Fortune 500 company Harris Corporation wanted to speed IT performance, increase resource utilization, and boost scalability. Rather than adding more hardware, Harris is moving offerings to a cloud solution based on the Windows Azure platform.
As a result, Harris substantially speeds plotting performance, significantly reduces hosting costs, and increases agility, flexibility, and availability.
Harris Corporation helps organizations communicate and manage large volumes of data. The company’s solutions include the Digital Out-Of-Home (DOOH) product line that includes hosted and on-premises options for delivering advertising and promotional content
to digital signs and channels in predetermined time slots.
Customers use DOOH to manage slot availability, costs, content, and rules that govern content placement. Plotting content requires complex data analysis, and the computational demand for plotting grows exponentially with the number of signs, channels, and
slots. For example, one customer uses a hosted DOOH solution to manage 4,500 unique signs at national convenience stores. Each sign could have as many as 3,000 slots available each day, which translates into 25 million daily unique slots to manage. Running
the plotting process for just this customer for a 30-day period took about 23 hours.
||We can now easily test different configuration options with Windows Azure … We would not have had the time, the money, or the hardware to do this in the past.
| Jon Maucher
Lead Cloud Architect
Harris wanted to speed the performance of its hosted DOOH solution so that campaign changes could be processed faster, without increasing hardware costs. The company also wanted to increase solution scalability to rapidly support more customers, significantly
more signs, and new capabilities such as disaster recovery involving multiple datacenters in different geographic regions. However, the existing infrastructure’s costs and inflexibility made these goals unattainable. “We had very powerful hardware that was
sized to manage bursts in traffic, but these systems often sat idle,” says Jon Maucher, Lead Cloud Architect at Harris Corporation. “It was infeasible to purchase and maintain even more hardware to manage larger traffic spikes or failovers. The cost would
have been too high.”
To meet its challenges, Harris sought a high performance computing (HPC) solution that could speed processing, boost resource utilization, and increase IT flexibility.
Rather than adding more physical systems, Harris wanted to take advantage of a hybrid cloud-based solution. Harris already uses the Microsoft platform to support most of its IT, and so Windows Azure was a logical choice. Andrew McCulloch, Chief Technology
Architect at Harris Corporation, says, “One of the things we liked about Windows Azure is that it provides a high-performance platform-as-a-service that can easily integrate with our current development tools.”
In January 2012, Harris engaged Microsoft partner Cognizant to help with the evaluation, solution design, and implementation. Cognizant Azure Innovation labs conducted the initial assessment and functional analysis of the DOOH plotting algorithm for feasibility
in the cloud. After evaluating multiple platforms, engineers recommended an HPC solution using Windows Azure. Sanjiv Chawla, Chief Architect at Cognizant, says, “After we analyzed the plotter, we knew that HPC on Windows Azure was the most appropriate solution
for Harris. The power it brings to Windows Azure to provide high value solutions is phenomenal.”
Harris also decided to move other product offerings to the cloud, starting with its Media Inventory Service (MIS), which facilitates the exchange of data between advertisers and broadcasters. By moving these solutions to the cloud, Harris can use a scalable
number of Windows Azure resources to support disaster recovery and deliver consistently fast performance. Harris can also take advantage of capabilities such as SQL Azure to accommodate rapid data growth.
In just several weeks, IT personnel from the Cognizant Azure practice used the Microsoft Visual C# development tool to modify existing DOOH code to facilitate more parallel processing using Windows Azure HPC Scheduler to simultaneously delegate large volumes
of requests to HPC compute nodes. This approach could significantly reduce the plotter’s execution time and optimize message file generation.
To support the new MIS solution, developers are using web roles—which are Microsoft ASP.NET 4 applications—to support communication between solution components and with end users via a web-based interface. In addition, the IT team uses worker roles—which
are also ASP.NET applications—to manage processing. Windows Azure services increase or decrease the number of roles as needed. They are also replacing custom queue-management software from Harris with the built-in Windows Azure queues.
By taking advantage of Windows Azure, Harris accelerates plotting, reduces hosting costs, and boosts agility and flexibility.
Speeds Plotting Processes to Improve Customer Service
With cloud-based resources, Harris dramatically speeds performance for tasks including plotting, so that clients can more quickly customize promotional content on signs and other channels. “We tested different configurations to find the optimum balance between
performance and cost,” McCulloch explains. “The optimum configuration in Windows Azure was able to substantially reduce the plotting process.”
Cuts Hosting Costs
By paying only for the IT resources it needs in the cloud, Harris saves money because it can avoid purchasing high-end servers that can manage traffic spikes, but that otherwise sit idle. “During the next five years, we expect to significantly reduce our
hosting costs for our Digital Out-Of-Home products by using Windows Azure,” says McCulloch. “We can also significantly reduce hosting costs for MIS over the next five years by moving it to Windows Azure.”
Increases Agility and Availability
Harris is using the cloud to create a more agile and flexible business model. Not only can it instantly scale cloud-based resources to match demand and support multi-site disaster recovery options, but the company can also dedicate its resources to facilitate
new opportunities. “Our IT personnel can now start focusing less on mundane tasks and instead develop innovative products,” Maucher says. “We can now easily test different configuration options with Windows Azure, and let our customers pick the most effective
solution. We would not have had the time, the money, or the hardware to do this in the past.”
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