Real-World SQL Azure: Interview with James Chen, Chief Technology Officer at LinkShare Labs

[This article was contributed by the SQL Azure team.]

As part of
the Real-World SQL Azure series, we talked to James Chen, the Chief Technology Officer
at LinkShare Labs, a division of Rakuten, about how his company is taking
advantage of the Windows Azure platform, and particularly Microsoft
SQL Azure
, to power its
new LinkShare Lightning application.

MSDN: Tell us about LinkShare. What
services do you offer and what is your corporate vision?

Chen: LinkShare
offers online marketing services, such as search engine marketing, lead
generation, and affiliate marketing to connect advertisers with publishers, to
help them both profitably grow their revenue. Going forward, our vision is to
provide a single, flexible performance-marketing platform for the world. It
will be the bridge from any publisher to any advertiser in any country. That
means, for example, that a publisher in the U.S. could get compensated for lead
generation in Japan.

MSDN: What differentiates LinkShare
in the online advertising marketplace?

Chen: Unlike a
generic ad network, LinkShare gets paid based on conversions—actual completed
sales—not just the number of ad impressions or users’ clicks. But more than
that, what differentiates us from competitors is that we focus on big, name-brand
advertisers, and we offer expert consultative services along with our advanced
patented technologies.

MSDN: What prompted LinkShare to
start looking at cloud-based solutions?

Chen: It comes back
to our vision. We wanted to provide a truly global system so that we could
develop advertising applications that can be used anywhere. Behind this goal
were two drivers: performance and cost. We needed a technology platform to
build and run our applications on that could scale cost-effectively and that would
require minimal development effort and support global deployment. Only a cloud
platform—and cloud-based databases in particular—could meet those criteria. As
a first step, we wanted to build and deploy our LinkShare Lightning
cost-per-action marketing solution as a cloud-based application.

MSDN: Did you consider any cloud
platforms besides the Windows Azure platform?

Chen: We looked at the
other two leading providers. The first one would have required too much
investment to make it productive for our developers. What made Windows Azure platform
the clear winner over the second one is that Microsoft is a world-class
provider of ‘platform as a service.’ Additionally, the commitment of Microsoft
to cloud innovation and feature development is very important to us. Every
quarter, new Windows Azure platform tools come out to support easy development,
whereas with some competitors’ platforms, you have to do a lot of the work
yourself by piecing together open source solutions to complete your development

MSDN: LinkShare Lightning is highly
data intensive. How does SQL Azure meet your database needs?

Chen: SQL Azure offers
cost-effective, on-demand scalability. We have peak demand during the holiday
shopping season that’s 10 times higher the rest of the year. We don’t want to
add hardware for extra seasonal capacity, or change our software to handle the
load for a short period of time; and with SQL Azure, we don’t have to. The best
part of using SQL Azure is that we know our application is going to work no
matter how big we scale it out.

MSDN: What are your plans for the
platform going forward, and what benefits do you expect?

Chen: In order for
us to scale our business globally and also profitably, we need a solution like the
Windows Azure platform. Over time, this will save tens of millions of dollars a
year and enable us to expand rapidly.

This main
benefit of the platform is that we really don’t have to manage Windows Azure or
SQL Azure in the traditional way that on-premises software and data centers
require. I think almost all of the software development shops in the world will
move in the direction we’re going—we'll handle development full time, and
everything else will be taken care of for us in the cloud. When it comes to
providing the best ‘platform as a service’ to developers, I think Microsoft is the
visionary leader by far.

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