Campaigns in the Clouds

Monday November 19, 2012.

How cloud services can make your digital campaign production faster, better and more cost effective.

Most agencies still run digital campaigns today on what is essentially 90‘s technology. Meanwhile, looking towards the startup world we see a much different picture. Without the brute force an agency department can throw at a problem, startup’s have to come up with more elegant and creative solutions, often at a much greater scale than your average campaign. Agencies don’t always have the same constraints, but that’s not to say there aren’t lessons to be gleaned. One very common solution is the use of cloud services in leiu of investing in hardware while getting a product off the ground, which in my experience helps get a product out the door in less time, for less money and at a higher quality.

Capital Vs. Operational Expenditure

Advertising campaigns typically aren’t a long term business. Whether constrained by budget or audience attention, digital campaign runs are typically measured in weeks, not months or years. Traditionally an online deployment involves provision of shared or dedicated server hardware, bringing with them a high, up-front capital expenditure. If you’re not paying extra for a consultant to configure and administer the deployment, and nothing goes wrong and goals don’t change1, expense from that point should be relatively low.

Conversely, cloud/service powered deployments have zero up-front cost and have the agility to provision more or less horsepower as required over the run of the campaign. There is room for debate over the cost effectiveness of cloud computing for a long term engagement. You have the ability to resources up and down as required but there will always be a middle man between you and the metal, so all other operational expenses ignored, owning the stack yourself should give you more compute for your buck, in theory. The thing is, when the scale this economy-of-scale refers to is time, most ad campaigns don’t run long enough to reap the value required from a higher capital investment.

Lift Off

One of the comforting aspects of Apache/PHP/MySQL is that all you need to do to get a project up and running is drop a few files in a folder on a server.

Kind of.

In reality, things like local and external DNS records need to be configured, database schema’s designed, network shares setup and some form of version control implemented before you can get any real work done. That’s just for your development environment, you’ll have to do most of it again in production. My favourite cloud plaform at the moment is Heroku. Built atop AWS, Heroku provides a platform-as-aservice which runs Ruby, Python and Node.js based apps (among others). Getting up and running is usually a matter of copying a couple of boilerplate files, running “heroku create” and then pushing the files up via Git. In a matter of seconds you’re looking at a live app, on a secure server, tracked in version control and externally visible for $0. Noticably missing from the supported languages is PHP (which is likely what your in-house guys live in). Which brings us to an interesting observation:

Attracting Talent

When building a digital team, it makes sense to build around a long standing, incumbent technology stack (LAMP). One which has mass popularity amongst developers (LAMP), where development may have slowed down a bit in its maturity but is perceived to be quite reliable and stable (LAMP). You have an ocean of talent to choose from. Which is actually kind of a problem. Similar to the problem of finding great creatives and designers you’re never short of resumes and books to look at. But to mix metaphors, that ocean of applicants is really just the opposite of shooting fish in a barrel. Post a job ad for Ruby, Python or Node specialists on the other hand and your’e much more likelye to get a smaller pool or highly skilled applicants. Given the popularity of the LAMP stack, most of these devs are going to have that experience anyway. Being good developers though, they have investigated alternative approaches and found them compelling enough to specialize in. It’s kind of like building a racing team. If you drafted your team from drivers of small hatchbacks, you’d have millions to pick from, and the talent would be out there. Somewhere2. However, if you drafted drivers of exotic sports cars you’d find lower numbers but passion through the roof.

  1. Yeah. Right.

  2. Michael Schumacher drives a Fiat 500 after all.

Comments? Questions?

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