[This article was contributed by the SQL Azure team.]
As part of the Real World SQL Azure series, we talked to Gregory Kim, Chief Technology Officer at Accumulus, about using SQL Azure to extend its subscription management service with rich business intelligence capabilities to the cloud. Here's what he had to say:
MSDN: Can you tell us about Accumulus and the services you offer?
Kim: Accumulus addresses the complex process that online companies face with subscription-based billing. Our solution helps businesses manage subscription billing and automate the customer lifecycle-everything from customer sign-up and activation to billing and payment processing.
MSDN: What were some of the challenges that Accumulus faced prior to adopting SQL Azure?
Kim: Before founding Accumulus, our employees had a long history in subscription billing processes, which were typically managed through an on-premises server infrastructure model. We knew that with Accumulus we wanted to adopt a cloud-based, software-as-a-service model, however. It's no secret that the cloud helps you inherently avoid massive server infrastructure costs and offers a model that lets you pay for what you use-and that's what our customers wanted, too. That said, we needed a cloud services provider that offered a robust relational database because our vision was to offer rich business intelligence as a competitive differentiator.
MSDN: Why did you choose SQL Azure as your solution?
Kim: In addition to a relational database, we also wanted a cloud services provider that would enable us to use our existing developer and IT skills, which are firmly rooted in Microsoft products and technologies. The Windows Azure platform, with SQL Azure, was the clear choice for us. The platform met all our business requirements, plus has the backing of the reliable Microsoft infrastructure.
MSDN: Can you describe how Accumulus is using SQL Azure and Windows Azure to help address your need to provide business intelligence in the cloud?
Kim: The front end of the Accumulus solution is hosted in web roles in Windows Azure and uses worker roles to handle the back-end processing from web role requests. We use the Queue service in Windows Azure for persistent messaging between the web and worker roles, but also take advantage of Blob Storage in Windows Azure for messaging tasks. Our primary database is SQL Azure, which we use to cross-reference relevant customer, product, payment, and promotional data in a relational data structure. The SQL Azure database is deployed in a multitenant environment so that customers share the Accumulus application, but their data is safeguarded and kept separate from each other. Customers access Accumulus through a rich user interface is based on the Microsoft Silverlight browser plug-in, and the application integrates with their own IT infrastructure through REST-based application programming interfaces.
MSDN: What makes your solution unique?
Kim: Business intelligence, pricing agility, and the ability to manage subscriptions across platforms. We recognize that providing customers with business insight into their billing and customer life cycles distinguishes us from competitors. It allows them to strategically price their products, services, and content across a number of access channels. At the heart of our competitive advantage is SQL Azure, which gives us the relational database that is so vital to the business intelligence we offer. The ability to have a relational data model where we can cross-reference all our data and yield business intelligence for our customers is critical to our success.
MSDN: In addition to business intelligence in the cloud, what other benefits is Accumulus realizing with the Windows Azure platform?
Kim: The scalability we achieved for compute and storage needs is key. We can easily scale up web roles and worker roles in Windows Azure and simply add partitions to our multitenant SQL Azure database to scale up for increased storage needs. It's also great that we didn't have a steep learning curve with the platform and could draw from our existing knowledge and skillset to develop the solution. We saved approximately four months by developing our solution for Windows Azure and SQL Azure, representing a 25 percent productivity savings compared to if we had used Amazon EC2 or Google App Engine. Add to that, we can develop locally and deploy immediately to the cloud, which means we can deploy updates and new features in half the time than we could with other providers.
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