As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, I connected with Zoiner Tejada, Founder and CEO of PrivacyCentral to learn more about how the company used Windows Azure and Ruby to build its powerful online privacy service.  Read PrivacyCentral’s success story here. Read on to find out what he had to say.

Himanshu Kumar Singh: Tell me about PrivacyCentral.

Zoiner Tejada:  I founded PrivacyCentral in early 2011 to help people protect themselves from Internet threats such as cyberstalking, cyberbullying, and identity theft. We see ourselves as identity theft protection 2.0. Most identity theft services work like insurance; they try to make it right after the fact. We wanted to help people safeguard against identity theft happening in the first place.

HKS:  How does PrivacyCentral address cybercrime and identity theft?

ZT:  Many people have personally identifiable information (PII), such as addresses, birth dates, and even their mother's maiden name, exposed on the Internet. Identity thieves and other cybercriminals can use this information to gain access to bank accounts or other confidential resources. I wanted to introduce a browser-based service that would work like a PII search engine. When users enter the type of information they want to protect, PrivacyCentral finds and reports where the information is exposed on the Internet. The service has to be powerful enough to generate high confidence matches and present relevant, accurate, and complete results for any user.

HKS: Did the scale of the threat impact how you developed your service?

ZT:  Yes, I wanted to launch the service quickly, and wanted to support the service with technology that could scale up to meet consumer demand from one customer at a time to enterprise partners with hundreds of thousands of existing customers.  We are just four developers and could have spent US$150,000 and taken a few months to configure servers―and have zero lines of code written―or we could get busy building and running PrivacyCentral. We knew we wanted to support our online services with cloud technology, so we evaluated several cloud systems including Amazon, Google, and Windows Azure.  We chose Windows Azure because it worked seamlessly with not just Microsoft technologies such as the Microsoft .NET Framework and the Microsoft Visual Studio development system, but also with open source development languages such as Ruby, which we planned to use.

HKS: What were the benefits of using Ruby?

ZT:  We wanted to support PrivacyCentral search functions with prebuilt Ruby web crawlers. In tests, we found we could easily run Ruby on Windows Azure web roles and because we could use Ruby with Windows Azure, we didn’t have to write our own web crawlers, which sped development significantly.

HKS:  When did you launch?

ZT: We launched PrivacyCentral.com in July 2011. The website provides online privacy tools for consumers, but it is primarily a working demonstration for large financial and identity theft protection enterprises that want to provide PrivacyCentral services through their own brands. We earn revenue based on the number of our partners’ customers who use PrivacyCentral services.

HKS: Tell me about how PrivacyCentral.com uses Windows Azure.

ZT:  PrivacyCentral.com runs within Windows Azure web roles that host the website, the user services, and the web-crawler search functions. The web crawlers run in separate web role instances in order to scale up independently of the website. When a PrivacyCentral.com user makes a search request, Windows Azure executes a Ruby web crawler search, and results are stored for presentation in Windows Azure Table Storage. We use the Windows Azure SQL Database service to manage account, geography, and other user data.

HKS:  What are some of the benefits of using Windows Azure for PrivacyCentral?

ZT:  We’ve seen numerous benefits.  First, by using Windows Azure with Ruby, we could focus on building our services instead of managing servers and writing extra code, and we saved three months getting PrivacyCentral.com to market. That’s three more months to talk to customers, develop our marketing strategy, and start delivering value.

By supporting our services with Windows Azure, we also avoided at least $150,000 in infrastructure investment. With an on-premises environment, we would have had to make a large upfront investment just to validate our first prototype. Low entry cost was a hugely enabling aspect of Windows Azure for us.

Finally, by using Windows Azure to optimize the performance of PrivacyCentral.com, we can reduce our own costs and offer competitive terms to enterprise customers. When we added more web crawlers, we tripled search speed for end users, at the same cost to us.

HKS:  Has Windows Azure delivered the scalability you were looking for?

ZT:  Yes, without investing in more resources than we needed, and with the flexibility to scale Windows Azure up or down, we’ve had the agility to launch a consumer website while focusing our business plan on enterprise customers. By early 2012, we were close to a significant agreement with a large identity theft protection service that serves major financial institutions and retailers with millions of customers.  With Windows Azure, we can confidently tell a potential partner that we can accommodate 300,000―or a million―new customers. We could not have gone down that path with an on-premises infrastructure.

Read how others are using Windows Azure.