Microsoft Azure provides Heineken computing power for global promotions
Using cloud computing for marketing
Heineken, a Dutch company that sells beer in 178 countries, has long run marketing campaigns around the world. But the 2012 campaign, based on the Bond movie Skyfall, was different than what Heineken had done before, according to the company. Traditionally, its marketing operation had been decentralized. The campaigns might have been global, but how they were implemented was not. Those decisions had been largely left to the company’s scores of national and regional marketing divisions. Rollout dates, for example, were left to the divisions and, consequently, global campaigns could be launched gradually over a period of months.
But Heineken had been centralizing its marketing functions for several years. For the Bond promotion, it planned to launch the campaign at the same time everywhere on the planet. That created challenges for the beer company’s technology operation. The primary digital content for the campaign was a 100-megabyte movie that had to play for millions of viewers worldwide.
Previously, Heineken had supported digital media at its outsourced datacenter. But that datacenter lacked the computing resources the company needed, and building them—especially to support peak traffic that would total millions of simultaneous hits—would have been both time-consuming and expensive.
Choosing Microsoft Azure
Heineken looked at Amazon Web Services, but chose Microsoft Azure instead, according to the case study.
“With Azure, we didn’t have to invest in managing servers, so we could focus on delivering the most successful campaign,” says Ewout Barendregt, global center of excellence manager at Heineken. To help deliver the campaign, the company used the Azure Content Delivery Network to make the digital content available quickly, reliably and globally to 10.5 million consumers.
The next year, Heineken faced a global campaign on UEFA Champions League (UCL) soccer games. The campaign would launch simultaneously in more than 70 markets and 30 languages. But although the Skyfall campaign had required the company to host a giant website to serve content, the UCL campaign would require real-time computing on a global scale.
That’s because the centerpiece of the UCL campaign was a pinball game for consumers to play live against players anywhere in the world. The solution would also have to support multiple leaderboards for each player, based on the number of friends and family that an individual played with. It would require real-time updating of the leaderboards as play was underway. Heineken wanted the technology to support 1 million simultaneous users.
To meet these requirements, Heineken expanded its use of Azure from one datacenter to four—one each in Europe and Asia, and two in the U.S.—gaining geo-redundancy and low latency. Data was stored in Azure Table Storage for asynchronous updates. The storage was structured with 10,000 partitions—up from 10 initially—for the requisite scalability. The Dutch company developed the solution using Microsoft Visual Studio 2013. The architecture was tested with a Visual Studio load-testing cluster to generate the load and test the application without testing the Internet. Microsoft Services consultants helped develop and load-test the solution, and resolve performance issues.
Millions of players
The platform exceeded its service-level agreement with performance in the UCL campaign, supporting 2 million gameplays per hour and with capacity for more than 40 million players in all, according to Heineken.
“Azure didn’t let us down,” Boorsma said. “More than that, it gave us a way to assure senior management that we could support this massive, global campaign. It put our stakeholders at ease, knowing that we had them covered. When you bring out a global campaign with such bravura, you really do need to make sure that all your homework is done. With Azure, it was. Thank you, Microsoft.”
Low-latency, a requirement for gaming
Heineken also met its requirements for low latency worldwide with Azure. Latency rates ranged from 7 milliseconds to 535 milliseconds, with typical rates clustering between 200 and 300 milliseconds. That was a benefit for global, real-time game-playing. As a result, players continued playing for an average of 4.5 minutes.
“Latency is something that players shouldn’t even have to think about,” said Barendregt. “Thanks to Azure, it wasn’t an issue. That was an important factor keeping people on the site and in the game. When you consider we had 5.2 million players during the run of the campaign, that comes to 55 years of brand engagement—an insane number.”