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News International uses Amazon's DynamoDB to improve paywall content control

Publishing group continues towards aim of 100 percent cloud systems

News International has used Amazon Web Service's DynamoDB to gain greater control over access to content across its paywalled publications, as the publisher group uses cloud systems to modernise its multimedia business.

Paid for online content is part of the company's business model for one of its lead titles, The Times. In order to attract more readers to its content and grow its digital subscriber base, News International wanted to allow sharing and free access to content under certain circumstances, on a piece by piece basis.

Speaking at the Amazon Web Services Summit in London, News International CIO Chris Taylor said that determining when content would be available for free required a "powerful" access control system, both to provide flexibility for attracting readers, and to protect the paywalled content where appropriate. In order to support this, the publisher looked to AWS, which granted access to a pre-release version of NoSQL database service DynamoDB.

"At that point DynamoDB wasn't released," Taylor said. "We had talked about our requirements, we had explained that we had searched the market but couldn't find anything that would allow us to do it. Yes we knew we wanted to use EC2 instances - that is a given - but we needed a technology that would allow us to control that granular access."

"Amazon gave us access to DynamoDB early, I think we were one of the first companies to be working with it, and I think we were the second to launch a live product."

He explained that implementing DynamoDB as part of the Amazon cloud technology stack allowed News International to deal with over 45 million transactions a month, based on "just two mid-sized instances".

"The average response time of a system granting and controlling that access to our content is 40 milliseconds," Talyor said. "To put that in context, that means four requests can be processed in the time it take to blink a human eye, so it is pretty powerful stuff."

The purported introduction of a paywall for The Sun, which gets millions of hits a month, will further increase the need for a robust system to deal with requests for content in future, Taylor pointed out.

Talyor also highlighted News International's continued progress in moving parts of its IT infrastructure to the cloud. In the past two years the company has succeeded in virtualising 90 percent of its infrastructure, with 20 percent of its virtual machines - approximately 600 VMs - entrusted to Amazon's EC2 cloud service. At the same time the company has committed to lowering its own data centre footprint, enabling it to reduce costs and modernise its IT to meet its business demands.

"We are still on that journey of migrating our infrastructure to the cloud, the ultimate target is a 100 percent. The target for the next two years is 75 percent. We are at 20-25 percent at the moment so we have quite a long way to go," he explained.

One of the main facets of the transition to cloud services is the movement of News International's SAP ERP system to the cloud.

"We are exploring a couple of avenues for [the increased use of cloud services]. One is working with Amazon directly and with SAP who provide our ERP system - which is used to run all aspects of the company - seeing if we can get that fully migrated to the cloud. That will make a huge difference and is a pretty exciting project that a lot of our technology guys are interested in."

Another major project going forward is an attempt to create search tools that will allow access to almost 250 years of content from The Times.

"We have an archive going back nearly 250 years to the start of The Times newspaper. It is a massive resource, and while most of the majority of it is digitised, it is very hard to access and manipulate it in a any kind of real time way.

"There is a real opportunity there for our subscribers and customers there, but also for us as a business, and we are turning to Amazon to help power that using a cloud search product."


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