The Future of the Datacenter
The Future of the Datacenter
Kelley Blue Book had a datacenter problem. The company, long known for its print publications on car and truck valuations, had launched a popular website more than 15 years ago. The website enabled Kelley Blue Book to expand its lineup of products and services, and proved exceptionally popular with consumers, attracting 14 million monthly visitors. In fact, an estimated one in three U.S. car shoppers consults the Kelley Blue Book site while researching a vehicle purchase.
So, you ask, what’s the problem? Like businesses everywhere, Kelley Blue Book has had to cope with the Great Recession. The challenging economy has forced businesses to look for more efficient utilization of their existing IT infrastructure, as well as to seek more innovative and flexible ways to deploy technology to solve business problems. In other words, like so many midsize businesses, Kelley Blue Book was looking to control the costs of their datacenter and to get more strategic value out of their technology staff and resources. And again like so many other businesses, Kelley Blue Book looked to cloud computing as a potential solution.
But what exactly is cloud computing, and how can it help companies like Kelley Blue Book – and yours? Different providers define cloud computing in disparate ways. As Microsoft sees it, a legitimate cloud computing offering must meet four fundamental requirements. (1) It must have the ability to scale as customer demand requires. (2) It must provide automated service management , delivering more than just disk space and processors. In other words, it must have the capability to seamlessly optimize the management of the applications and services it hosts. (3) It must offer rock-solid reliability. It has to have an “always on” level of availability underpinned by redundancy and failover reserves. (4)Finally, a true cloud computing solution must be capable of concurrently hosting multiple customers, as such “multi-tenancy” is crucial to optimizing utilization and controlling costs.
Kelley Blue Book’s datacenter woes stemmed largely from the fact that the company owned its own servers. As new features were added the website and the traffic increased, Kelley Blue Book responded by acquiring more servers to handle peak traffic. This produced problem number one: By buying the additional servers, the company ended up paying for peak-volume capacity even during periods of lower traffic. As Andy Lapin, Director of Enterprise Architecture at Kelley Blue Book explains, “We would buy enough servers to handle the maximum load and those servers would live on perpetually.” It was analogous to buying a generator to supply your home’s electrical needs when the air conditioner is running full-blast. Not a very effective use of money during times when you can cool off by opening the windows.
The second problem centered on the time-consuming process of managing the servers. It could take up to six weeks to add servers to the company’s failover datacenter, a situation that proved problematic last year, when the company needed to scale up quickly during the “Cash for Clunkers” program. Moreover, not every deployment of new servers went as smoothly as planned. Sometimes the IT staff ended up in “firefighting mode,” according to Lapin, doing “everything we can to get back up quickly.”
It was obvious to Lapin that the company needed a more efficient platform, and a software-plus-service solution seemed a good bet. After comparing various options, Kelley Blue Book chose Windows® Azure, the cloud operating system from Microsoft. Windows Azure offered a pay-per-use model that eliminated the problem of paying for peak computing and storage during nonpeak times. What’s more, with Windows Azure the company eliminated the need to make costly, time-consuming infrastructure changes in its failover datacenter. Since Microsoft provided the servers and their operational management, Kelley Blue Book now had the flexibility to scale up quickly and to cost-effectively manage IT.
The impact has been dramatic: Not only has Kelley Blue Book saved $100,000 a year in hosting costs, it has freed IT resources to focus on developing new features that drive more business. To learn more about Kelley Blue Book’s implementation of Windows Azure, please click here
A Little More on Windows Azure
So, what is Windows Azure exactly? As noted above, it is a cloud operating system. But to really understand what Windows Azure is and how it can help your company, we need to poke under the hood a bit. Don’t worry, we’re not going to break into techno-speak – at least, not much. We’ll just take a quick look at the components of Windows Azure and how they fit together to provide an optimal solution for growing companies.
Windows Azure is hosted in Microsoft datacenters around the world, which means that Microsoft provides the servers and their operational management. With a huge number of virtualized servers at their command, Microsoft datacenters can readily adjust the computing and storage loads among various cloud customers, ensuring that you have the IT power you need when you need it. With Windows Azure, your company will be assured of computing power, storage, and automated service management, as well as easy connectivity to other applications.
Also hosted in the Windows Azure platform is Microsoft® SQL Azure, which provides relational database services and the automated management of relational services. SQL Azure helps reduce costs by working with your existing IT tools and by providing symmetry with on-premises and cloud databases. Windows Azure also includes a component called AppFabric, which enables developers to connect applications and services in the cloud or on premises. This includes applications running on Windows Azure, Windows Server® and a number of other platforms, among them, Java, Ruby, and PHP. Via a feature called Service Bus, AppFabric helps provide security enhanced connectivity between loosely coupled services and applications, allowing them to navigate firewalls or network boundaries. Thanks to Service Bus, you can (1) connect Windows Azure applications and SQL Azure databases with existing applications and databases, (2) you can bridge on- and off-premise applications, and (3) you can create composite applications. In other words, with Service Bus, federated systems can start talking to each other using AppFabric as the channel – almost like having SOA (service-oriented architecture) in a box. Windows Azure AppFabric also provides security by controlling access through a feature called, simply enough, Access Control – a federated authorization service that covers every entry point. With Access
Control, you can build federated authorization into your applications and services, without the complicated programming normally required to secure applications that extend beyond organizational boundaries. What’s more, Access Control can be easily and flexibly configured to cover a variety of security needs and different identity-management infrastructures.
The Windows Azure Advantage
To appreciate what differentiates it from the competition, it’s important to understand that Windows Azure is built on Microsoft’s software-plus-services (S+S) approach. As such, it is neither exclusively software-centric nor browser-centric. Microsoft envisions a world where rich, highly functional and elegant experiences extend from the PC, to the Web, to the devices people use every day.
As demonstrated by the Kelley Blue Book experience, Windows Azure offers an array of game-changing benefits, including:
Agility – Familiar developer tools, automated service management, and global datacenter presence lets you respond faster to customer needs, focus on competitive differentiators, and reach new markets.
Operational efficiency – Windows Azure can lower operational costs compared to owning and operating your own servers.
Better use of IT resources – Windows Azure turns your IT staff loose to develop products and services that provide value to your customers and help give you a competitive leg-up.
Trustworthiness – With Windows Azure, you get enterprise-class services backed up by Microsoft SLAs (Service Level Agreements), all built on Microsoft’s extensive experience in online services.
Flexibility - Unlike providers who are locked into the "software as service" model, Microsoft offers customers the flexibility of mixing and matching cloud services and on-premise IT in the way that best suits the business.
Ready to Embrace the Future?
Make no mistake about it; the hybrid datacenter – one that combines the cloud and on-premise infrastructure – is the future of business computing. And Microsoft has the products, the experience, the ecosystem, and the strategic approach to make this future a reality – today!
Click here to learn more about Windows Azure and how it can help your company use technology to grow and prosper. Or contact your Microsoft Certified Partner to discuss your datacenter needs and the role that Windows Azure can play in building a more successful business. Whatever you do, do it today. The future is now.