Scaling Viral Facebook Applications with Windows Azure

One of the coolest Windows Azure stories that was told at the recent PDC09 conference was the story of how Jim Zimmerman, CTO of Thuzi built their viral Facebook application for Outback Steakhouse and how it was hosted in Windows Azure. 

Outback Steakhouse wanted to encourage repeat guests by creating a social networking presence. Working with Microsoft partner Thuzi, the restaurant chain offered a free appetizer coupon to the first 500,000 visitors to sign up as Outback fans on the Facebook social networking service. They developed the application on the Windows Azure platform in less than eight weeks, taking advantage of its familiar environment, flexibility, and scalability.

I remember talking with Jim back in early September 2009 and how they were really nervous about the scalability requirements for hosting a viral social networking application on Facebook and how the offerings from the other cloud vendors were not a great fit for what they needed in the short-term.  Hosting a set of Virtual Machines in Amazon’s cloud offering still required quite a bit of infrastructure and set-up work – and Google’s platform required coding in another language altogether…

After all, how many free Bloomin’ Onions would you guess that folks on Facebook would could give away to one another?


Some of the challenging requirements for that Thuzi faced included:

  • Highly scalable, cost-effective cloud infrastructure was required to host viral social networking marketing applications.  The potential number of concurrent users was unknown and unpredictable. 
  • Scalable, flexible, Data Storage, message queuing, and a robust background processing environment were needed in the architecture.
  • Security access was required for  customer reporting, 3rd party service partners, and secure web services.
  • Tools and frameworks were needed to build, deploy, and manage the Azure applications development process.

The Solution:

The solution was developed using the following components:

  • Microsoft ASP.NET MVC Framework - to render a custom View for Facebook FBML
  • Facebook Developer toolkit:
  • Windows Azure: Web/Worker Roles, Table Storage, Message Queues.
  • SQL Azure: For relational data storage and reporting.
  • Visual Studio Team System / Team Foundation Server

Windows Azure Solution Components:

  • Windows Azure provided a highly-scalable infrastructure to handle the dynamic load requirements for viral social networking applications.
  • Azure Table Storage provides a scalable mechanism to handle the data storage and retrieval requirements for application data.
  • Azure .NET Services Access Control provides secure access for applications and services.
  • VS2008 / Team Foundation Server provides an integrated development environment, source control and automated build / deploy to Azure.

Outback Facebook Campaign

They Outback Facebook campaign launched in early November, 2009 and by the time of the PDC in , they had registered over 450k new fans!  Their forecast models had predicted viral geometric growth rates and due to the popularity of the offer – and they were right!     


Some of the benefits that Thuzi and Outback gained from this solution included:

  • Faster Time to Market - enabled the partner and customers to quickly create and host highly scalable social media marketing campaigns.
  • Peace of Mind – Windows Azure delivers the scalability required to handle the unknown web traffic loads that viral web applications can often trigger.
  • Business Flexibility -  Amortized vs. Capital investments
  • Expand / Shrink infrastructure abilities – overnight!.
  • Ease of Develop / Deployment - Visual Studio 2008 + Team Foundation Server made it easy to develop, test, deploy, and manage the application.

This was also a great story on many other levels; especially about how a brick-and-mortar retail chain harnessed the power of social networking to drive real results – really fast!

Be sure to check-out this amazing story that was recently posted on Channel 9’s

ARCast.TV - Scaling Facebook Applications with Windows Azure

And while your at it - feel free to sign-up for a free Bloomin’ Onion at any of the thousands of Outback Steakhouse restaurants across the country...while supplies last!


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