Featured Startup on Azure - Distil

It's a good thing we have a company like Distil on the web. The web is so open, and so free, that you never really know what you are going to get when it comes to marketing on the internet.  Let me explain. 

You got yourself and three friends together to start a business and used a lot of human capital, photography, great blog writing and great design to attract consumers, and then you found that someone else had gone along and taken all of that from your site. Marketing on the web depends on compelling content, because content nurtures your audience, informs them of the importance of your product, and ensures that they are always given the appropriate information about your business.

If that gets washed away because someone is taking advantage of the openness of the web, then you are losing a huge slice of the business value you are trying to give to customers.

In the "content wants to be free" era, it's not hard to fathom that whatever goes out on your Tumblr marketing blog, or your e-commerce front end may be stolen from you.  

Distil is an Azure-hosted startup in the Microsoft BizSpark community that prevents "malicious web scrapers" from stealing your great content. 

In order to prevent the abuse of server resources and just the plain bad behavior of bots, distil's proprietary software searches the web and figures out who is a real person, or a bot. 



BizSpark:   Tell us who you are and your role in the company.

Andrew Stein: My name is Andrew Stein and I’m a co-founder and VP of Development at Distil.


BizSpark:  What is your company’s mission?

Andrew Stein: Our company mission is to stop bad bots and malicious web scrapers from stealing our customer’s data.


Here's Rami Essaid, CEO of distil, above, presenting a pitch at GlueCon.

BizSpark:   In 140 characters or less, tell us what your company does.

Andrew Stein: Distil’s Content Protection Network stops bad bots and malicious web scrapers from accessing your website and stealing your content. By the way, you can follow us on Twitter.

BizSpark:  Tell us about your Azure-based solution.

Andrew Stein: We currently use a number of Azure technologies, starting with Azure Blobs and Queues and eventually using Azure Cloud Services to push information from the Blobs into SQL Azure.

BizSpark:   How is Azure implemented in your solution?

Andrew Stein: This is actually where we differ from most people using Azure. With the exception of the Azure Cloud Services, our entire integration is built using PHP and Perl on Ubuntu Linux. While the Cloud Services do run on Windows boxes, our worker threads use PHP instead of .NET to funnel information into SQL Azure. From there, we’ve built an entire API that queries and manipulates SQL Azure from an Ubuntu Linux box. We’re running a full Azure integration without a single line of .NET.

BizSpark:  How did you get excited about Azure?

Andrew Stein: We really started getting excited about the possibilities of Azure after sitting down with Chris Bernard and Taylor Cowan during TechStars Cloud. The information they were able to give us on both SQL Azure (which is what we were initially interested in) and the other Azure solutions really moved it to the forefront of technologies we were investigating.

BizSpark:   What were the Azure features that prompted you to decide to build on Azure?

Andrew Stein: There were two big features that really sold us. First, even though we had no experience with SQL Server, the familiarity with SQL in general made the transition to SQL Azure from MySQL a lot more palatable than moving to a NoSQL type solution which we had no background in. The second reason was the managed nature of SQL Azure. As every startup knows, there aren’t enough hours in the day and with the amount of data we push into the database our server management needs were just going to grow and grow. By being able to let Microsoft handle uptime and reliability, it was one less thing we had to worry about. In two clicks we can have a fully deployed Azure Federation Member up, running, and ready to receive data.

BizSpark:   What specific value are you getting from BizSpark beyond the technology?

Andrew Stein: In addition to just the Azure technology, BizSpark Plus also giving us access to free Microsoft software has been helpful. We have to test across all browsers on all platforms, so knowing that we’ve got free 32-bit and 64-bit Windows 8 copies with Internet Explorer 10 to test with is incredibly helpful.

BizSpark:   What has been your biggest “aha” moment since founding your company?

Andrew Stein: Finding out just how valuable an “elevator pitch” is. You can have all the cool technology in the world, but if you can’t tell someone what you do in two sentences or less, they’re going to lose interest.

BizSpark:  What advice do you have for companies that are thinking about building in the cloud?

Andrew Stein: Fault tolerance is critical. When working in the cloud, there are lot more potential failure points than on a one server setup, so make sure that anything you do is transactional and capable of being restarted if it fails.

BizSpark:   What is the one thing that you would like readers to take away about your Azure app?

Andrew Stein: Even though we use a lot of Azure technologies, we’re by no means a Microsoft shop. There are enough libraries (both Microsoft made and third-party) that make Azure useable without having to fire up Visual Studio and digging into a .NET book.