As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we talked to Dario Solera, Cofounder of Threeplicate, about using the Windows Azure platform to deliver two applications. Here’s what he had to say:
MSDN: Tell us about Threeplicate and the applications you offer.
Solera: We started Threeplicate in January 2010. We’re a team of three based in Milan, Italy, and we set out to deliver two products. The first, Amanuens, is a software-as-a-service offering built on the Windows Azure platform that helps software companies localize products into multiple languages. The second product, ScrewTurn Wiki, is an open-source application that helps users create, manage, and share wikis. At the end of 2010, we were registering an average of 10,000 downloads of ScrewTurn Wiki per month. In the past year, Microsoft has helped us by making the application available through the Windows Web Application Gallery and, more recently, through Microsoft WebMatrix. These sites are the source of more than 25 percent of downloads.
MSDN: Tell us about Amanuens.
Amanuens makes localization easier and cheaper. Localization has traditionally consumed a lot of time and manpower. With Amanuens, software developers get the benefits of localization without having to take on the burdens and potential for error that usually come with it. Our solution connects directly to a source code repository to retrieve resource files. Once those files are identified, software developers can assign the localization duties to a translator or use our professional translation services. Once translation is completed, Amanuens pushes the confirmed material back into the source code repository without any manual intervention. The system is designed to make localization management as unobtrusive as possible.
MSDN: Who are the customers for Amanuens?
Amanuens is targeted at small and midsize independent software vendors who want to globalize their products (or are already doing it). But even individual mobile application developers and large enterprise developers can make use of the solution because it makes software localization a breeze.
MSDN: Why did you deploy Amanuens in the cloud?
We needed to achieve scalability right from the start. The solution has a web-based interface but it frequently runs background tasks that may take many minutes—or even hours—to complete. In designing and developing Amanuens, it was essential that we be able to get flexible computing power.
MSDN: How does Amanuens work with the Windows Azure platform?
Amanuens has a web-based interface that runs within a web role. Plus, it executes asynchronous tasks in the background. All data is stored in Windows Azure Table Storage and Windows Azure Blob Storage. We use the queue to schedule time-consuming tasks. We rely on the platform’s ability to run ASP.NET applications seamlessly and launch custom-built and third-party command-line tools.
Amanuens web-based interface that runs within a web role and frequently runs background tasks makes the localization process as unobtrusive as possible.
MSDN: Is ScrewTurn Wiki available in the cloud?
Solera: We have been working with Lokad—a company that provides forecasting software for sales, demand, and call volumes—to migrate its instance of ScrewTurn Wiki to the Windows Azure platform. They build impressive cloud-based forecasting tools and are big fans of both Windows Azure and our product. For now, this migration is a pilot program, but we are working to make ScrewTurn Wiki fully compatible with Windows Azure.
MSDN: What challenges did you face that made you decide to use cloud computing and the Windows Azure platform?
Solera: For the time being, users have to install ScrewTurn Wiki on their own servers. That’s the first problem. We have an extremely simple setup procedure, but there are many things that can go wrong because of the variety of systems and configurations on different companies’ servers. By deploying the product on the Windows Azure platform, we would make setup easy because the environment is totally controlled and defined.
MSDN: How does ScrewTurn Wiki work with the Windows Azure platform?
Solera: It’s very simple. ScrewTurn Wiki supports storing data in plain text files. We decided to create a Windows Azure drive and use it for storage; all storage requests are directed to the drive rather than to the local file system. By this means, the application requires very limited customization. We plan to have ScrewTurn Wiki fully compatible, and redesigned for scalability, with the Windows Azure platform by June 2011.
MSDN: What tools did you use to port ScrewTurn Wiki to Windows Azure?
Solera: We wanted a solution that would allow us to update the application as soon as new releases are available. We created a build script that downloads from our website, adds the required data files, and configures the Windows Azure deployment package. This porting happens with a single step and with zero changes to ScrewTurn Wiki.
MSDN: Did you look at any competitors in the cloud computing space?
Solera: Of course. However, we develop our products using the Microsoft .NET Framework, a software framework that supports several programming languages and is compatible with Windows Azure, so using Microsoft cloud computing is a natural choice for us.
MSDN: What are the benefits of using Windows Azure?
Solera: Besides the obvious benefit of dynamic scalability, Windows Azure abstracts all the problems that would normally arise from managing multiple dedicated servers. You don’t have to worry about keeping operating systems updated or propagating configuration changes across multiple machines. You can focus on the business logic rather than the boilerplate code.
ScrewTurn Wiki allows users to create, manage, and share wikis. It’s based on Microsoft ASP.NET 3.5.
To read more Windows Azure customer success stories, visit: www.windowsazure.com/evidence