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IT Showcase On: Windows Azure

Quick Reference Guide

Microsoft IT’s Journey to the Cloud

Published: April 2012

The following content may no longer reflect Microsoft’s current position or infrastructure. This content should be viewed as reference documentation only, to inform IT business decisions within your own company or organization.


Download Quick Reference Guide, 142 KB, Microsoft Word file

Executive Overview

Situation: Microsoft IT (MSIT) currently uses mostly conventional on-premises products, but is moving rapidly to a mixed-use environment in which it utilizes some combination of on-premises software, software as a service (such as Microsoft Exchange Online), and Windows Azure products.

Product: Microsoft developed the Windows Azure platform as a foundation for developing applications that run in the cloud. Approximately 20 million businesses and more than a billion people use Microsoft cloud services, which are the products, services, and customer experiences that Microsoft offers through hosted and online services. The Windows Azure platform provides a group of cloud technologies, each providing a specific service set for application developers, and both applications running in the cloud and on local systems can use it.

Comparing Cloud Offerings

Infrastructure as a service (IaaS): IT departments typically use IaaS to run client and server applications on virtual machines. The vendor manages the network, servers, and storage resources so that IT managers no longer need to buy, track, or decommission hardware. However, IT managers must continue to manage operating systems, databases, and applications. Depending on the service provider, IT managers may be able to perform limited configuration of networking components. IT staff can manage configuration remotely, through application programming interfaces (APIs) or through a web portal, for example, to increase application instances when demand spikes occur.

Platform as a service (PaaS): Enterprises use PaaS to develop, deploy, monitor, and maintain applications, while the cloud provider manages everything else. Developers can manage configuration remotely, as with IaaS, but they do not have to configure the virtual machine’s image directly.

Software as a service (SaaS): This is perhaps the most familiar service-delivery model. Enterprises subscribe to prepackaged applications that run on a cloud infrastructure and allow access from a variety of devices. Enterprises rarely are responsible for administration, beyond limited configuration and data-quality management.

Why You Should Care:

  1. Many challenges that organizations face relate to the infrastructure that they require to deploy, run, and manage applications. Windows Azure enables developers to focus on building applications, rather than worrying about managing an infrastructure and its components.

  2. Windows Azure makes use of robust and familiar tools, including Microsoft Visual Studio® development system, Microsoft Silverlight®, Microsoft .NET, and Microsoft System Center products. It provides unlimited scalability at a lower cost than on-premises solutions, and a consistent environment for development, test, preproduction, and production.

  3. MSIT’s cloud-services strategy is consistent and highly complementary with the Microsoft on-premises offerings. Rather than an all-or-nothing approach, MSIT (and Microsoft customers) can leverage new cloud technologies and existing capabilities.

  4. MSIT estimates that by moving applications to Windows Azure, an enterprise can save between 35 and 40 percent of overall addressable expenditures for support; application development and maintenance; and hardware, hosting, and software licenses.

MSIT’S Journey to the Cloud

MSIT has a three-prong approach to developing applications in Windows Azure:

  1. Identify existing applications that are not mission-critical, that have solid fall-back positions, and that have workload patterns that are suitable for the cloud. These are the first applications that MSIT migrates to Windows Azure, and are used to develop best practices and reusable components for other, more-complex migrations.

  2. Ensure that new applications that developers can write or deploy on Windows Azure indeed are written and deployed on Windows Azure. Make Windows Azure the default application-development platform.

  3. Create multiyear plans, and then begin moving some of MSIT’s biggest and most-critical applications to Windows Azure. This enables the leveraging of experience gained from earlier, less-complex migrations.

Moving Existing Applications

When an organization moves existing applications to Windows Azure, it is important to remember that it:

  • Can be more complex than building new applications designed for Windows Azure or cloud computing.

  • Is better to choose applications with lower risk and complexity for the first migration, to become familiar with the process. Enterprises then can attempt migration of more complex applications that have regulatory exposure, integration issues, downstream dependencies, or other complicated attributes.

  • Helps to understand an migrating application’s technical aspects and how the enterprise is utilizing it before migration.

  • Helps to understand the application’s monitoring implications and its life span, to ensure alignment with the Windows Azure solution plan.

  • Is beneficial to understand workload patterns, which indicate suitability with Windows Azure. The following table illustrates these patterns:



On and Off

Typically includes seasonal or time-bounded workloads that have processing requirements only during certain periods.

Predictable Bursting

Includes predictable bursts of activity during certain days of the week or times of the year.

Unpredictable Bursting

Typically includes unpredictable events that trigger heavy usage requirements. Therefore, the enterprise must scale design considerations to predict.

Growing Fast

Typically associated with new development, and in particular, with startups or specific groups in larger companies.

Windows Azure Projects

Moving a Low-Risk Application: the Auction Tool

The Auction Tool is a component of the Microsoft Annual Giving Campaign. The tool experienced very high spikiness (Predictable Bursting workflow pattern). Usage was low for most of the month, and then inadequate for the last-day spike, as 20 percent of all bids were made on last day. This left many bidders unable to contribute because the Auction Tool was unavailable due to heavy last-day usage. This roject had three sets of Internet Information Services (IIS) and Microsoft SQL Server® virtual machines.

Solution Highlights

  • Utilized a hybrid Windows Azure cloud and on-premises architecture.

  • Utilized single sign-on (SSO) through Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS).

Auction Tool Results

  • The solution scaled easily from four to 24 instances for last day’s high traffic.

  • Every user that wanted to bid could actually do so.

  • It was a record year for the Microsoft Annual Giving Campaign, with approximately $500,000 U.S. dollars raised.

Lessons Learned from Moving and Using the Auction Tool Learning curve for development was relatively small, because the Windows Azure development tools are similar to the current Visual Studio development environments.

  • Scaling the environment to meet demand is a strong point of the Windows Azure platform, and the process was straightforward and easy to implement.

  • The Windows Azure platform is consistent. Development, preproduction, and production environments are the same and allow for a smooth path to production.

New Application—Social eXperience Platform (SXP)

The Video Showcase site on Microsoft.com provides access to more than 8,000 marketing videos. Personnel used the previous on-premises solution to manage the site’s comments and ratings, filter profanity and spam, and perform site moderation. However, there were problems with scalability, maintenance costs, upgrades, performance, and availability.

Solution Highlights

  • Utilized a hybrid Windows Azure cloud and on-premises architecture.

  • Enabled multitenant capabilities. Any subsite on Microsoft.com can use SXP. The first tenant was the Video Showcase site, and as of mid-2011, the service has 57 tenants.

  • Utilized a separate SQL Azure database for each tenant, in which to store comments and ratings.

  • Utilized the Microsoft System Center Operations Manager Connector to provide alerts and notifications via Systems Center Operations Manager.

SXP Results

  • Reduced monthly costs from $15,000 USD to $45 USD.

  • Increased availability from 99.1 percent to 99.997 percent.

  • Improved the speed of new releases dramatically. Previously, issuing new releases could take as much as six weeks, but was reduced to 45 minutes.

  • Facilitated easy push-button upgrades that had no planned downtime. Ten upgrades have occurred, and no transactions have been missed.

  • Enabled 10,000,000 error-free transactions since December 2011.

  • Reduced the average response time to less than 10 milliseconds (ms). MSIT’s service-level agreement mandates 250 ms.

  • Enabled MSIT to replace more than 37 separate instances of a third-party competitive product with a Microsoft cloud-based solution that operates at enterprise scale.

SXP Lessons Learned

  • Windows Azure greatly decreases the time and developer participation necessary for application maintenance and upgrades.

  • Engineering and operations departments must partner early to ensure that application development includes operational integration, such as monitoring and maintenance.

  • Windows Azure presents a fundamental shift in how IT departments approach the spending and resource allocation on which cloud computing is based. Spending patterns now focus on operational costs and not capital expenditures, while resource allocation now focuses on development and innovation, rather than maintenance and operations.

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