The Real World Windows Azure series spoke to Nicklas Andersson, Chief Technology Officer at eCraft; Peter Löfgren, Project Manager at eCraft; and Jörgen Westerling, Chief Communications Officer at eCraft about using the Windows Azure platform to deliver cloud-based website solutions for the company's customers:
MSDN: Can you give as a quick summary of what eCraft does and who you serve?
Andersson: We are based in Finland and Sweden, and we help companies around the globe integrate IT systems with specific business practices by providing consulting and IT services, and developing customized, easy-to-use interfaces that give our customers access to powerful business systems and software.
For example, a part of our business is set up to help our small to midsized manufacturing- and energy-industry customers use Microsoft Dynamics NAV software to manage business processes such as financial administration, manufacturing, distribution, customer relationships, and e-commerce.
MSDN: Was there a particular challenge you were trying to overcome that led you to develop solutions that use cloud computing?
Andersson: We wanted to begin developing and offering our own software to work with Microsoft Dynamics NAV. However, the customized software that we had built for our larger customers had required significant investments in hardware, and our Microsoft Dynamics NAV customers tend to be smaller companies. They are often averse to high costs associated with buying, operating, and managing new software and hardware on-premises.
At the same time, we had to offer these often fast-growing companies the flexibility to scale solutions up quickly, so we began looking for ways to deliver solutions as Internet-based services, rather than as software that customers needed to install and manage themselves.
Westerling: Windows Azure was clearly the most cost-effective alternative. The other services offered virtual machines in the cloud that are still yours to manage. But we could use Windows Azure to actually build a true multitenant solution. Then, we could use the Windows Azure framework itself to achieve the scalability we wanted without additional servers to manage, virtual or not.
MSDN: Can you describe the solution that you developed? Which components of the Windows Azure platform did you use?
Andersson: In 2010, we were contacted by a customer called PowerStation Oy that wanted to run a cluster of webshops that it could use to sell ecologically responsible office supplies and energy-saving products online. We took the opportunity to develop a Microsoft Dynamics NAV multitenant webshop integrated with computing and storage resources supplied through Windows Azure. The databases are managed with Microsoft SQL Azure, and the webshop links to Microsoft Dynamics NAV through the AppFabric Service Bus in the Windows Azure platform.
A key design goal was to keep the solution as broadly applicable as possible. We use Windows Azure to deliver a Microsoft Dynamics NAV webshop that works no matter what you sell on the web. For instance, Powerstation does not manufacture the products it sells, but a company could link the webshop to the manufacturing module in Microsoft Dynamics NAV and it would work just as well.
Figure 1: eCraft developed a Microsoft Dynamics NAV multitenant webshop integrated with computing and storage resources supplied through Windows Azure.
MSDN: How will using Windows Azure help eCraft deliver more advanced solutions to its customers?
Lofgren: We used Windows Azure to build a service that young, fast-growing companies can use to not only cut costs, but focus on their business, sell more products, and make more money. We've already begun using Windows Azure to develop more offerings, including an Ideation Process Management tool, a sales management and tracking tool, and a parts-ordering webshop for manufacturers. With Windows Azure, we can deliver services to our customers faster, and remove a lot of the cost, complexity, and uncertainty that's often associated with adopting a new solution.
Andersson: By using Windows Azure, we are saving up to 70 percent of what we would have spent to operate the Microsoft Dynamics NAV-based webshop on-premises or in a Finnish data center. When we calculate the number of customers we expect for the solution over the next two years, we expect to save more than U.S.$750,000. And by delivering the solution as a service through Windows Azure, we can save our customers up to U.S.$50,000 in hardware and other startup costs.
To read more Windows Azure customer success stories, visit: www.windowsazure.com/evidence
To read more about eCraft and PowerStation, visit: www.ecraft.com and www.powerstation.fi