How and where we consume adverts is unrecognizable from the Mad Men days of advertising. Agencies and brands no longer have a guaranteed captive TV audience at 9pm on a Saturday night.
The sheer variety and proliferation of digital devices that we use in our everyday lives means that people consume ads on more platforms than ever before. Smart phones, smart TVs, streaming services, smart watches, even fridges are now all possible opportunities to deliver a message or suggest an action. Especially when you consider that the average adult spends 6 hours and 57 minutes looking at a screen each day.
This diversification means that digital advertising today has to be adaptable, agile, scalable and innovative to remain competitive and to stand out from the noise. As advertising creative director and legend Bill Bernbach once said, “nobody counts the number of ads you run; they just remember the impression that you make”.
Similarly, nobody really pays attention to the infrastructure that sits behind the ads, they just know that the ad is being delivered on their device. It’s the sign of good ad infrastructure. When adtech solutions aren’t up to scratch that’s when people start questioning the technology.
But, just as brands and agencies have had to adapt the ads that they deliver and how they deliver them, the ad infrastructure that enables that delivery to take place has also had to adapt to an increasingly digital world. Whereas adverts would be placed within weeks or even months, today even the youngest adtech companies are running billions of ad requests per second.
It means that the infrastructure that adtech companies use can make or break their success. So, what are the main challenges to be aware of when putting infrastructure in place?
Gone are the days that ad space was agreed over long lunches. Today, the processes and transactions involved in purchasing are automated, with adverts placed on websites or apps within milliseconds – what we know as real-time bidding (RTB). In fact, to meet ad exchange giant Google’s criteria, any transaction has to take place within 100 milliseconds. To truly compete in RTB, adtech companies need their infrastructure to have as little latency as possible. High latency could mean exceeding the RTB 100ms transaction limit, resulting in lost bids and ad revenue. If it keeps happening, the ad tech company could end up being pushed out of sales channels and losing out on opportunities with publishers.
The big question we get from customers is ‘how can I save money on my infrastructure?’. Hosting infrastructure on public cloud services – particularly hyperscale cloud providers – means battling with unpredictable costs. We’re not saying, don’t host in the cloud. But instead look at whether a hybrid approach with a mix of cloud and dedicated hosting would result in more consistent and predictable infrastructure costs. We’d suggest, for example, putting more predictable workloads on dedicated servers.
One of the biggest concerns for server side platforms (SSPs) is bandwidth predictability due to the sheer volume of information being sent from their servers and platforms. Peaks and troughs of information being sent and received can be predictable during busy advertising periods, especially if they are regularly occurring events. However, there is always going to be an element of the unknown and unexpected peaks can occur. Ensuring that there is good ongoing communication with your infrastructure provider and that they are provided with as much historic data around bandwidth usage as possible at the outset of the relationship, will help ensure that the impact of unexpected peaks is minimized as much as possible.
With every transaction on their own platforms, as well as analytical tools to understand audience data, storage space can quickly become a big challenge for adtech companies if their infrastructure hasn’t been configured correctly. Compared to other industries, data that needs to be stored in the adtech world isn’t static. Information associated with buyers, sellers, and service providers is constantly being stored, reviewed, tracked, and referenced. Having an infrastructure provider that understands the platforms that use this stored data, for example NoSQL databases (which store data in documents rather than relational tables) and Kafka (the open-source distributed event streaming platform), and how best to optimize them is critical.
Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Automated Reality (AR), new advertising mechanisms – these new technologies and approaches are enabling adtech companies to provide adverts on new platforms and in different formats. For example, very few people today watch live TV so how can ads be adapted for streaming platforms? These new technologies and approaches bring with them infrastructure needs that aren’t necessarily supported by standard infrastructure.
While these may be challenges, they are also opportunities. Investing in ad infrastructure that is built and designed with them in mind can give adtech companies a competitive boost.
Building your own infrastructure, however, can be expensive, time consuming and resource intensive – both at the inception of the infrastructure and each time it needs to be altered or updated. Working with a hosting provider can help reduce the upfront and ongoing resource commitment.
Choosing the right hosting partner for you is important and shouldn’t be rushed. To help you in making that decision, here are five tips for what to look for in a hosting provider:
Timing is everything in the world of adtech. Delays of milliseconds can mean the difference between a good reputation and a bad one. Geography plays an important role here. As adtech companies continue to grow, it’s important that their infrastructure provider is located close enough to their publishing partner to allow low latency connections, therefore increasing the chances of bids being won. Working with a hosting provider that has data centers in key locations around the world can ensure that you achieve as low latency as possible.
There are plenty of hosting providers out there who will take a list of your infrastructure requirements, put it all in place and off you go. But what if you’ve missed something on that list or there is a better, more efficient option out there? Working consultatively with a hosting partner will ensure you get infrastructure that is built not just to your technical requirements but helps meet the goals of the wider business.
Cheaper hosting options tend to compromise on one key element of the supplier/customer relationship and that is support. Generally automated or only available via bot or email, this level of ongoing support and troubleshooting can be problematic when something goes wrong, and you need it fixed quickly. Look for a provider that offers support provided by real people and through platforms that suit you as a business. Email isn’t for everyone so would you prefer more rapid responses by communicating with your account manager via Slack, for example?
As your customer base grows, your infrastructure also needs to grow. So, select a hosting partner that can easily grow with you. Adtech companies need the ability to increase their workloads quickly and rely on infrastructure providers to be able to meet this need as and when it's required. Hyperscale cloud providers can very quickly increase their capacity to run workloads during peak times of advertising. However, this also comes at a significant cost and if not configured correctly can result in a substantial bill.
Try to not get stuck in the trap of building applications and platforms that rely on a particular infrastructure type. Otherwise known as vendor lock-in, it can restrict a company’s ability to properly place certain resources outside of those infrastructure types. Look for hosting providers that will provide you with an agnostic platform on which to host your infrastructure.
The ad industry is one where the success of your business depends on the finest margins and the minutest of milliseconds. Poorly configured, situated and supported infrastructure that doesn’t provide the performance, reliability and scalability required in a world where time literally is money, will see adtech companies losing out on revenue and potentially damaging their reputation.
To find out more about adtech server hosting, take a look at our industry page.
As the name suggests, adtech and its success is firmly rooted in the infrastructure that supports it. Adtech companies are measured by their ability to deliver advertising services within the finest of margins and the minutest of milliseconds.