Dot Net Solutions is a software development house that engineers solutions using Microsoft technologies. In 2009, the company began cultivating business opportunities using the Windows Azure platform. Since then, it has worked on 15 projects that take advantage of Microsoft cloud services. For one project, Dot Net Solutions developed a loyalty program for a retailer with more than 2,400 stores in 63 countries. Within six months, the company launched a sophisticated hybrid solution that integrates Windows Azure platform technologies with the customer’s on-premises infrastructure. This customer, like many other Dot Net Solutions customers, was seeking to innovate without making large, up-front investments. The company now benefits from increased business opportunities, interoperable technology, increased revenues, reduced costs for customers, and familiar development tools.Situation
Headquartered in Windsor, England, Dot Net Solutions
is a member of the Microsoft Partner Network that has been delivering development solutions since 2004. It has 15 employees and more than 50 customers, many of which are in the retail and utilities industries. It works with enterprise organizations, startup companies, and midsize customers.
“We’re a systems integrator and a software development house,” says Dan Scarfe, Chief Executive Officer at Dot Net Solutions. “We build tailored solutions for organizations when there are no off-the-shelf solutions available. We help organizations unlock the competitive advantage of their information systems.”
||Developing for the cloud allows us to compete more effectively. We can leverage economies of scale and match supply and demand.
Chief Executive Officer, Dot Net Solutions
Dot Net Solutions cultivates business opportunities by using the capabilities of the Windows Azure platform
. Developers can use Windows Azure to host, scale, and manage applications on the Internet through Microsoft data centers. The company started developing for the cloud in September 2008, even before Microsoft released the Windows Azure platform. Dot Net Solutions built one of the platform’s first applications, the Wikipedia Explorer, a tool for visualizing relationships between documents in Wikipedia. This process requires immense quantities of compute power for short periods of time—a classic cloud scenario. The application is still showcased as a demonstration of the power of the Windows Azure platform
Since then, Dot Net Solutions has worked on 15 projects that take advantage of the Windows Azure platform. In some instances, the company takes an application that it built on the Microsoft .NET Framework—software that provides a comprehensive programming model and set of application programming interfaces for building applications and services—and migrates it to the Windows Azure platform. In other instances, Dot Net Solutions develops a solution from the ground up by using technologies in the Windows Azure platform and then launches it in the cloud.
The company sees a significant opportunity with cloud technology to expand its offerings by delivering complete lifecycle management services. Its customers are drawn to the capabilities of the Windows Azure platform to provide an agile infrastructure that reduces the administrative and maintenance work involved in managing solutions. “We’re developers, not infrastructure engineers,” says Scarfe. “By taking advantage of the Windows Azure platform, we can deliver hosting and automated management, where before, we would have had to work with a separate hosting partner. As a business, we can provide a much more holistic service.”
Dot Net Solutions recognizes that it can use the Windows Azure technology platform, which delivers computing resources as services over the Internet, to expand business opportunities, explore new revenue models, and help customers reduce costs. The company employs its core competency as a development house with expertise in Microsoft technologies to make it easier to engineer, deploy, and manage solutions for a broad range of customers.
At least half of the projects that Dot Net Solutions works on are solutions that employ the Windows Azure platform. Its customers have a variety of reasons for choosing to deploy solutions in the cloud, but all of them are seeking to expand into new markets. “By using the Windows Azure platform, our customers can launch new products and services with less risk,” Scarfe says.
A Retail Solution
One Dot Net Solutions customer is a global retailer with more than 2,400 stores in 63 countries. The retailer needed to change its loyalty program, which has 17 million subscribers, to generate greater incremental revenue. Only three employees oversee the retailer’s customer relationship management program, which uses an on-premises server environment that is based on the Oracle Siebel platform. The retailer wanted to avoid taking on any additional infrastructure management.
||Many retailers could benefit from a cloud computing strategy, which helps them to improve revenue by enabling a constant dialog with the consumer. They can capture mindshare and deliver the value proposition throughout the purchase decision lifecycle.
Chief Executive Officer, Dot Net Solutions
Dot Net Solutions recommended that the retailer adopt a hybrid model that combined cloud capabilities with its existing on-premises infrastructure. The retailer could host the customer-facing portal and point-of-sale screen in the cloud, and the data would synchronize to the retailer’s on-premises servers. “If it weren’t for the capabilities of the Windows Azure platform, we wouldn’t have been able to manage a global solution for this retailer,” says Scarfe. “We would have had to manage relationships with hosting organizations around the world, and that’s not our business model.”
Starting in June 2010, Dot Net Solutions began creating an end-to-end solution for the retailer that comprised a number of components of the Windows Azure platform. The company built the loyalty program solution by using Windows Azure, the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, bandwidth, content delivery, middleware, and marketplace capabilities to build, host, and scale web applications through Microsoft data centers
In November 2010, the loyalty program solution went into production in a pilot program in which the system was live in two countries. The retailer had hoped that business rationale could be determined within nine months, but the loyalty program was so successful that it took only 12 weeks to justify the investment. Soon after, the retailer began deploying the customer loyalty program across its global network of outlets.
Dot Net Solutions demonstrated to the retailer that it could use the Windows Azure platform to get the necessary computing and storage capacity, seamless integration with its on-premises environment, and the ability to deploy a solution at scale without placing additional burdens of maintenance and management on its IT professionals. “Many retailers could benefit from a cloud computing strategy, which helps them to improve revenue by enabling a constant dialog with the consumer,” says Scarfe. “They can capture mindshare and deliver the value proposition throughout the purchase decision lifecycle.”
A Sponsorship Service
Some Dot Net Solutions customers are implementing solutions on the Windows Azure platform to explore business models quickly without the need for large, up-front investments. For example, the company built a sponsorship service in the cloud for a startup. Museums and art galleries use this free service to invite patrons to sponsor well-known artworks. The startup earns revenue by taking a percentage of each transaction. By deploying in the cloud, it can manage risk and test the efficacy of the service.
A Social Gaming Platform
Some customers just need a reliable platform that is highly scalable so they can innovate. For example, a specialist social gaming company sought the help of Dot Net Solutions to build a turnkey social gaming solution that runs in the cloud and enables its customers to launch their own games on a variety of platforms. The solution needed to be robust enough to support a social game built for one of the top television shows in the United Kingdom.
Dot Net Solutions developed the solution—which can support millions of users—by using a broad range of technologies available through the Windows Azure platform. “The gaming solution makes it possible to socialize products and services on a massive scale
,” says Scarfe. “Before the cloud was available, it simply wouldn’t have made sense to launch the solution because of the high cost of building and managing an on-premises infrastructure. The Windows Azure platform changes the game.”
A Customer Relationship Management Application
Dot Net Solutions also has customers who want to reach more customers by migrating to the cloud a stand-alone solution that has historically been delivered by using an on-premises deployment model. For example, the company helped an independent software vendor (ISV) launch its existing customer relationship management application on the Windows Azure platform. The ISV wanted to make its application available in a highly secure fashion to a network of small financial services businesses that lacked the infrastructure to host the solution. It took Dot Net Solutions only six weeks to change the single-tenant application into a multitenant solution that works on the Windows Azure platform
. Launching the application in the cloud more than tripled the ISV’s market opportunities. “It would have been logistically impossible and cost-prohibitive to deploy an on-premises solution to every business in the network—even though the software improves staff productivity by 30 percent,” says Ciaran Cosgrave, Business Development Director at Dot Net Solutions. “By using the Windows Azure platform, we could roll it out to all of them in a short period of time. It’s transformational.”
Transition to a New Business Model
Dot Net Solutions is moving toward a business model in which it bundles all the stages of an IT project—including design, build, support, and hosting—and charges a monthly fee over the contract period. By taking this approach, the company can be more creative in how it charges for its core capabilities: development work and feature enhancement. “We’re experimenting with a flat-fee model for Windows Azure platform projects, which is attractive to our customers,” says Cosgrave. “This business model encourages organizations to engage with us as an end-to-end supplier.”
||If you look across the cloud landscape, the big differentiator for the Windows Azure platform is its ability to interoperate with other technologies. We … can consolidate environments and coding languages to run on one common platform. That’s a big advantage.
Chief Executive Officer, Dot Net Solutions
For example, instead of paying significant up-front costs for Dot Net Solutions to build a custom application, customers can pay a monthly fee over five years. “With the advent of the Windows Azure platform, it’s much easier for us to tap into a predictable revenue stream,” says Cosgrave. “Because Microsoft is hosting the infrastructure, customers are willing to turn over application support and monitoring to us. This kind of economic model takes us in the direction we want to go.”
By centering its business model on the Windows Azure platform, Dot Net Solutions has been able to change the conversation during its business development efforts. “We’re no longer talking about features and functionality,” says Scarfe. “We can now have a more business-centric conversation about things like innovation, global deployment, and reduced costs.”
Dot Net Solutions is developing a reputation for delivering world-class, end-to-end cloud solutions for sectors including games, retail, and media. “We’re beginning to see opportunities in vertical markets that are more likely to adopt cloud solutions,” says Scarfe. “By deploying solutions on the Windows Azure platform, organizations can address their business problems. For example, a business can tap into a global infrastructure in an afternoon. As more people begin to understand what can be done, opportunities will increase.”
Every employee at Dot Net Solutions is engaged in working on projects that use the Windows Azure platform. The staff required very little training to accommodate the transition to the cloud. “There’s not much difference between building a Windows Azure application and building a traditional on-premises application,” says Scarfe. “We use the same programming language, the same development tools, and the same architecture
To host their applications on the Windows Azure platform, most Dot Net Solutions customers choose pay-as-you-go pricing
through Microsoft. This means they pay only for the compute power needed to run their applications in the cloud. For customers who anticipate a steady load on their applications, Dot Net Solutions offers quarterly pricing that covers hosting, support, and monitoring. The company avoids charging for routine management and maintenance of the infrastructure. Dot Net Solutions estimates that only 5 to 10 percent of overall project costs are allotted to infrastructure management.
“Developing for the cloud allows us to compete more effectively,” says Scarfe. “We can leverage economies of scale and match supply and demand. Our entire growth strategy over the next three to five years is pinned to the Windows Azure platform.”
Dot Net Solutions and its customers benefit from the increased business opportunities available with the Windows Azure platform—opportunities that are further expanded by the interoperability of the platform’s technology
. Business in the cloud is good business because it reduces capital costs and encourages risk, significantly improving the potential for Dot Net Solutions to grow revenues. The company’s developers gain the advantage of working with familiar and highly sophisticated development tools.
“Our transition to the cloud has been the best investment we’ve ever made,” says Scarfe. “Our proven expertise with Windows Azure has put us in high demand and opened doors to customers we could have never worked with before.”
New Business Opportunities
By taking advantage of the technologies made available with the Windows Azure platform, Dot Net Solutions customers can avoid substantial investments in on-premises infrastructure while developing innovative solutions
. In the case of the loyalty program solution, the retailer has dramatically raised brand awareness—and it got its solution working in less than half the time that would have been required if it had to procure and manage an infrastructure.
“The real benefit for the retailer is that it was able to deliver the loyalty program successfully,” says Scarfe. “It is literally a binary thing. If it wasn’t for the Windows Azure platform, it would never have gotten off the ground. We talk about ‘scale fast or fail fast’ for startups, but it’s exactly the same for enterprise customers looking to launch new products. Once you’ve proven the business case, it’s much easier to unlock the funding to build out a solution.”
By specializing in cloud-based development, Dot Net Solutions has increased sales by 50 percent and positioned itself to capitalize on the fact that businesses of all sizes can now take risks in deploying highly scalable solutions that demand a lot of compute power. Because Microsoft hosts and manages the cloud infrastructure, the company can develop solutions it couldn’t develop before. “By engineering solutions using the Windows Azure platform, we move up the value chain,” says Scarfe.
Use of an Interoperable Technology
Dot Net Solutions customers benefit from the fact that the Windows Azure platform is interoperable with a variety of technologies. For example, the platform’s capabilities remove the complexities of working with firewalls, virtual private networks, and other traditional networking infrastructures. This interoperability is what made it possible for the retailer to adopt a hybrid cloud solution that integrated with its on-premises infrastructure.
“If you look across the cloud landscape, the big differentiator for the Windows Azure platform is its ability to interoperate with other technologies,” says Scarfe. “We work with enterprise customers that use many different technologies. They can consolidate environments and coding languages to run on one common platform. That’s a big advantage.”
Increased Revenues for the Partner
By developing solutions for the Windows Azure platform and expanding its services to encompass design, build, support, and hosting, Dot Net Solutions has created new revenue streams and doubled its margins. It can create and manage scalable applications from inception to support. “By using the Windows Azure platform, we provide better value to customers,” says Scarfe. “We can do what we do best and leverage the automated service management available with the Windows Azure platform to deliver global solutions.”
The company reports that half of its current revenues are from cloud-based development projects. It forecasts that it can expand 20 percent annually by developing solutions for the Windows Azure platform.
Reduced Costs for Customers
Instead of needing to make huge investments in on-premises infrastructure, Dot Net Solutions customers can deploy solutions in the cloud and take advantage of a pay-as-you-go pricing model or predictable monthly payments
. “Customers save tens of thousands of pounds by avoiding investments in on-premises infrastructure,” says Scarfe.
Another big savings for cloud customers lies in application lifecycle management. Before the cloud platform was available, engineers needing to update software would have to log on to every server, typically in the middle of the night to avoid disrupting users. The automated service management of the Windows Azure platform removes that challenge. It is now possible to deploy new code from staging environments in seconds.
In addition, customers can take advantage of the highly available and fault-tolerant infrastructure of the Windows Azure platform and avoid the costs of disaster recovery preparations.
“Cloud-based solutions are substantially cheaper to build and maintain than traditional hosting or on-premises deployments,” says Scarfe. “We now are able to offer an agile infrastructure, and we pass on the efficiencies and advantages to our customers.”
Familiar Development Environment
Dot Net Solutions has developed applications by using the .NET Framework since its inception, and its development team made a seamless transition into building solutions for the Windows Azure platform. “Our whole team is up-to-speed on engineering for the Windows Azure platform,” says Scarfe. “It is a dream for them. Everyone loves it.”
Windows Azure Platform
The Windows Azure platform provides developers the functionality to build applications that span from consumer to enterprise scenarios. The key components of the Windows Azure platform are:
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, storage, bandwidth, content delivery, middleware, and marketplace capabilities to build, host, and scale web applications through Microsoft data centers.
Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure is a self-managed, multitenant relational cloud database service built on Microsoft SQL Server technologies. It provides built-in high availability, fault tolerance, and scale-out database capabilities, as well as cloud-based data synchronization and reporting, to build customer enterprise and web applications and extend the reach of data assets.
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