4-page Case Study
Posted: 1/3/2011
588
Rate This Evidence:

MarginPro Software Company Reduces IT Maintenance and Supports More Revenue with Cloud Services

MarginPro develops loan pricing and profitability software to help community banks and credit unions find the most profitable loan structure for borrowers. The company developed its proprietary MarginPro software from the beginning to run in a cloud-computing environment, and previously used a third-party provider to host its virtual application servers. However, employees at MarginPro were distracted by IT maintenance tasks and had to mitigate service interruptions during new deployments. So, in May 2010, MarginPro migrated to the Windows Azure platform for hosting and compute processing, including Microsoft SQL Azure for its relational database needs. Now the company enjoys quick and easy scalability, uptime during deployments, and a SAS 70 Type II-compliant infrastructure that customers trust. Plus, MarginPro can better focus on its core competencies and growing a successful business.

Situation
Founded in 2009, MarginPro develops loan deposit pricing and profitability management software for bank lenders. The company’s namesake software simplifies for lenders the complicated process of analyzing loan structures to determine the profitability of a loan, taking into account risk, level of provision for risks, and how much capital to put against the risk. Even more critical in a turbulent economic climate, MarginPro takes the guesswork out of loan profitability to help lenders quickly and easily find a loan structure that offers maximum value to both the bank and the borrower.

As a young startup company, MarginPro runs lean operations. Only 10 employees support its customers—banks based in the United States and with assets that range from U.S.$50 million to $185 billion. Therefore, the company strives to dedicate all of its personnel resources to delivering value-added services to its customers and enhancing its unique software solution.

*
* By using Windows Azure and relying on what Microsoft does best, we can grow our business … and focus on our core competencies, which, in turn, helps our customers focus on their own business. *

Carl Ryden
Chief Technology Officer, MarginPro

*
MarginPro software was developed from its inception to run in a cloud computing environment. The company chose this model to meet three primary business needs: security, lower costs, and scalability.

First, because MarginPro serves the banking industry, its service must run in a certifiably secure environment; specifically, its customers require that MarginPro run in a SAS 70 Type II-compliant data center.

Second, the company wanted the easier scalability of the cloud compared to an on-premises server infrastructure. Because it serves banks all over the United States, and because the vast majority of bankers work only during core business hours, MarginPro needed a solution that it could easily scale up to increase computing and storage resources between 6:00 A.M. and 6:00 P.M. on weekdays. At the same time, it needed the ability to scale down the solution during the night and on weekends to avoid under-utilizing computing and storage resources it paid for.

Third, MarginPro chose a cloud-based infrastructure to avoid exorbitant costs for on-premises servers. “In order for us to build our own certifiably secure data center, the cost would have been so high that it would have been a barrier for us to even start MarginPro,” explains Carl Ryden, Chief Technology Officer for MarginPro. “We wouldn’t exist without the cloud.”

Previously, MarginPro used a hybrid server infrastructure that comprised both cloud-based and on-premises servers. It used an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) by hosting its application servers and one failover database on virtual machines with third-party hosting provider GoGrid. It also used one on-premises database server running Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 data management software for input/output (I/O) needs. The hybrid model was an acceptable solution for MarginPro—the company could theoretically scale up easier than with an on-premises solution and could offer customers the security of a SAS 70 Type II-compliant data center with GoGrid. Plus, the company avoided many of the capital costs associated with an infrastructure that was completely on-premises.

However, despite the benefits that MarginPro realized with an IaaS model, the company still spent considerable time managing and maintaining the virtual machines in its hosted environment. “It was a constant distraction to update, manage, and maintain the virtual server infrastructure,” says Ryden. “I spent anywhere from 5 to 50 percent of my day on server administration tasks, and that’s not what our customers pay me to do. Any task that pulls my attention away from delivering value-added services to our customers is something that we want to address.”

In addition, deploying new features or making server updates resulted in service downtime for MarginPro. Though the company uses an automated build process, each update took up to 10 minutes, during which the system was unavailable. “We can minimize the impact of scheduled downtime by making updates late at night when most of our customers are not working,” says Ryden. “In reality, no matter how much you mitigate the impact of downtime, any amount of downtime is unacceptable.”

Solution
To address its need for a platform that could be updated without downtime, and one that wouldn’t require significant maintenance and management but would still be scalable and security-enhanced, MarginPro decided to migrate its service to the Windows Azure platform. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. It provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, and bandwidth, and a content distribution network to host, scale, and manage web applications through Microsoft data centers, which have SAS 70 Type II certifications.

*
* Being able to process loan data in parallel is made possible because of Windows Azure. We can scale up quickly and have the computing power when we need it and for as long as we need it, without setting up permanently allocated machines. *

Carl Ryden
Chief Technology Officer, MarginPro

*
MarginPro started the migration in May 2010, and it took just one week’s worth of effort to migrate the application from a hybrid infrastructure, which used a third-party hoster in combination with on-premises services, to the Windows Azure platform. The company now has more than 70 banks using the solution on the Windows Azure platform, and continues to add new customers each month.

Developed using the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 development system and C# programming language, and built on Microsoft .NET Framework 4 and Microsoft ASP.NET MVC 2, MarginPro is a web-based application that uses the Microsoft Silverlight 4 browser plug-in and is hosted in web roles in Windows Azure. MarginPro also uses worker roles and Queue service in Windows Azure for complex computing processes and for facilitating the integration between a bank’s core transactional systems and MarginPro.

For each opportunity that a lender works on, there are multiple scenarios, and each scenario may contain any number of loans, deposits, and other criteria. All of this data for each opportunity is highly relational and requires a robust database store. To move its data to the cloud, MarginPro easily migrated from SQL Server 2008 to Microsoft SQL Azure for its relational database needs. SQL Azure offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on SQL Server 2008 technologies; and, like Windows Azure, SQL Azure is hosted on the Internet in Microsoft data centers. MarginPro deployed SQL Azure in a multitenant environment, ensuring that each customer’s data is isolated from one another.

MarginPro uses Table storage in Windows Azure to augment its SQL Azure database. In a unique application of Table storage, MarginPro uses the storage service to cache the relational data that it stores in SQL Azure. When a new customer loads information into SQL Azure during setup, MarginPro serializes that data through the Windows Communication Foundation service, and populates that data to Table storage. Then, each time a customer calls that data from the web-based application, the data is pulled from the cache in Table storage, avoiding high volumes of calls to the database. “Because we use large volumes of highly relational data, constant calls to a database can be expensive, no matter what infrastructure you use,” explains Ryden. “Table storage in Windows Azure gives us the ability to avoid those expensive database calls.” The company also takes advantage of Blob storage in Windows Azure for storing binary data, such as loan documents, that customers upload to the application.

When the company wants to deploy new updates for the MarginPro software, it uses a one-click method that takes advantage of the Microsoft Build Engine (MSBuild), the build platform for Visual Studio. Build tasks are serialized to Queue service in Windows Azure and then picked up by a worker role to carry out the build process. Unlike before, where the company would have to take down its virtual servers to deploy new updates, MarginPro can now create new Windows Azure instances and deploy the application updates in the background. Once the deployment is complete, the company can simply turn off the Windows Azure instances that ran the previous application version and turn on the instances with the latest build for a seamless, uninterrupted update.

Benefits
By migrating to the Windows Azure platform from a third-party hosting provider, MarginPro improved its ability to quickly scale up and scale down as demand dictates and eliminated up to 15 minutes of downtime each time the company deploys a software update. The company also has a certified, security-enhanced infrastructure backed by Microsoft—a trusted name that MarginPro customers rely on. Even more, MarginPro no longer has to worry about spending time on infrastructure maintenance and can devote that time to developing world-class loan pricing and profitability software for its customers.

Improved Ability to Quickly Scale Up and Down
As a result of using the Windows Azure platform, MarginPro improved its ability to scale up and scale down. “We were able to scale up with our previous hosted solution, but the level of scalability we get with Windows Azure far surpasses what we could do before,” says Ryden. Whereas previously, the company had to configure and deploy enough virtual servers to handle peak traffic, which would then sit idle at night and on the weekend, MarginPro can now dynamically scale up and down with only a couple of clicks—creating and deleting new instances as demand dictates.

*
* Table storage in Windows Azure gives us the ability to avoid … expensive database calls. *

Carl Ryden
Chief Technology Officer, MarginPro

*
For instance, MarginPro updates the value of customers’ core system accounts each day. This update takes significant computing resources because it involves processing the data from up to 10,000 loans. Before implementing Windows Azure, MarginPro had to process the data sequentially on permanently allocated virtual machines. Now, the company can create an instance for each customer and process loan data in parallel. “Being able to process loan data in parallel is made possible because of Windows Azure,” explains Ryden. “We can scale up quickly and have the computing power when we need it and for as long as we need it, without setting up permanently allocated machines.”

Eliminated Downtime During Updates
In addition, MarginPro has eliminated the need to schedule up to 15 minutes of downtime when deploying updates. Instead of taking down virtual servers at a third-party hoster every time the company wants to release an update or new feature, it can quickly create a new instance and automatically deploy the update in the background. “By using Windows Azure, we can just flip a switch and go live with a new deployment without any downtime,” says Ryden. “We mitigated our downtime as much as possible by deploying updates late at night when most bankers aren’t working, but downtime is downtime—any is unacceptable—and with Windows Azure, it’s not an issue anymore.”

Enhanced Security with a Reliable Infrastructure
Because MarginPro serves banks that operate in a regulated environment, the company must run its software on a certifiably secure infrastructure. As with its previous infrastructure service, MarginPro has, with the Windows Azure platform, the SAS 70 Type II-compliant infrastructure that customers require.

In addition, MarginPro relies on the brand recognition and commitment to security that Microsoft offers. “With our previous hoster, customers required us to provide them with proof of certification,” explains Ryden, “But now, when we tell customers that their data is stored in a Microsoft data center, they know that their data is safe—it’s a name that customers, even in a highly regulated industry, trust.”

Shifted Focus from Maintenance Tasks to Value-Added Tasks
MarginPro knows that a key component of its success is the ability to stay focused on its core business and not be distracted by time-consuming infrastructure maintenance tasks. By using the Windows Azure platform, the company does not have to worry about configuring, maintaining, and managing virtual servers hosted by a third-party provider—tasks that used to consume up to 50 percent of Ryden’s time—and can instead rely on Microsoft to manage the infrastructure. In fact, for about the same cost as the company paid for hosting its solution in the past, U.S.$1,500 each month, MarginPro can now service $5 to $10 million in revenue—10 times the amount of revenue it could service previously. “Our customers pay us to be worldwide experts in loan pricing and profitability, not to be experts in managing infrastructure,” says Ryden. “By using Windows Azure and relying on what Microsoft does best, we can grow our business with the same amount of resources and better focus on our core competencies, which, in turn, helps our customers focus on their own business.”

Windows Azure Platform
The Windows Azure platform provides an excellent foundation for expanding online product and service offerings. The main components include:

Windows Azure. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. It provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage web applications on the Internet through Microsoft data centers.

Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on Microsoft SQL Server technologies.

Windows Azure AppFabric. With Windows Azure AppFabric, developers can build and manage applications more easily both on-premises and in the cloud.

−   AppFabric Service Bus connects services and applications across network boundaries to help developers build distributed applications.

−   AppFabric Access Control provides federated, claims-based access control for REST web services.

Windows Azure Marketplace DataMarket. Developers and information workers can use the new service DataMarket to easily discover, purchase, and manage premium data
subscriptions in the Windows Azure platform.

To learn more, visit:
www.microsoft.com/windowsazure
www.sqlazure.com

For More Information
For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:
www.microsoft.com

For more information about MarginPro products and services, call (877) 506-2744 or visit the website at:
www.marginpro.com

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 10 employees

Organization Profile

Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, MarginPro helps banks to increase net interest margin with its loan pricing and profitability software. MarginPro was founded in 2009 and has 10 employees.


Business Situation

Using a third-party hosting service for its server infrastructure, MarginPro was distracted by time-consuming maintenance tasks and faced with downtime each time it wanted to update its application.


Solution

MarginPro migrated its service, which uses the Microsoft Silverlight 4 browser plug-in, to the Windows Azure platform, taking advantage of Microsoft SQL Azure and Windows Azure storage services.


Benefits

  • Scales up and down with ease
  • Eliminates downtime—15 minutes per update
  • Relies on a security-enhanced data center
  • Frees staff to focus on core business


Software and Services
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Microsoft Visual Studio 2010
  • Microsoft Silverlight 4
  • Microsoft SQL Azure
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 4
  • Microsoft ASP.NET MVC 2
  • Windows Communication Foundation

Vertical Industries
  • Architecture, Engineering & Construction
  • Financial Services

Country/Region
United States

Business Need
Cloud & Server Platform

Languages
English

RSS