As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we talked to Sarim Khan, CEO and Co-Founder of sharpcloud, about using the Windows Azure platform to run its visual business road-mapping solution. Here's what he had to say:
MSDN: What service does sharpcloud provide?
Khan: sharpcloud helps businesses better communicate their strategic plans. Our service applies highly visual and commonly used social-networking tools to the crucial task of developing long-term business road maps and strategy.
MSDN: What was the biggest challenge sharpcloud faced prior to implementing Windows Azure?
Khan: To support the global companies that we see as our prime market, we knew that we needed a cloud computing solution that would be easy to scale and deploy. We wanted to devote all of our resources to developing a compelling service, not managing server infrastructure. We initially started using Amazon Web Services, but that still required us to focus time on maintaining the Amazon cloud-based servers
MSDN: Can you describe the solution you built with Windows Azure to help maximize your resources?
Khan: With the sharpcloud service, executives and other users can work within a Web browser to create a framework and real-time dialogue on their road maps. They can define attributes and properties, such as benefit, cost, and risk. They can also add "events" to the road map, such as technologies and trends. Once the road map is populated with events, users can explore it through a three-dimensional view, add information, and explore relationships between events. Because we were already creating an application based on the Microsoft .NET Framework and the Microsoft Silverlight browser plug-in, we only had to rewrite a modest amount of code to ensure that our service and storage mechanism would communicate properly with the Windows Azure application programming interfaces.
Figure 1. The sharpcloud application makes it possible for a virtual team to view events and the relationships among them in a three-dimensional road map and to post comments for other team members to review in real time.
MSDN: What makes sharpcloud unique?
Khan: sharpcloud goes beyond the typical spreadsheet and presentation approach to defining and communicating road maps and business strategy. It is the first service of its kind to include visualization and social-networking components as central ideas to the solution.
MSDN: Have you been able to reach new markets as a result of using Windows Azure?
Khan: We're a startup and just bringing sharpcloud to market now. But we have been able to establish strategic relationships as a result of using Windows Azure. We are collaborating with Fujitsu, for instance. They're using sharpcloud today and wrapping it into a high-value, strategic consultancy solution called FutureScape. Fujitsu typically partners with large organizations, so the relationship with us was somewhat of a departure for them-but one that they're comfortable with because, with Windows Azure, they know we can deliver on our promises.
MSDN: What are some of the key benefits sharpcloud has seen since implementing Windows Azure?
Khan: The ability to scale exponentially to support large numbers of users is absolutely critical to our success. Without the ability to do this as easily and cost-effectively as we can with Windows Azure, we would not exist. Being able to develop the solution and go to market quickly was also key-we wanted to establish our reputation as the provider of a social-networking, road-mapping tool for strategic planning.
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