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Sitefinity Multisite Management and Microsoft Azure Autoscaling: A Case Study

Aug 11, 2014 Web Design and Development Dennis Junk

Sitefinity Multisite and Azure Autoscaling

Mom Corps is a professional staffing, search, and career development firm whose website serves both employers and job seekers hoping to achieve what founder and CEO Allison O’Kelly calls “work-life satisfaction.” Many of these professionals are moms with valuable work experience and advanced skill sets looking for positions with flexible schedules, but the company welcomes any type of applicants, not just moms. The previous website was built on the Sitefinity content management system, so they wanted to find a tech partner specializing in Sitefinity to take on the redesign project.

O’Kelly explains that “our site hadn’t been redone in a few years, so it was just kind of dated—time for a refresh in general.” This was especially important because, as O’Kelly points out, “Our whole business is based on our website.” But Mom Corps also wanted the site to have something entirely new. “We were looking to add a big piece to our site which allowed our candidates to get training from us,” O’Kelly says. 

Sitefinity Multisite Management 

That new piece of the website would eventually be called Mom Corps You (playing on the abbreviation for university), and it would provide educational resources for job candidates. The company already had fourteen regional franchises that would feature at least some unique content and be managed at least somewhat independently. The latest version of Sitefinity includes a feature called Multisite Management that would allow Mom Corps and all of the franchises to upload, edit, or remove content through their own sections of the content management system. Each update would in turn kick off a workflow that brought the changes to central administrators for approval. And, if Mom Corps opens a new franchise, they can simply clone the base site in Sitefinity and then go in and make whatever changes are necessary for that particular region. 

More Challenges and New Opportunities 

Even as the redesign project was underway, a couple of entirely new challenges arose that Mom Corps sought help from Aptera in addressing. First, one of the third-party job posting companies whose software ties in to the Mom Corps site abruptly changed their Application Programming Interface (API), which is the set of instructions for how the software interacts with other applications.  This meant that Mom Corps “would’ve had to change our systems anyway,” according to O’Kelly.

The second unforeseeable challenge came in the form of a sudden spike in traffic to the website. O’Kelly recounts: 

“We had an article—actually an old article that got repurposed on the Yahoo home page—and we were just getting hit way out of what normal would be. And the crazy thing about our company is that that happens from time to time. It’s not like, this happened once and will never happen again. And so it was one of those things that we really looked at and said, ‘We need to prepare for that kind of capacity, but we’re also not Amazon. While it will happen from time to time it’s not going to happen all the time.’ And we really needed to make sure that we were not having too much capacity either. So we spent a lot of time figuring out a solution that would make us able to increase and decrease based on our needs.” 

Autoscaling in Microsoft Azure

Over 170,000 candidates come to the Mom Corps website for job searches or career advice. With Mom Corps You and the fourteen franchises, the site runs at an impressive capacity on a normal day. But traffic also fluctuates dramatically and unpredictably. Using traditional servers, Mom Corps would have had to choose between risking crashes whenever traffic spikes and paying for all the extra capacity they might potentially need to handle any momentary spike. Fortunately, there’s another option now—moving into the cloud. Microsoft Azure is a service that allows you to host applications or websites on the web so you can avoid all the costs and hassles associated with purchasing, provisioning, and maintaining your own on-site server farm. 

In Mom Corps’ case, the most important benefit of Azure is autoscaling. The way this works is that Microsoft creates virtual servers in its own datacenter that host the website. Virtual servers function semi-independently of the physical servers they run on; this makes them much easier to create and decommission. What Azure does is monitor the processing load for the servers you’re using to host your website, and when the load surpasses a certain percentage of the server’s capacity it creates a new server and balances the load between them. In other words, Azure responds in real time to changes in your capacity needs. And you only ever get charged for capacity you actually use. 

Sitefinity and Azure

Aptera’s web team faced one significant hurdle as they moved the Mom Corps site into the cloud. Sitefinity requires a list of IP addresses for all the servers it runs on. Since Azure autoscales by creating and decommissioning virtual servers, there was no way to provision Sitefinity with such an address list. What web developers Nicholas Balcolm and Jonathan Read did to build a bridge between the two services was create an application that automatically registers the address of every server that comes online in Azure and then deletes that address when the server goes offline. And the application they made will actually work with any Sitefinity website hosted in Azure (including Aptera’s own website).

Now that the fully functional website has been up and running for some time, O’Kelly says that, while she’s still learning all the intricacies of working with Sitefinity, she’s impressed with the flexibility it gives her. “There is a lot of ability for me to change things myself,” she says. “I don’t feel limited. I don’t feel like I’m always having to call you guys to make a small change.” And she no longer has to worry about what will happen if an article appears and the website receives a sudden crush of traffic. 

Looking to the future, Mom Corps is considering contracting with Aptera for ongoing maintenance, and they are even discussing some of the ways Aptera’s inbound marketing experts can help them drive more traffic to the site. When asked what one word comes to mind when she thinks of Aptera, O’Kelly responds, “Partnership.” O’Kelly points to this spirit of partnership to account for the ultimate success of the project. The challenges that arose over the course of the project, she says, “we turned into opportunities on both sides to be able to make sure that we would be really set up for success in future situations.”  

Also check out our infographic of this case study.

Embracing the Endless Cycle of Website Redesign

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Topics: Web Design and Development

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