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Microsoft Azure Cloud for Custom Applications

By Jim Gephart, Director of IT, Simon Roofing and Sheet Metal Corp

Microsoft Azure Cloud for Custom ApplicationsJim Gephart, Director of IT, Simon Roofing and Sheet Metal Corp

The CIO has many factors to consider when creating a technology strategy and aligning those strategies with the business. A technology strategy put in place a few years ago still needs to be reviewed annually to make sure it is meeting the needs of the business. One trend I have seen over the years affecting strategy is the competition of Cloud providers. Our company strategy includes using the Cloud, more specifically since we are mainly a Microsoft shop, using Azure for our customer facing systems.

We recently completed a roll out of a major custom roofing inspection application that is running entirely in the Azure Cloud. We chose this as a platform to allow us flexibility in creating a development and production environment quickly. One of the factors for us to consider was the ability of the application to perform across all areas of the United States using only a 3G or 4G connection. We employ technicians to perform roofing inspections from 64 locations in the United States using handheld tablets. The main problem we encounter is with slow bandwidth and dropped communication issues. We felt by leveraging the size and availability of Azure in the Cloud was a better solution than limiting ourselves to a single connection at a corporate office. The Azure Cloud allows the flexibility to have redundant, scalable systems on the fly. 

As a CIO, I appreciate having a great tool to keep everything organized and the extra benefit is having happy developers

We also benefit from having a 24/7/365 data center managing the general administration of several Web app and SQL database servers.

The use of Azure Cloud for us was just part of a continuing strategy to deliver services to our customers and not impede the business with delays caused by the IT department’s inability to deliver. We are able to leverage the quick setup capabilities of using the Azure Cloud to meet demands. We are using several of the services provided in Azure that include “Web Apps”, “SQL databases”, and “Active Directory”. The management portal and UI provided for the Azure Cloud does take some time to navigate like any new application. Microsoft has continued to improve the UI design of the management portal and each change has improved its usability.

The “Web Apps” functionality of Azure has been working well for us. We are using WCF services with our primary application being developed in the .Net framework. The dashboard panels are easy to navigate and provide that “central command” area to allow you control over the various applications. The “pay-as-you-go” features allows us to quickly set something up, do some testing, and then shut it down in case our testing doesn’t go as planned. The beauty of this model is you are not committing yourself to licensing costs until you are really sure what direction you are headed during your development. The “pay-as-you-go” feature is something you need to monitor to make sure your billing doesn’t get out of hand, but does allow you the “try before you buy” ability during your development and implementations.

The use of the SQL database services allows us to easily manage each database instance from one control panel. We can set up alerts, monitor disk size, CPU usage, and open connections. The really nice feature is in sizing for the database which allows for service level choices, along with DTU (database throughput), and storage limits. The sizing feature for storage will allow you to choose the higher level storage, but only pay for what you use. This saves you money compared to the traditional way of buying a large SAN and having a lot of unused disk space sitting idle that you paid for already.

We are also making use of Active Directory in Azure and this has made our application development much smoother. We are a current customer of Office 365 and this was a logical step for us to continue to use Active Directory in the Cloud. Our technology strategy is to move more applications to Azure and reduce our commitment to on premise systems.

All of our development is done with Visual Studio in the Azure Cloud and the integration of using VSO (Visual Studio Online) makes life much easier for the development team. As a CIO, I appreciate having a great tool to keep everything organized and the extra benefit is having happy developers who appreciate the use of standards in their coding environment.

Our organization is embracing the Azure Cloud and will continue to utilize the product more in the future. We have seen many improvements just from using the product over the last 15 months and can see Microsoft’s commitment to making Azure a strong business partner for our company.

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