NoSQL helps push the envelope of online advertising

Powered by the Aerospike NoSQL database, Acuity's real-time advertising exchange serves the right ads to the right eyeballs in record time

The global online advertising market exceeded $94 billion last year, and nearly a quarter of that total can be attributed to sales of banner ads. The banner ad market is vast and complex; advertisers typically cut deals to buy banners in bulk from Web publishers (or aggregators), who may also bundle in sales leads, offline advertising, and more.

Alternatively, when publishers have been saddled with inventory they couldn't sell, they've often turned to ad exchanges, where advertisers bid for online ad space, typically paying a fraction of published ad rates. But as the targeting of online ads has improved, exchanges are becoming more viable as a first choice for both advertisers and publishers.

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A number of hot startups are taking this model a step further with real-time bidding (RTB) platforms, which enable advertisers to spread their ad purchases across multiple publishers easily -- and buy ads one at a time in real time at the most competitive price. The RTB market is scorching, with IDC predicting it'll capture 20 percent of the banner ad market by 2016.

One such RTB startup, Acuity, is using the Aerospike NoSQL key value store database as a competitive advantage, enabling the analysis and delivery of billions of ad impressions daily.

Acuity claims to have several advantages in a highly competitive market. To begin with, there's the company's database of 500 million consumer profiles, which include demographic info, online behavior, and so on. That data is fed to proprietary algorithms, which the company sees as its secret sauce to ensure ads reach the right visitors at the right moment to increase the ad click rate.

Finally, there's the brute force of the real-time horsepower and reliability under the hood. "Big data technologies are critical to drive the RTB platforms efficiently. To stand apart from the crowd, our real-time bidding system needs to be as fast as possible," explains Tal Hayek, AcuityAds co-founder and CEO. "It became absolutely critical that we identify a database, which would enable us to respond to opportunities in less than 50 milliseconds even as we analyze billions of ad impressions each day."

Acuity's platform has enabled the company to achieve that goal. In both of its data centers, Acuity has deployed a six-node Aerospike cluster, each of which features six dual-processor systems with Intel Xeon CPUs, 48GB of RAM, and four solid-state drives. The database clusters manage 4 terabytes of unique real-time data and process 60,000 transactions per second.

"We handle to close to 5 billion transactions per day, and we hit the Aerospike database multiple times for each of those transactions, so we count on the ability to talk to each Aerospike cluster in sub-millisecond time," Mr. Hayak notes. "That's one of the key things we look for."

With respect to reliability, Aerospike's shared-nothing architecture provides automatic fail-over and replication in case of node failure to guarantee no degradation in service. "Continuous availability is very important in supporting real-time bidding," Mr. Hayek says. He adds that the platform has exceeded expectations for both availability and performance.

By giving advertisers more power in the market place, RTB platforms like Acuity are sure to make this segment of online advertising even more competitive for publishers and advertisers alike. And with big data technology like Aerospike running on high-performance infrastructure, new benchmarks are being set for real-time Web interaction.

This article, "NoSQL helps push the envelope of online advertising," was originally published at Read more of Andrew Lampitt's Think Big Data blog, and keep up on the latest developments in big data at For the latest business technology news, follow on Twitter.