When successful advertising campaigns go viral, even cloud-based applications struggle to accommodate demand spikes and traffic bursts. Global advertising agency AKQA turned to Joyent and its Smart Computing technology to design campaigns for “Facebook scale.”
Anytime you hear the term “viral marketing” you should consider it a synonym for “social-media marketing.” Whether launched through a funny YouTube video, a compelling string of Tweets or a controversial blog post, today’s viral marketing campaigns invariably start with social networking. According to a new study from King Fish Media, three-quarters of all companies currently have a social-media marketing strategy, and, of those who don’t, the vast majority intend to implement one within the next year.
Yet even in a down economy, where every line item on the budget is closely scrutinized, the ability to predict which campaigns will be virally successful is elusive. Even our smartest minds can’t predict what this year’s H1N1 penetration will be. So you might suspect anyone who claims to know a priori which marketing campaigns will go viral also could be selling cure-all snake oil on the side.
From a capacity planning perspective, the most challenging campaign is the one that starts small and genuinely catches fire. How do you plan for it? How do you move quickly enough adding and subtracting capacity to support your hit before the excitement passes – or before technical roadblocks get in the way?
“The problem with viral campaigns is that they’re not viral until they go viral,” said J.D. Swartz, Director of Business Development for AKQA, a global advertising agency and a pioneer in using digital media and social networking as the cornerstone of advertising and marketing campaigns. To help navigate the required infrastructure uncertainty to support a potentially viral marketing campaign, AKQA turns to Joyent’s cloud.
JD Swartz, Director of Business Development at AKQA, provides an introduciton to AKQA.
Scaling Hit Campaigns through the Cloud
Fortunately, the hot trend in marketing is dovetailing with one of the most important trends in IT. New media marketing meets cloud computing. It’s a match made in heaven – if done correctly.
Using traditional marketing and computing practices, operations would need to presuppose the success of a campaign to ensure that the proper infrastructure resources were in place to support thousands and even millions of users. If the campaign flopped, those allotments would be tied up for a long time with no ROI.
With virtualization and cloud computing freeing software assets from dedicated hardware, it’s easier for marketers to adapt their campaigns in response to real-time feedback. If you’re lucky enough to have a hit on your hands, you’ll be able to allocate resources on the fly.
However, like any so-called perfect match, there are bound to be some red flags that people all too readily overlook.
The Limits of Cloud 1.0 and the Need for “Smart Computing”
First-generation cloud providers are direct descendants of the server consolidation era of virtualization. In the consolidation model of cloud computing, traditional operating systems and virtual assets must be managed manually.
Sure, it’s easy to spin up a new app and provide virtual CPU and storage resources to it, but someone has to actually do that. Also, someone has to install the operating system and middleware per instance.
Therefore, organizations end up devoting vast resources – usually in terms of IT management – to managing their cloud-based marketing and advertising applications. As a result, an unsuccessful campaign can tie up resources that could be better deployed elsewhere, while a smash hit could easily exceed the resources available.
And we’re right back where we started before cloud computing came along.
Colin Rand, Senior Technical Manager, discusses the challenges of capacity planning in support of potentially viral marketing campaigns and how AKQA runs on Joyent's cloud.
Enter Smart Computing
However, the app layer has moved well beyond simple consolidation. Cloud 1.0 solutions – to borrow the 1.0, 2.0 cliché – trade hardware silos for virtual machine silos. Sure, these are cheaper, more efficient silos, but they’re silos nonetheless.
As applications evolved into public-facing services, the resulting inefficiencies of any silo-constrained architecture prevent organizations like AKQA from realizing the promises of cloud computing, namely flexibility, efficiency, low costs and scale.
The way Joyent tackles this problem is to, essentially, virtualize the layer between the hypervisor and the application. Joyent’s Smart Computing architecture is built on top of a “SmartOS,” which effectively replaces Cloud 1.0’s virtualization layer. The SmartOS is optimized to run applications, not operating systems.
Just as virtualization separated the hardware assets from the OS and app, the SmartOS frees applications from hypervisors and dedicated OSes. Thus, each application running on one of the ported platforms is just another process that gets managed by the SmartOS.
Using Joyent’s Smart Computing architecture, AKQA has launched and managed a number of viral marketing campaigns.
For instance, AKQA developed a “social shopping campaign” for retail client in which users could share their clothing choices with friends over a variety of social media channels.
“People shared their shopping choices, and doing so over Facebook created a lot of momentum, driving many visits to the social shopping site,” Swartz said. The campaign was a hit.
An even bigger success was a match-planning app created for Visa for the FIFA World Cup.
The application, which plugged into Facebook, helped soccer fans (or I suppose I should say “football fans”) follow their favorite teams, plan viewing parties, track secondary teams and, of course, connect with friends.
“Joyent’s ability to burst, to handle extremely high levels of traffic, gives us the confidence to accept uncertainty in cutting-edge campaigns,” said Colin Rand, Senior Technical Manager for AKQA.
When AKQA creative teams create applications that may well go viral, operations no longer gets in the way. They don’t say, “It sounds great, but it’s technically not possible because we don’t have the server capacity to accommodate it.” Instead, with Joyent, operations and creative are able to collaborate on new ways of compelling users to interact with elements of a campaign to the point that they’re inclined to share the experience with friends – the hallmark of a viral campaign.
“[Operations] now sits in the room with the creative team and encourages them to push their ideas further, make them bigger and bolder and do things that have never been done before,” Rand said. “Technology is now truly an enabler of viral campaigns, not an impediment.”
About Joyent, Inc
Joyent has been providing Infrastructure as a Service since 2004, before anyone called it cloud computing. Today, Joyent is the only cloud computing company that has built its own complete technology stack, runs a major public cloud on that stack, and makes the technology available for anyone who wants to build a cloud.
Joyent’s Smart Technologies provide application virtualization, which is different from all other major cloud vendors who are focused on hardware virtualization. Joyent’s approach provides applications with better performance and cost effectiveness, due to higher application density and hardware utilization in our Smart Technology stack.