When the QuantumID Technologies (QID) subsidiary in India received a request from local customer, Kingfisher Airlines, to deploy its barcode-compatible, UHF radio frequency identification (RFID)–enabled cargo tracking solution at an additional 58 airport locations, QID knew it needed a more scalable business infrastructure. QID hosted the solution, called ACT, on-premises and stored transactional data in Microsoft SQL Server 2008, which was hosted offsite. To acquire the new work without paying for additional rack space, QID migrated its databases to the Microsoft SQL Azure cloud-based relational database service and its application to the Windows Azure platform. Windows Azure offers dynamic scalability, so QID can grow its business without worrying about physical infrastructure. It’s also saving 15 percent in operational costs and increasing application performance by 20 percent.
Headquartered in Cambridge, Massachusetts, QuantumID Technologies (QID) is an industrial hardware, software, and technical services company that offers barcode-compatible, UHF radio frequency identification (RFID)–enabled cargo tracking and management solutions. Its subsidiary, QuantumID Technologies (India) maintains a regional office in Pune, India, and five support centers around the country.
QID maintains its competitive advantage by delivering customized, enterprise mobility solutions based on industry-standard products that provide customers a fast return on investment.
The company’s business model, to develop and deliver customer-centered RFID-enabled solutions as a service, offers customers a way of avoiding investments in capital equipment and significantly reducing operating expenses.
For airline cargo and courier customers, QID offers Automated Cargo Tracking (ACT), a turnkey, closed-loop cargo and package tracking solution where customers are charged on a transactional basis depending on the weight of cargo. ACT enables easy cargo routing verification that covers the entire transportation supply chain, from pickup to drop-off. ACT provides support for warehouse operations, outbound and inbound airport operations, and pickup and delivery management. ACT uses RFID tags on the freight and fixed and mobile reader devices installed at up to 12 scan points along the route of a package. The application contains algorithms for transportation logistics with built-in alerts, including email messages that keep customers up-to-date on cargo movement and offer proactive decision-making capabilities to ensure deliveries arrive on schedule. The field devices transmit data to the company’s database servers, and customers can access real-time transit information and logistical reports from a web-based customer portal (Figure 1).
|Figure 1. The QID ACT enterprise mobility solution value chain is powered by Microsoft SQL Azure.|
The large amount of transactional data generated by ACT adds value to the solution and is a significant competitive advantage for QID, which offers customers more than the average number of scanning points between destinations. Data collected includes package information, way bills, and global positioning system coordinates. With thousands of packages moving through the system, ACT typically collects several megabytes of data every day. The data is archived for two years to enable robust business intelligence, historical reporting, and RFID systems performance analysis.
“One of the most important benefits that we bring to airlines is to provide them with an end-to-end RFID-enabled solution to start or enhance its cargo business growth,” says Milind Tavshikar, Chief Executive Officer of QuantumID Technologies. “Passenger airlines with ambitions to grow their cargo business are a great target market for us because they have already invested the requisite capital [airplanes] to run their passenger airline business and they have a far greater reach than traditional pure-play courier companies.”
A New Business Opportunity
One such company is Kingfisher Airlines, an airline group based in Mumbai, India. In 2008, it contracted with QID to deploy the ACT enterprise mobility solution at seven airports in India. “The ACT RFID solution brought many business benefits, helping Kingfisher Airlines to identify and track cargo, perform capacity planning, and minimize misrouting and pilferage,” says Prasanna Gogwekar, Head of QuantumID Technologies (India). Kingfisher Cargo moves hundreds of tons of cargo each day around the world by using ACT technologies. In a move to expand its air cargo business, in November 2010 Kingfisher Cargo offered QID a new contract to deploy ACT at an additional 58 airports throughout India. QID wanted to accommodate its customer’s request; however, it quickly became apparent that the company needed to make significant changes to its operations before it could scale reliably and cost-effectively to grow its business.
First Hosting Experience
Earlier, in 2008, QID made the decision to host its database servers at GoDaddy, an arrangement that successfully saw the business through its first few years. While QID IT staff members were responsible for everyday server administration, the company was at least absolved of purchasing hardware. “We didn’t want to rely on a home-grown hosted infrastructure for our databases because our customers require continual uptime, 365 days a year,” says Tavshikar. “GoDaddy was the only option available when we started, and they provided us with the reliability of the back-end system that we needed.”
||SQL Azure will take us a long way toward delivering better business intelligence capabilities to our customers.
Chief Executive Officer, QuantumID Technologies
However, QID realized the drawbacks of this solution when Kingfisher Cargo presented the opportunity to expand its contract. The hosting scenario at GoDaddy is tied to physical infrastructure, so it would incur significant upfront costs for QID to accommodate this latest business opportunity. Hardware takes time to set up and administer, and Kingfisher Cargo was anxious to get moving on the expansion. GoDaddy also charges its customers based on a specific number of machines for a fixed amount of time, with prices increasing in set increments that do not align with actual usage. “Suddenly, we saw how important it was to be able to dynamically scale our infrastructure without having to add additional servers,” says Tavshikar. “This is essential if we are to accommodate our customers’ growing businesses, or to add new customers.”
A Chance to Grow
QID needed to quickly find an alternative to GoDaddy. To boost agility and responsiveness, the company decided to investigate cloud computing and discovered there were many compelling reasons to take advantage of this latest computing paradigm—for both the ACT application itself and its databases. This time, QID was clear about its needs. If it wanted to run its application in the cloud, as well as store data, it needed a complete, cloud-based computing platform that would free IT staff from everyday infrastructure management so that the company could focus on core competencies—enriching the ACT application and cultivating new business.
QuantumID Technologies turned to a Microsoft cloud-computing solution. It took less than a month for QID to migrate its databases from GoDaddy to Microsoft SQL Azure and to re-architect ACT to run in Windows Azure. This was early proof of a new level of business agility that the company could ascribe directly to Microsoft cloud services. SQL Azure is a relational database service that is based on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 data management software. Windows Azure provides a Windows-based environment for running applications. Together, these components of the Windows Azure platform offer integrated cloud-computing services that QID can use for both its databases and its application.
“Windows Azure opened up a new way of doing business and set the stage for dynamic scalability for the company,” says Tavshikar. “We looked at Google, Amazon, and an AT&T hosted infrastructure, but Microsoft offered a more complete platform that combines computing services and data storage. Also, talking to customers, we found that many trusted the Microsoft name when it came to cloud-based services.”
QID also chose Microsoft because its own software is based on the Windows operating system. ACT was built by using the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.0 and the scanning devices run on both the Windows Mobile 6.5 operating system and Windows Embedded CE software. Data is stored in Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2. And, Windows Azure offers a pay-per-use pricing model that makes it easier for QID to predict the cost of its expanding operations.
Transitioning to the Cloud
IT staff streamlined the migration process to the cloud by using Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio to transition the database schema and all of the data from SQL Server to SQL Azure. “The migration effort was straightforward,” confirms John Eyemaro, Vice President of Corporate Development at QuantumID Technologies. “Microsoft was very proactive in providing us with support around some of our reporting requirements. While the company will include SQL Server Reporting Services in a later version of SQL Azure [as SQL Azure Reporting], that feature is not currently available. However, the Microsoft development team was very helpful in providing us with a workaround, so we have access to some of those reporting capabilities right now.”
||With SQL Azure, our data is safe and manageable. We can keep adding more customers without having to provision back-end servers, configure hard disks, or work with any kind of hardware layer.
Chief Executive Officer, QuantumID Technologies
QID migrated its production, development, and quality assurance databases to SQL Azure. The application accesses the production database and the customers are partitioned at the application level. “As we add more customers, we can easily make a copy of the production database in the live environment,” says Gogwekar. “With GoDaddy, we would have to buy additional server resources for each client we added to our business.”
To re-architect ACT, QID developers used the Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 Professional Edition development system with which they are familiar. They used specialized templates in Visual Studio to create the cloud application and designated a certain number of instances running either web roles or worker roles. Web roles accept incoming HTTP requests through Internet Information Services 7.0, and worker roles process these requests in the background. Each instance of a web role or a worker role runs in its own virtual machine. The division of workloads offers isolation and provides flexibility for developers to architect their application for maximum throughput in the cloud.
QID IT staff also took advantage of the compute emulator, a service provided by Window Azure that developers can use to create code and perform initial testing locally, before uploading the application to Windows Azure. At that point, QID developers simply have to upload an XML configuration file with instructions on how many web and worker roles are required. Then Windows Azure creates the required number of virtual machines and oversees their execution.
Breaking New Ground in the Airline Cargo Logistics Business
Today, Kingfisher Cargo is the first QID customer to take advantage of the ACT solution running in a cloud environment. The company is in the process of deploying the solution to 15 more airports, and is already moving an additional 2,500 cargo items across a network of 22 destinations at an average of 20,000 kilos a day. This is an increase in business for Kingfisher Cargo of 6 percent in less than two months. The company will be fully deployed at all 58 new locations by April 2011.
“The move to the cloud has improved our ability to serve Kingfisher Cargo’s needs,” says Gogwekar. “They gain more efficient data access over the ACT portal, and we can provide them with more web-based services.”
Because QID chose a Microsoft cloud solution, the move to Windows Azure is transparent to its customers, who continue to use the same user name and password to access their data on the customer-facing portal. Achieving a seamless transition means business carries on as usual, a critical advantage for this market sector as airlines cannot afford service interruptions for any reason.
In just one month, QuantumID Technologies used the Windows Azure platform to scale its application and take advantage of a business opportunity. Today, the company is operating on a new platform for growth that is already setting QID apart from its competitors. Not only has QID reduced costs and improved application performance, it has also created new opportunities for innovation. “This is the first time that a tracking solution of this scale is available anywhere in the world powered by a cloud platform,” says Tavshikar. “Windows Azure has set the stage for mega growth for QID.”
Scale Dynamically to Fuel Growth
SQL Azure and Windows Azure cloud-computing services offer a dynamic, scalable environment that QID can use to grow its business cost effectively and reliably. SQL Azure obviates the need to acquire and manage any physical infrastructure for the company’s databases. “Our business has a direct relationship with how well we can scale,” says Tavshikar. “With SQL Azure, our data is safe and manageable. We can keep adding more customers without having to provision back-end servers, configure hard disks, or work with any kind of hardware layer.”
||Microsoft is a leader in cloud services, and we’re expecting to see new capabilities added to the platform that our developers can use. This is the beginning of a new way of doing business at QID.
Chief Executive Officer, QuantumID Technologies
Now that ACT is running in a Microsoft cloud-computing environment, QID can easily accommodate changes in a customer’s requirements, such as Kingfisher Cargo’s request to deploy the solution at 58 additional airports. It can also provision new customers at a faster rate than previously possible. “Running ACT and its databases in the cloud is great because if we want to add more customers, all we have to do is change the parameters in the configuration file to reflect what we need,” explains Eyemaro. “Windows Azure takes care of all the rest. This way it’s much easier to set up new customers, each with their own instance of the application and data running in the cloud.”
As an added benefit, QID can save operational costs of at least 15 percent while growing its business. Unlike a traditional hosting scenario, QID doesn’t have to rent server hardware or data center space—two expenses that are guaranteed to grow as the business expands.
QID can also reduce costs because Windows Azure offers a more advantageous pricing model. Consumption-based pricing is more appropriate for a service-oriented company like QID that experiences fluctuations in demand. “Our revenue is based on the volume of cargo that goes through our system, and the Windows Azure business model is directly in line with that,” says Tavshikar. “Now we pay only for the computing resources we need. With GoDaddy, we had fixed prices for fixed levels of scale, and there were occasions where we paid for resources that weren’t necessary.”
QID can now control its costs at a finer level, passing any savings on to its customers to maintain competitive prices. This is especially important in emerging markets. “In India, people are used to outdated legacy systems and they are very price conscious,” says Gogwekar. “With Windows Azure, we can offer customers access to the latest technologies at a very competitive price point. It’s a great advantage.”
Improve Application Performance
QID customers require 100 percent application uptime to keep their cargo moving according to tight schedules and to adhere to their strict service level agreements. With Windows Azure, ACT and its data are hosted in security-enhanced, geo-redundant Microsoft data centers. “From our customers’ standpoint, reliability is key,” confirms Tavshikar. “The Windows Azure approach, with servers across the globe and the uptime of 99.9 percent is reassuring. Since migrating our application from an on-premises solution to the cloud, we have experienced 20 percent improvement in uptime.”
At the same time, QID has also noticed an increase in throughput for ACT. “There’s definitely a difference in the bandwidth we could offer on-premises compared to what is available in a Microsoft data center,” says Gogwekar. “We have experienced an increase in throughput of 10 percent at the minimum and sometimes more during peak hours.”
Innovate to Improve Customer Service
QID developers can use SQL Azure and the Windows Azure platform to build new functionality into ACT and deliver better customer service. And because IT staff members no longer spend as much time on everyday infrastructure management, they can devote more time to building new features into their product to better serve customers.
“SQL Azure will take us a long way toward delivering better business intelligence capabilities to our customers,” concludes Tavshikar. “The data that we generate and store in SQL Azure is a valuable business asset, and the more we can take advantage of SQL Server Reporting Services to drive an understanding of how we are performing and how we can help our customers improve their service level agreements, the better. Microsoft is a leader in cloud services, and we’re expecting to see new capabilities added to the platform that our developers can use. This is the beginning of a new way of doing business at QID.”
Windows Azure Platform
The Windows Azure platform provides an excellent foundation for expanding online product and service offerings. The main components include:
• 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. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, and bandwidth, and a content distribution network to host, scale, and manage web applications on the Internet through Microsoft data centers.
• 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.
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For More Information
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For more information about QuantumID Technologies products and services for India call 91 20 400 39501. For the United States and international offices, call (617) 401-2111 or (617) 401-2131 or visit the website at: