ESPN Digital Medias

ESPN Digital Media

Use of the cloud at ESPN Digital Media started as it has at so many other large companies: small. In fact, it's been championed by one man, Ed Davis, vice president of product development for ESPN Digital Media's community unit, a fast-growing ESPN arm that's responsible for development of ESPN.com's popular Fan Profiles app, its exhaustive inventory of widgets and a handful of Facebook apps.

After Davis learned about cloud computing last year, he saw an opportunity to experiment with using it to host ESPN's online communities and evaluate the impact on performance, usage and a host of other measurable indicators. He also deduced that relying on cloud computing resources would allow his group to become more entrepreneurial, because their efforts wouldn't create drag on the performance of other systems.

"You may have a real good handle on your users," Davis says, "but the one time you don't anticipate the adoption of your product, it's nice to be able to create support instances to react to unexpected traffic."

Davis also figured that because ESPN's community offerings are all relatively new, venturing into the cloud wouldn't require a big migration project. But before he could take the plunge, Davis had to be certain the cloud--in this case, Amazon Web Services' Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Simple Storage Service (S3) offerings, which provide metered, on-demand computing power and data storage, respectively--would conform to ESPN's culture of "responsible risk-taking."

That meant a healthy dose of due diligence. Davis talked with a lot of people who had worked with cloud-based environments and felt comfortable with the security and availability they'd experienced. He also grilled Amazon about its backup strategy in an effort to effectively mitigate the risk of data loss.

Once his concerns were adequately addressed, Davis' team moved ESPN's community products to the Amazon environment. Development, quality assurance and production environments started running on EC2, and static content was stored in S3.

While using Amazon brought the customary efficiencies cloud computing is revered for--such as hardware cost savings, reduced complexity and anytime, anywhere access--the biggest benefit was one that no one had mentioned to Davis: Development and quality assurance shared the same environment as production. As a result, new products don't have to be migrated from one environment to another once they've been tested adequately.

"Your engineers can develop and actually deploy code in an environment that is exactly how it will be when you eventually offer it to users," he says. That ability to develop, test and run apps in a single environment has Davis planning to use Amazon's platform to host additional apps, though he couldn't provide any details at press time.

This article was originally published on 01-11-2009
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