Hybrid cloud model: update on Microsoft IT application migration

This is a guest post by Patrick O’Rourke, director within the strategy, planning and communications team in Microsoft IT.

For those who read this blog you know that Microsoft IT is in the midst of transforming the company into a real-time enterprise. The vision of real-time enterprise is about increasing the speed of the company’s operations and delivering a better customer experience to millions worldwide, while lowering the cost structure of delivering IT services. Cloud computing is one of the most important tools we’re using to enable a real-time enterprise.

This post updates you on our continued migration of applications to the cloud, with a focus on moving business-critical applications to Windows Azure. As you’ll read below, our approach with several applications is a hybrid solution in which Windows Azure hosts and manages portions of the application, while other application components remain on-premises. If you’re not familiar with our approach of evaluating line-of-business (LOB) applications to migrate to Windows Azure, I recommend first reading this Microsoft IT Showcase article [here].

Core processes for global revenue model move to the cloud

As CIO Tony Scott discussed in this video [here], cloud computing helps accelerate business process and our internal move to digitize our business. There’s no better example than with LOB applications that manage Microsoft accounting journal entries, in other words, financial transactions around the world. Microsoft has subsidiaries in more than 100 countries, and the demand pattern of the legacy applications showed us that every month, one-third of processed transactions occurred in the last three days of the month. The same pattern occurred at the end of fiscal quarters, when month-end and quarter-end entries coincided.

To improve upon this challenge and other application limitations, Microsoft IT decided to create a single application that would unify the accounting transaction business process. The design team’s goals for the application were:

  • Unify all business processes
  • Support new personas and scenarios
  • Improve application performance
  • Add scalability
  • Start with a hybrid approach and eventually move it all to the cloud

Microsoft IT Showcase recently published an article with details of our experience [download Using Windows Azure to Create a Multi-Platform Application].

The business and technical benefits of this new application compared to the old solution were:

  • $22 million USD saved over five years in terms of business operational costs
  • $144,000 USD savings per year in engineering operational support costs
  • Increased efficiency in the financial close process through broader access using Windows Phone
  • Increased reliability due to built-in scalability of Windows Azure
  • Easier updates and maintenance

Designing hybrid applications in Windows Azure was a fairly new process for Microsoft IT employees, and my colleagues identified several insights along the way:

  • Visual Studio compute emulator for Windows Azure is easy to learn and use
  • For cloud services-based components, security of data storage and transmission must be decided upon during the very early stages of the project.
  • Monitoring and instrumentation of applications is very important to get operations on-board.
  • Designing for Windows Phone mobile devices doesn’t require a significant departure from Windows Azure application code. Mobile application implementation involves a simplified, lightweight UI.
  • Security and privacy require special attention when you design for mobile platforms. Data that is stored in the device must be separated and not available to other applications on the device.
  • Migrating applications to the cloud doesn’t have to come at the expense of on-premises investment. On-premises solutions can be extended to the cloud in hybrid scenarios.

Microsoft Partner Network moves to thecloud

Just like any other for-profit company, Microsoft uses internal LOB applications to sell and license products and services to customers. And like many other companies, our licensing applications grew more and more complicated over the years as new products and services were introduced and modified.  But perhaps
unlike many other companies, Microsoft conducts a large percentage of its enterprise business through partners.

The Microsoft Partner Network portal (the portal) on www.microsoft.com is the primary resource for Microsoft partners to establish, manage, and grow their partnership with Microsoft. The Partner Velocity Platform is a suite of applications that provide functionality and support for the portal. While Partner Velocity
Platform doesn’t include all portal functionality, it is the core functional component of the portal.

As you can imagine, the existing Partner Velocity Platform was composed of multiple applications that different teams designed and developed to serve different purposes. The Partner Velocity Platform consisted of a large number of applications, all of which had different interfaces, functional designs, and methods for maintenance and support. The existing solution operated primarily as an on-premises solution, and servers within the Microsoft IT corporate network infrastructure hosted all of the components. The Partner Velocity Platform applications were designed to access data and services provided through these components either by using a Windows client or browser-based application.

To improve upon these and other application limitations, Microsoft IT established several design goals:

  • Create more efficient data structures and workflow
  • Increase business value
  • Increase agility by reducing development and deployment time
  • Realign the technology roadmap with business goals
  • Develop a unified experience for the partner
  • Enable a multi-step, multi-year platform redesign to mitigate partner impact

While the implementation of the next version of Partner Velocity Platform is an ongoing project, my colleagues have already realized several benefits from the migration to Windows Azure:

  • A greater share of IT investment is being directed to operations and innovation initiatives from capital expenditures and maintenance.
  • Development of new programs has been reduced from hundreds of thousands of dollars to $10,000-$25,000 USD.
  • While maintaining a hybrid solution represents both on-premises and Windows Azure costs, the team still anticipates a 72% increase in business enablement and innovation investment, and a 21% reduction in annual maintenance costs. This could result in a net savings of approximately $4.3 million USD during the next
    three years.
  •  Upgrades and environment changes occur in a matter of minutes, rather than weeks.
  • The team did not experience many of the typical configuration issues that occur during traditional development, even as it added new personnel.

Microsoft IT Showcase recently published an article with details of our experience and best practices [download Migrating the Microsoft Partner Network to Windows Azure].

Let me know if you found this overview useful, as well as the IT Showcase materials. What else would you like to know about our application migrations to the cloud?

 Patrick O’Rourke