Storm pushes website onto Azure infrastructure

Model agency Storm has migrated its website to Microsoft’s Azure infrastructure as a service

Storm Models has migrated its website to Microsoft’s Azure infrastructure as a service (IaaS).

The model agency is one of the early reference customers for Microsoft's Azure infrastructure service, which is now available on general release.

The original Storm website ran in a hosted environment. It was refreshed in 2009. In 2012, the agency looked at revamping the site to support new business processes, said Madhushan Gokool, IT manager at Storm Models.

“We used to have to send out physical portfolios of models to clients. Now booking agents can log into the site and create electronic castings. They may be looking for a 6ft blue-eyed model who can dance. The system creates an HTML email for the client, which contains a model selection,” he said. The clients can then view the portfolios of models that meet their requirements in a private area of the website.

The site provides online portfolios for between 400 and 500 models, each with up to 40 images. There is also a section where aspiring models can upload up to four images into the content management system.

He said the site gets higher volumes of traffic during fashion events such as London Fashion Week in February and September, and the new site was redeveloped and launched to support those.

The Azure-based site runs significantly faster than the old site. “Feedback from clients has been very positive. The website is so much faster. We are supporting a 46% increase in traffic, and the bounce rate has decreased by 23% which shows users are sticking around,” he said.

The previous website, which was developed in .net, SQL Server and Javascript by web agency Sequence, was transferred over to the Azure cloud in a matter of days, according to Gokool.

Storm implemented load-balanced Windows virtual machines, using a fully managed SendGrid email service. The agency also migrated the database server onto SQL Azure, and has implemented Blob storage for all photo and video assets. It uses Azure Media Services as a content delivery network to speed up photo and video downloads to Storm's global audience.

Earlier this year, budget airline EasyJet used Microsoft Azure to power its new seat booking service.

Writing on the Microsoft MSDN developer's blog about Azure IaaS, Bill Hilf, who heads up Microsoft's cloud computing platform, said: "Customers don’t want to rip and replace their current infrastructure to benefit from the cloud; they want the strengths of their on-premises investments and the flexibility of the cloud.

"It’s not only about infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or platform as a service (PaaS), it’s about infrastructure services and platform services and hybrid scenarios. The cloud should be an enabler for innovation, and an extension of your organisation’s IT fabric, not just a fancier way to describe cheap infrastructure and application hosting."

According to Microsoft, Azure infrastructure allows businesses to move applications seamlessly between on-premise datacentres and the azure cloud without modification. To simplify this migration, it provides virtual networking.

"Virtual networking ensures large enterprises can work with one compute environment and move between cloud and on-premise datacentres by maintaining one virtual state rather than two separate environments," said Michael Newberry, Windows Azure lead at Microsoft UK.

Read more on Virtualisation software