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Real World SQL Azure: Interview with John Dennehy, Founder and CEO at HRLocker

[This article was contributed by the SQL Azure team.] As part of the Real World SQL Azure series, we talked to John Dennehy, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at HRLocker, about using Microsoft…

[This article was contributed by the SQL Azure team.]

As part of the Real World SQL Azure series, we talked to John Dennehy, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at HRLocker, about using Microsoft SQL Azure for the company’s cloud-based human resources management solution. Here’s what he had to say:

MSDN: Can you tell us about HRLocker and the services you offer?

Dennehy: HRLocker is a low-cost, web-based human resources (HR) management solution that is ideal for small and midsize businesses that have globally dispersed workforces. By using HRLocker, employees can submit timesheets, share HR-related documents, and manage and share leave information with other employees.

MSDN: What were some of the challenges that HRLocker faced prior to adopting SQL Azure?

Dennehy: When I founded HRLocker, I knew I wanted to develop our software as a scalable, cloud-based solution, but we needed a platform as a service so that we could avoid costly infrastructure maintenance and management costs. At the same time, we needed a platform that we trusted with our customers’ sensitive employee data and that offered reliable data centers around the globe to help us address application performance issues in China.

MSDN: Why did you choose SQL Azure and Windows Azure for your solution?

Denney: We had three criteria to meet when it came to choosing our cloud services provider: security, performance, and reliability. Windows Azure and SQL Azure met all of our requirements. The investment that Microsoft has made in security, and particularly when it comes to the Windows Azure platform, is industry-recognized and was key to our decision.

MSDN: Can you describe how HRLocker is using SQL Azure and Windows Azure?

Dennehy: HRLocker is hosted in web roles in Windows Azure and uses worker roles to execute its back-end processes. We use Windows Azure Blob Storage to collect binary data, such as images, documents, and other files that employees can upload; we also Table Storage in Windows Azure to keep application session data and configuration data, including new feature configurations. We deployed SQL Azure in a multitenant environment to store all employee data for customers, including names, email addresses, and benefit summary information, such as how much time off the employee has accrued. We had previously built a prototype of HRLocker that used Microsoft SQL Server data management software, and we simply used the same database schema and data structures in SQL Azure that we did in SQL Server. 

MSDN: What makes your solution unique?

Dennehy: There is a lot of HR software on the market and many require significant investments in infrastructure. By offering a cloud-based solution, we can help customers avoid those costs. The total cost of ownership for HRLocker is at least 75 percent less than any other competing HR management application. We estimate that it costs customers from as little as U.S.$18 per employee annually to run HRLocker. For competing products, it costs at least $80 per employee annually.

MSDN: What benefits is HRLocker realizing with SQL Azure and Windows Azure?

Dennehy: We are growing our business, and it’s important that we be able to choose which global data center location to deploy HRLocker because by bringing data closer to customers’ physical locations, we can improve application performance. When we first demonstrated our prototype, which was hosted in Ireland, it took 20 seconds to load a single page when we were in China-the software was unusable. But we deployed an instance of HRLocker to the data center in Hong Kong and now it takes less than two seconds to load a page-it’s nearly instantaneous and a dramatic improvement that makes our product viable in that region. In addition, we avoided the costly capital investments required to build our own hosting infrastructure. If we had built our own infrastructure, we would have nothing left from our initial seed funding.

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