Online auction site Trade Me has been trialling Windows Server 2008 and Visual Studio 2008 since the start of the year, and has just started testing SQL Server 2008, due to officially launch later this year.
Trade Me, which has been running Windows Server 2003 for a number of years, was not consciously looking to go for the whole MS package, but there are some areas where the three products hook in nicely with each other, which could work favourably for Trade Me, says Dave Wasley, head of infrastructure.
KiwiBank is another early adopter of Visual Studio 2008 and SQL Server 2008, but the organisation declined to comment on SQL Server 2008 due to confidentiality policy.
One of the factors that attracted Trade Me’s Wasley to Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 was the enhanced security features, he says. And with IIS 7 (Internet Information Services), Windows Server 2008 offered tighter integration with .Net, which is a benefit from a development point of view, he says.
Initial tests also showed that Windows 2008 utilises hardware more efficiently than its predecessor.
“We have seen CPU [usage] come down 5% to 10% at times, running under 2008 as opposed to 2003,” says Wasley.
Only a few years ago, Trade Me was an ASP application, says Alan Howard, Trade Me’s head of development. The migration to .Net 1.1 was a big project for the company, but the migration from .Net 2.0 to 3.0 was done over a couple of hours, just after the busy Christmas period, he says.
More than anything, Howard sees upgrading to the latest technologies as a recruitment tool to help attract and retain the right calibre of staff.
Wasley agrees: “We’ve got some really smart guys in our team and we have got to keep these guys entertained, [alongside] continuing with the mundane day-to-day work,” he says.
And that approach is not limited to the Microsoft upgrade. The company uses other technologies such as MySQL, PHP and Apache — not running Trade Me but in the infrastructure — and has those skill-sets in-house as well.
Trade Me’s team of eight developers deploys up to nine times a week, so there is a lot of development and testing work going on, says Howard. His team has done a three-week evaluation of Visual Studio 2008, which found small improvements, such as faster compile times, he says.
“And it sounds like a trivial thing, but the guys really liked IntelliSense in the new environment,” he adds. IntelliSense is Microsoft’s auto-completion system, which aims to speed up development and boost productivity.Another advantage is that .Net 3.0 and Visual Studio 2008 are reasonably close to cutting edge, says Howard. It opens doors for the team to do WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) and WCF (Windows Communication Foundation) work and to start using Silverlight, he says.
Trade Me is not planning to release APIs for third-party developers any time soon. “We struggle to find a value proposition in that,” says Howard. The focus of the developer team is business value, and there are no resources for a potential API project, he says. While the API discussion has come up at company meetings, Howard and Wasley see a risk some people may try to misuse the exposed information.
The majority of Trade Me’s servers are running SQL Server 2005, with some servers still running SQL Server 2000, says Matt van Deventer, database lead.
Van Deventer is currently testing SQL Server 2008 on a couple of servers. Benefits he has noted so far include the integration of full-text search into the database engine, which is expected to lead to performance improvements, and IntelliSense in the IDE, which enables developers to cut code faster, he says. Full text search is a separate service in SQL Server 2005.
The company has got 32 database servers in production and nearly as many in the test environments, so anything that improves performance is a benefit, he says.
Another advantage is the filestream capabilities, which enables more efficient handling of photos. Trade Me has “millions and millions” of photos and at the moment they have to be managed on the file system, says van Deventer. SQL Server 2008 runs filestream capabilities natively, which could be a huge improvement for the company, he says.
Trade Me has the capacity to stress-test and use Microsoft’s new products in a live environment. “I can’t think of a better place to test our technologies,” says Microsoft Business Solutions marketing manager Ben Green.