to architect and deliver the next chapter in this journey.

    At the core is the website. Initially launched in 2008, the site now attracts over 200k unique visitors & generates over 3 million page views every month during the New Zealand season. The site also provides ball by ball Live Scoring for all domestic cricket and international matches played by the Blackcaps. This season the website was completely reimagined as a modern, responsive web experience and the underlying publishing system was also re-architected and migrated to the open source .NET based Umbraco Content Management System.

    As part of this major project, NV & NZC developed MyBLACKCAPS, a far-reaching & long sighted project to connect with cricket fans & players in New Zealand. Alongside the website, NV & NZC also developed a suite of cross platform mobile apps for iOS, Android and a universal app for both Windows Phone and tablet. Built on the Cordova framework, these cross platform apps share a common codebase and are all strategically aligned around MyBLACKCAPS, providing another channel for membership benefits including push notifications and exclusive content like video highlights from matches.


    Core to the success of this programme of work was ensuring that the infrastructure behind the multiple systems was up to the task – and the challenge of scaling exponentially to meet the international demand during the six week long Cricket World Cup.  Should service falter in a period of peak demand major commercial arrangements would be placed at risk. With the recent opening of the Microsoft Azure AU datacentres, the approach was clear.


    Whilst having a large international following, the primary audience for New Zealand Cricket’s digital channels are New Zealand based. NZ Cricket were amongst the very first granted access to the new Azure AU datacentres as part of the Australia Geo Managed Private Preview programme and in December 2014, they completed a full migration of all New Zealand Cricket systems to Microsoft Azure, replacing four dedicated servers in their Auckland based datacentre.

    Press Articles:

    I took the opportunity when I was in Christchurch to talk to Gus Pickering, Technical Director at NV Interactive about the technical details behind the project:

    ‘The immediate issue we faced was we felt the existing hosting solution was not going to be ready for the imminent increase in inbound traffic generated by the upcoming tournament being hosted in New Zealand. One thing we knew for sure, we did not have the flexibility to scale any further within the existing platform at short notice, which is crucial for live sporting events with unpredictable and peaky traffic patterns.

    As long standing Microsoft Partners, we host a number of systems in Microsoft Azure including a Video Analysis system for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) which has been running since 2011. One factor we had to consider as part of the review was the location of the data centre and therefore connectivity to New Zealand which has often been a show stopper for hosting local clients in the cloud.

    We undertook an architectural review of the overall hosting solution with the assistance of Microsoft New Zealand. This partnership gave us access to the necessary expertise and coupled with our new appreciation for some of the newer Azure Platform as a Service (PaaS) offerings, our recommendations to New Zealand Cricket for their ICT review changed considerably over those two months.

    What we ended up with is an incredibly flexible and massively scalable solution, hosted out of the Azure Australia data centre using the following Azure services: 

    This combination of IaaS and PaaS allowed us to run any of the older systems and tasks without modification but allowed our re-architected solutions to take advantage of newer PaaS offerings such as Azure Websites.  We found the new PaaS offerings really exciting and are focused on solving difficult problems such as scale.

    A good example of Azure changing how we approach a solution is the integration of video highlights from third party providers. We needed to provide a robust system which could reliably and consistently initiate a publishing workflow when an automated email notification was received. The end solution uses Web Hooks to connect the email notification event to the initiation of the import process. This would not have been possible without an Azure Queue or Service Bus to reliably (and loosely) connect the systems.

    One of the biggest advantages of modern Microsoft Azure based solutions is the increased alignment with the wider Microsoft development platform and technology stack. One obvious example is Visual Studio and Management Studio, but due to our heavy investment in the Microsoft stack there are other benefits for us such as being able to extend our automated deployments using MsBuild and MsDeploy (WebDeploy) with little or no modification.

    We were also able to run our solutions unmodified, which were made up of ASP.NET, MVC, .NET console apps and WebAPI projects. 
    One of the more recent projects was the launch of a suite of mobile apps across all platforms for New Zealand Cricket, adding new functionality such as push notifications.  

    As we were scoping this upgrade, the Visual Studio Tools for Apache Cordova where released as a preview which we bravely started trialing. This ended up being a great choice and ultimately made the developer and design integration workflow much easier and faster than anything else we've used. Although some bugs exist, the tools are extremely impressive and have made us much more productive and focused on the app design and features. We also introduced Notification Hubs for push notifications for all mobile platforms as part of this upgrade which has integrated well.

    At the time of writing, we have used the Visual Studio Tools for Apache Cordova and released to the platforms below, making the BLACKCAPS app truly cross-platform.  All apps are running the same code base and have complete feature parity: 

    With a large amount of infrastructure and services deployed in production, we needed a way to manage the overall health of the system. We have been successfully trialing the Operational Insights Preview which has provided a dashboard view of our environment, while allowing us to drill down into low level detail on our Virtual Machines. We have also made the most of new features in the Preview Azure Portal, which has allowed us to add a level of monitoring on our PaaS services, for example we're sent email alerts if the BLACKCAPS website homepage doesn’t respond to ping tests.’

    All in all this is a fantastic example of  leveraging the opportunity of an anticipated increase in demand along with capitalizing on a range of new platform service offerings to deliver a world-class solution on a global stage. The new platform has been holding up really well to the unprecedented demand and I was very happy to sit in the stand on the weekend and receive push notifications on the phone app every time the blackcaps took a wicket against Australia.


    Onwards and upwards! Go the BLACKCAPS!

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