As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we talked to David Holecek, Digital Strategy Manager at Volvo Car Corporation about using Windows Azure to host the company’s interactive, online game that has a tie-in to the Twilight movie franchise. Here’s what he had to say:

MSDN: Can you tell us more about Volvo and how you market to consumers?

Holecek: Volvo is one the car industry’s most-recognized brands and has a long history of innovative designs that take a human-centered approach. Beyond relying on our reputation of manufacturing cars with impeccable safety records, we also have to develop rich, digital marketing campaigns that transcend traditional paper-based marketing efforts.

MSDN: What were some of the challenges that Volvo faced with its marketing campaigns prior to adopting Windows Azure?

Holecek: We had a great opportunity to create a new marketing campaign with the release of the Twilight movie series because the films highlighted several Volvo cars. So, when the first two movies in the series came out, we started digital marketing campaigns that drove traffic to the Volvo website. However, at the campaigns’ peaks of popularity, we had up to 9,000 visitors every second, which, unfortunately, resulted in outages and sluggish performance of the campaign website—that meant unhappy customers, which is unacceptable for us as a customer-centric company. Our IT personnel were left scrambling trying to fix all of the performance issues. So, when the third Twilight movie, Eclipse, was to be released, we knew that we needed a solution that would provide us scalability and high performance.

MSDN: Why did you choose Windows Azure as your solution?

Holecek: The full-service digital marketing agency and Microsoft Gold Certified Partner that we work with, LBi, recommended Windows Azure based on previous experience with the cloud service. We were under a tight deadline to get the new campaign launched—just three months if we wanted to go live at the same time the movie premiered. We were already familiar with the Microsoft .NET Framework 4 and the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 Professional development system, so we could use those existing skills to develop for Windows Azure.

MSDN: Can you describe how Volvo is using Windows Azure to address the need for scalability and high performance?

Holecek: We developed an interactive game where users try to navigate a course maze in a Volvo car in the fastest time and using the shortest route. The grand prize was a brand new Volvo XC60. The game was hosted in web roles in Windows Azure. As needed, we could quickly add new web roles and scale up to meet traffic demands. The webs roles also handled web-service requests that were triggered during game play, and data from those service requests was stored in Queue storage in Windows Azure. Worker roles in Windows Azure processed the service requests and game-play data was stored in Windows Azure Table Storage. We also took advantage of strategically placed Microsoft data centers across the globe, deploying instances of the game at multiple data centers across the United States and Europe so that customers who played the game accessed it from the instance closest to their physical proximity.

MSDN: What makes your solution unique?

Holecek: By using Windows Azure, we freed our creativity and focused on developing the most engaging experience possible. We weren’t limited by technology constraints, or worried about focusing our efforts on troubleshooting performance issues. The marketing promotion was successful at driving traffic to the Volvo website. It ran from June 3 to July 14, 2010, during which time more than one million unique visitors went to the website, more than 400,000 of whom actively played the game.

MSDN: What kinds of benefits did Volvo realize with Windows Azure?

Holecek: One of the most important outcomes of using Windows Azure is that, unlike with our previous campaigns, we had the level of scalability that we needed to handle a large volume of traffic. We could easily scale up to handle peaks, or scale down to right-size our infrastructure for any lulls. It was the most cost-effective solution, too, especially compared to building our own infrastructure to run a temporary marketing promotion like this. In fact, by using Windows Azure, we saved 85 percent compared to an on-premises infrastructure, thanks to the pay-as-you-go pricing model that it offers. In addition, Windows Azure helped us deliver the high-performance application that we wanted and we minimized any latency issues. In fact, we did not experience any downtown or other production-related disturbances with the campaign website.

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