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Welcome to Microsoft Pri0: That's Microspeak for top priority, and that's the news and observations you'll find here from Seattle Times technology reporter Matt Day.

June 6, 2012 at 1:03 PM

Harry Potter flies to the cloud; Pottermore now on Windows Azure

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(Screengrab from www.pottermore.com)

It was a challenge perhaps daunting enough for a boy wizard: How to accommodate millions of people clamoring to get onto your website all at once, while not having that extra bandwidth go to waste during down times.

That was the challenge facing the tech folks behind Pottermore, the interactive website featuring the adventures of Harry Potter and friends. Pottermore includes new content from J.K. Rowling, author of the “Harry Potter” series, as well as interactive features such as the ability to participate in duels with friends or to make potions.

Pottermore was announced to great fanfare in June. But the challenges mounted shortly after the site was launched its beta test version in July. The beta testers were let in a bit at a time, and was capped at a million people.

Still, “we found when we opened up to the world that the architecture wasn’t enough to accommodate the massive demand,” said Julian Thomas, Pottermore’s chief technical officer.

The site, which had originally been thought of as primarily a way to deliver Rowling’s new content, originally ran on Windows Server and SQL Server. But as the concept developed, more rich, interactive content was added.

When the beta version launched, and hundreds of thousands of people wanted in — especially at peak times such as when new content was added — some of the rich features had to be turned off in order to keep the website working, Thomas said.

The Pottermore techies quickly realized that they would need a way of scaling up to accommodate a huge worldwide audience, as well as a way to more flexibly handle peaks of demand.

Because of those technical challenges, the site, which was generally expected to go live in October, didn’t then.

When Thomas started working at Pottermore in November, “I knew we needed something quick. Expectations were already not being met,” he said. “I realized the cloud was the solution>”

He looked at a number of cloud providers but decided on Microsoft’s Azure for its capability and since Pottermore had already been using the company’s services.

Pottermore launched to the public on Azure in April. Within two weeks, it had a billion page impressions. Nearly 3 million people have registered on the site and been “sorted” into Hogwart’s four houses. Including the beta testers, the site has had about 10 million unique visitors, Thomas said.

A peak day for Pottermore — such as during the period when the site first launched — means about 110 million page impressions.

Thomas anticipates more such peaks occurring when new content is added: Such as when content for the second book in the series, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets,” launches. Thomas did not give a specific date for that but said it would be sometime this summer.

Pottermore.com will also be translated into more languages, including “some Far Eastern languages that will be announced shortly,” he said, and Pottermore will also appear on more mobile devices in all sorts of forms.

One example: The just-announced “Book of Spells,” a partnership between Rowling and Sony in which users can learn about spells in the Harry Potter books via Sony’s PlayStation 3 Move.

Microsoft also announced today new Windows Azure services to deliver the “hybrid cloud,” allowing developers to use and build apps that span cloud and on-premises servers.

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