IT services provider UniTech wanted to offer a free community website builder service for United Kingdom (U.K.) companies such as BT to offer to charities and not-for-profit community groups. Using Windows Azure, UniTech created a cloud-based
content management solution that will scale as the number of users grows. The firm estimates that the cost of the service is around 30 per cent of an on-premises solution and offers twice the capacity.
UniTech specialises in Microsoft Enterprise Content Management systems to help customers in both the public and private sectors with website customisation and hosting. Founded in Scotland in 1996, UniTech wanted to create a website management system that
could be rebranded for enterprise companies among its customers to provide a web presence for multiple independent entities such as charities and not-for-profit organisations.
Among the first customers interested in using this UniTech service was the U.K. communications provider BT, which has worked with UniTech since the 1990s. BT wanted to host websites on a new platform because its previous solution was no longer suitable.
Steve Kelly, Communications Manager, BT, says: “As part of our £31.9 million annual corporate social responsibility programme, BT had already created a Community Web Kit for charities and not-for-profit organisations to have their own free, easy-to-build websites.
The BT Community Web Kit is part of a wider initiative called the BT Get IT Together programme, which is all about instilling confidence and helping people to get online.”
However, the existing web hosting provider service costs were increasing and it was difficult to keep the project within budget. Kelly says: “We weren’t happy with the hosted service provider costs and the web build facility was looking outdated. The principal
issue for us was the projected costs involved in adding new websites and ensuring excellent performance, given the soaring demand from charities and not-for-profit organisations.”
At the end of 2010, BT began to consider migrating the service to a different web hosting provider, and UniTech was invited to tender. Nigel Gibbons, Executive Chairman, UniTech, says: “The challenge for us was to give BT the ability to scale the number
of websites without exceeding the hosting budget, while ensuring security for what is a huge multitenant content management system.”
The UniTech communities hosted website product helps ensure that multitenant users can create and edit websites through a browser interface. Built on Windows Azure, it makes use of Web Roles, Windows Azure SQL Database, Blob storage, and Caching.
Gibbons says: “Windows Azure Caching is a distributed, in-memory application cache service that accelerates the performance of Windows Azure applications. The solution has a multi-tier Microsoft security architecture and offers users free disaster recovery
“Windows Azure SQL Database is a highly available and scalable cloud database service built on SQL Server technologies. With SQL Database, developers don’t have to install, setup, or manage any database. High availability and fault tolerance is built-in
and no physical administration is required. SQL Database is a managed service that’s operated by Microsoft and has a 99.9 per cent availability service level agreement.”
Using Windows Azure, UniTech created a proof of concept for BT in three to four weeks. It then took around eight weeks to migrate the 2,900 websites from the previous hosting service.
The new look and feel of the migrated websites has been well received by BT Community Web Kit users. Kelly says: “We no longer have the responsibility of conducting time-consuming and expensive infrastructure and planning management. Users say that the look
and feel of a website can really affect whether someone takes an interest in the content they create.”
In the first year of operations, UniTech has helped BT to more than double the number of websites hosted by the BT Community Web Kit, while remaining within budget. UniTech estimates that the on-going cost of the cloud-based service to BT is around 30 per
cent of an on-premises solution. Without Windows Azure, UniTech customers would have to meet expensive hosting bills to upgrade their hardware.
Community website cloud infrastructure scales easily to meet increased demand. In the first year, the BT Community Web Kit has accommodated 3,600 new users to add to the 2,900 migrated from the previous hosted website. Kelly says: “Due to
UniTech and Windows Azure, we are within budget despite more than doubling the 2,900 existing users of our community website service.”
Customer satisfaction grows through improved usability of the BT community websites. One of the users, Glyn Jones, Administrator at the Barry Amateur Radio Society, says: “I find the BT Community Web Kit handy and it’s also very user friendly.
All I have to do is point, click, and write. It’s brilliant. It’s the perfect vehicle to drive any club or society into the 21st century.”
Rich toolset contributes to promoting digital inclusion. The UniTech solution is backing BT in fulfilling its corporate social responsibility programme to promote digital inclusion. Another user, Geoff Budden, Administrator at Friends of
Kinson Common conservation group, says: “The new website is intuitive and helpful. It provides superb formats, especially given that it’s a free service.”
UniTech demonstrates innovative approach to cloud-based services. UniTech now belongs to the Azure Circle—a group of Microsoft partners, which have demonstrated credibility and excellence in building solutions on Windows Azure. Gibbons says:
“What we find is that unlike before when website projects produced a cost centre for our customers, the approach based on Windows Azure delivers a partnership with a predictable pay-as-you-go model.”
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