AdAction drives ad-serving performance with Ubuntu and Membase Server


on 14 April 2011

New server-side solution delivers high throughput and zero downtime


AdAction, a leader in the ad-serving business, tracks consumer behaviour online and delivers the right adverts to the right people at the right time. To achieve this, the company must store massive amounts of consumer data — from roughly 75 million consumers each month — and be able to access it, analyse it, and ultimately serve up highly targeted online ads — all in real time. Finding its initial server-side solutions too unstable, slow and complex, AdAction deployed Membase Server running on Ubuntu 10.04 Server Edition. The combined solution enables AdAction to consistently exceed customer service-level agreements (SLAs) for performance and uptime, while reducing administrative overheads — particularly as the volume of business grows.


Since 2002, AdAction has optimised internet marketing for companies such as American Express, Scandinavian Airlines, Volkswagen, Universal Pictures, Travelocity and many more. AdAction’s core product provides ad-serving solutions for its customers. The company only earns revenue when customers’ online ads convert to sales. To maximise revenues, AdAction must present consumers with highly targeted ads every time.

To make this possible, AdAction collects end-user profile data from consumers, and this user information is typically stored in cookies in browsers. However, there are some scenarios where that is not possible. “Often, people will disable cookies or the cookies simply grow too large for the browser,” says Wouter de Bie, Systems Developer for AdAction. “In such cases, we store end users’ cookies ourselves on our powerful server-side infrastructure and use them to inform ad-serving decisions,” he adds.

AdAction needs to store and retrieve customer data at lightning speed to meet its SLA of serving 99.99% of ads in fewer than 100 milliseconds. “Low latency is critical
for us — in fact, it’s our primary objective,” says de Bie. “Consumers should never have to wait for online content as our adverts load. If they have to wait, they’ll leave; if they leave, our customers lose sales and we lose revenue.”

AdAction has used several NoSQL data management systems to store and retrieve the profile data used by its ad serving system. It needed a solution that could support its latency goals and enable automatic cluster expansion as user and data volumes increased. However, the company found that with previous solutions, autoexpansion degraded performance and rebalancing was a non-trivial exercise. “Implementing and maintaining the cluster was a nightmare, with lots of knobs and dials to deal with,” says de Bie.

“We needed a system that was simpler to use and manage, capable of providing low latency and high throughput, and able to support our business at any scale,” says de Bie.
“Our future success is tied to our ability to deploy new nodes seamlessly on demand, with no downtime or timeconsuming manual re-balancing.”


Dissatisfied with the results from their most recently deployed NoSQL data management system. AdAction decided to replace it with Membase Server software from Canonical partner Couchbase (formerly Membase, Inc.). Specifically, it deployed two 73GB RAM Membase clusters running on four dedicated hardware servers and the Ubuntu 10.04 Server Edition operating system.

“With Membase and Ubuntu, we achieve consistently excellent performance and low latency, coupled with the ability to very quickly and easily add new servers to the cluster as user and data volume increases,” says de Bie.

Ubuntu is the ideal choice of server operating system to support Membase. It offers truly enterprise-class availability and great package management features that minimise manual administration. “The reliability and performance of Ubuntu has been truly exceptional since we went live,” says de Bie.


Zero downtime

Ubuntu and Membase Server have provided zero downtime since they were deployed and service can be maintained if nodes fail or need to be replaced, or if the cluster is expanded. “If our service is interrupted, we can’t serve ads and we don’t get paid,” says de Bie. “By eliminating downtime altogether, Ubuntu and Membase help us deliver the best results for our clients and maximise our revenues,” he adds.

Reduced manual administration

Because their previous NoSQL data management system quickly became unbalanced, nodes frequently went down. “As well as impacting on our ability to serve ads to end users, our technicians were forever working nights and weekends to deal with outages,” says de Bie. “Now, with Membase Server and Ubuntu Server, that’s a thing of the past.”

Membase Server’s simplicity was an added plus: a Membase Server cluster can be configured with just a few clicks in the user interface. “It’s fast and intuitive to install Membase Server on Ubuntu and our team needed no additional training after the swap over,” says de Bie. “It’s also very easy to monitor performance and see what’s going on inside the cluster, which wasn’t possible with the previous solution.

Faster end-user experience

With its previous NoSQL data management system, it typically took 40 to 50 milliseconds — and sometimes as much as 100 milliseconds — to retrieve the operational data, eating up a huge portion of the time budget allotted for serving up the ad. With the new solution, AdAction saw nearly a 10x improvement in data processing speed, ensuring plenty of headroom for the ad-serving logic to do its job.

“The new infrastructure enables us to more than deliver on our promise of 99.99% of ads served within 100 milliseconds,” says de Bie. “As a result, we are delivering a consistently excellent service for our clients and their end customers.”

Scalability and agility

When AdAction signs a new customer, the number of users grows as data volumes skyrocket. Now, the company can quickly expand its infrastructure and maintain excellent service levels. “Sometimes, our data increases by as much as 10% overnight,” says de Bie. “With Ubuntu and Membase Server, we can quickly push in new cluster nodes and have them up and running in no time, with no downtime and no impact on performance.”

Rapid deployment

AdAction was able to migrate to Membase Server quickly and easily in phases over just two weeks. We started off by running Membase in parallel to our previous data management system to minimise risk,” says de Bie. “When we were ready, we simply fed our data into the new system and carried on working.”

Low total cost of ownership

Ubuntu Server is completely free to download and deploy. What’s more, Membase Server and Ubuntu are compatible with cost-effective, commoditised hardware, minimising the total cost of ownership for the AdAction solution.

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