4-page Case Study
Posted: 4/30/2010
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Aderant Law Firm Business Management Suite Gets Even Better with Windows Server AppFabric

ADERANT, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, is a leading provider of integrated business management software for law firms and other professional services organizations. Users of ADERANT products include eight of the top 20 US law firms and the largest 45 of the Top 100 global law firms. As the company created the next-generation version of its flagship application suite, ADERANT Expert, it wanted to use a service-oriented architecture, but needed an application server for hosting the services. ADERANT is using Windows Server AppFabric, a set of integrated technologies for building, hosting, and managing composite applications. The company is creating its services and workflows using Windows Communication Foundation and Windows Workflow Foundation. ADERANT credits AppFabric with reducing development time, providing workflow visibility with built-in monitoring, and enhancing scalability.

Situation

Many of the largest law firms in the world depend on ADERANT Expert, a suite of integrated business management applications created by ADERANT, a software developer based in Atlanta, Georgia that operates around the world. The company’s comprehensive

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* For ADERANT, using AppFabric was an easy decision. We needed a services-hosting framework that easily scaled, delivered advanced monitoring, and was simple for our customers to deploy. *

Michael Barry
Senior Vice President, ADERANT

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solution suite includes financial, practice, information, and performance management software that helps law firms of all sizes to maximize profitability.

ADERANT’s clients include eight of the top 20 US law firms, 40 of the AmLaw 100 law firms, and 72 of the AmLaw 200 law firms. The company’s products are also used by five of the top 10 Canadian law firms, and 45 of the Top 100 global law firms, including 22 of the Top 100 UK law firms, and nine of the Top 10 Australian law firms. Within accounting, ADERANT points to its products being used by three of the "Big Four" accounting firms in the United States, and five of the world's top ten accounting firms.

ADERANT Expert is an integrated, comprehensive solution that enables law firms to improve information visibility and access, boost productivity and billable hours, and increase profitability. Capabilities include new business intake, practice management, time and billing, financial management, business intelligence, performance management, and more.

Customizability and workflow have always been foundational elements of ADERANT Expert, enabling the streamlining of business processes throughout an organization to reduce risks and increase professional productivity, while improving client satisfaction and maximizing profitability.

Anticipating future needs of the industry, ADERANT, which has 250 employees, determined it was time to create a next-generation version of ADERANT Expert using a service-oriented architecture (SOA). The challenge was to surpass the widely popular functionality of its existing product suite.

“We are rebuilding our extremely successful ADERANT Expert suite to give it an entirely new, next-generation technical framework,” says William Davis, Director of Engineering at ADERANT. “The existing product has thousands of screens, and is very well established in the market, so creating the next generation of ADERANT Expert is a major development project.”

ADERANT chose an SOA approach because of the flexibility it has found in creating workflow services. But at the onset of the project a major question was whether the company would have to create its own application server to host the workflow and other services it was creating for the next generation of ADERANT Expert.

Solution

ADERANT found the services hosting solution it required by using Windows Server AppFabric, a set of integrated technologies for building, hosting, and managing composite applications that span both server and Internet-based, or cloud, deployments. Windows

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* We are rebuilding our extremely successful ADERANT Expert suite to give it an entirely new, next-generation technical framework. *

William Davis
Director of Engineering, ADERANT

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Server AppFabric answered other ADERANT needs, including support for scalability and providing built-in monitoring technology.

“For ADERANT, using AppFabric was an easy decision,” says Michael Barry, Senior Vice President at ADERANT. “AppFabric allows us to deliver these enterprise level requirements, including disaster recovery capabilities, to our customers, with advanced technology that will be much more standard than if we had spent the many man years required to build a proprietary SOA framework.”

The company is creating its middleware services and workflows using Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), an application programming interface in the Microsoft .NET Framework for building connected, SOA applications; and Windows Workflow Foundation (WF), a Microsoft technology for defining, executing, and managing workflows. Application development is performed using Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 and the Microsoft .NET Framework 4.0. The .NET Framework is an integral component of the Windows Server operating system that provides a programming model and runtime for Web services and Web applications.

“The Windows Communication Foundation and Workflow Foundation are both highly declarative, which makes it easy for us to customize solutions to meet specific needs by simply changing configuration files rather than having to rewrite code,” says Stefan Sewell, Architect at ADERANT. “This gives our new solution tremendous flexibility which translates into great benefits for our customers.”

The SOA solution ADERANT is creating has a number of design elements, including:

Services hosting. The next-generation of ADERANT Expert is being created as a set of services. AppFabric Hosting Services enhances the hosting of WCF and WF services and workflows in the Windows Process Activation Service (WAS) by providing a number of capabilities, including simplified deployment and management of WCF and WF services hosted in WAS, simplified configuration of persistence for durable workflows, and customizable monitoring of hosted services.

Application monitoring. Monitoring is critical to ADERANT’s next-generation application suite. While the company’s existing product includes monitoring systems created internally by ADERANT, the company is eager to take advantage of the monitoring capabilities

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* We want precision monitoring, to give our customers a deeper look into workflows. Our support organization also benefits from the deeper view into processes. *

William Davis
Director of Engineering, ADERANT

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built into AppFabric Hosting Services, which captures tracing information emitted at runtime and stores it in the monitoring database. Once captured, this information is then available in the Dashboard feature in the Windows Internet Information Services (IIS) 7.0 Management console, or directly from the monitoring database. “We want precision monitoring, to give our customers a deeper look into workflows,” Davis says. “Our support organization also benefits from the deeper view into processes.”

Scalability. Scalability can be achieved by simply adding more computers on demand. Previously, users could scale up—that is, add more processors or memory to the hosting computer. With AppFabric, ADERANT customers can scale out by simply adding more AppFabric servers to support workflow while also gaining the benefit of failover high availability. AppFabric also allows for copies of data to be stored across a cluster, protecting data against failures. If one node is lost, the data is available from the remaining nodes in the cluster.

Persistence. To simplify the configuration of workflow persistence and to support server-farm configurations, AppFabric Hosting Services provides a SQL Server-based persistence store and a SQL Server persistence provider that can be leveraged by any durable workflow hosted within WAS. Persistence is important to ADERANT because many of the workflows require human responses, meaning that state persistence may need to be retained for hours or days or more, as compared to the near-instantaneous responses that can come from machine-to-machine service interactions.

Data storage. The next-generation of ADERANT Expert is supported using SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise (64-bit) running on the Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise for 64-Bit Systems operating system. The solution will use SQL Server for a number of data stores, including persistence databases, statistics databases, and line-of-business databases.

Benefits

ADERANT found the services hosting solution it required with Windows Server AppFabric. The company is enjoying faster development using AppFabric, WCF, WF, and other Microsoft technologies. ADERANT credits Windows Server AppFabric with

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* The persistence database supported by AppFabric Hosting Services took care of state persistence for long-running workflows, and we were freed from having to create our own plumbing software. *

Stefan Sewell
Architect, ADERANT

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providing greater visibility with monitoring as well as enhanced scalability. The company has also gained easier deployment by using Windows PowerShell.

Services Hosting Solution
While ADERANT developers were capable of creating a services-hosting solution, the company had no interest in investing in this type of low-level foundational code. “We never wanted to own the workflow hosting server,” Davis says. “This was just background plumbing that we needed to support our application suite. We are delighted that Microsoft created this services-hosting solution and will maintain and evolve the code so we don’t have to.”

ADERANT also benefits from the ability of Windows Server AppFabric to handle state management when dealing with long-running workflows. “The persistence database supported by AppFabric Hosting Services took care of state persistence for long-running workflows, and we were freed from having to create our own plumbing software,” says Sewell.

Using Windows Server AppFabric produces a less complex solution. “AppFabric has made our lives a lot easier and allowed us to have a smaller code base to maintain in the future,” says Peter Goodman, Lead Engineer at ADERANT.

Faster Development
Windows Sever AppFabric, along with WCF, WF, Visual Studio 2010 and the .NET Framework 4.0 are helping ADERANT reduce the development time for the next generation of ADERANT Expert. Windows Server AppFabric provided such a central solution for the project that once the ADERANT development team heard about the pre-release code they actually developed their solution as if AppFabric were already available, assuming it would work as specified.

“To a very high degree, AppFabric delivered what we wanted it to deliver and that avoided us having to create a great deal of code,” Davis says. “AppFabric freed us from spending our time writing infrastructure code and allowed us to concentrate on building functionality for the legal market.”

The SOA approach ADERANT is using makes for code that is easier to write and maintain, as the business logic is kept separate from the user interface. The flexibility of the services created with WCF and WF make it easier to deploy ADERANT solutions at customer

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* Our developers have been our first users of the monitoring dashboard, and they are big fans. AppFabric monitoring provides great visibility into the status of workflows. *

Peter Goodman
Lead Engineer, ADERANT

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sites where customization is often required to achieve interoperability with a heterogeneous collection of systems.

“Typically within our field quite a lot of customization work is required simply because there is such a diverse environment of applications being used within law firms,” Davis says. “Our SOA approach gives us the ability to easily customize our applications to fit the exact needs of the customer, without requiring us to touch code. AppFabric is a big deal here, and it also helps us with scalability. We serve some of the largest firms in the world, yet our solutions are also used in small offices. AppFabric gives us the scalability to easily move from one extreme to the other.”

Greater Visibility with Monitoring
The monitoring capabilities built into Windows Server AppFabric Hosting Services provide such a deep and precise view into services and other elements of the application that ADERANT developers are using the captured tracing information that’s stored in the AppFabric monitoring database and viewed through the IIS 7.0 dashboard for troubleshooting during development. The company expects this same high-value view into operations to be a big benefit for its customers.

“Our developers have been our first users of the monitoring dashboard, and they are big fans,” says Goodman. “AppFabric monitoring provides great visibility into the status of workflows.”

Previously monitoring information was more manual and less enlightening. “Before AppFabric, we pulled information off of logs and had to create log statements to try to figure out where something had gone wrong,” Goodman says. “Now with AppFabric we’re actually turning to it as a way of examining exactly which steps in a process have occurred, what branches have been taken, during a workflow. AppFabric monitoring has become a primary tool for our developers to gain visibility into the state of their running workflows, as well as into workflow histories.”

The ability to see exactly where a workflow stops has proven to be a tremendous debugging tool. “The AppFabric monitoring allows us to see at what point a workflow stopped, which makes it easy to determine why it stopped,” Sewell says. “Once fixed, we can confirm with the continuation of the workflow. And all of this can be done from the convenient and easy-to-use monitoring console.”

The monitoring solution also provides a more systemic view than could be gained before.

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* We are simply reusing PowerShell scripts that shipped with AppFabric, and we are getting nearly one-click simplicity for deployment. We are impressed with how easily a multi-server configuration can be deployed using the PowerShell Scripts. *

Stefan Sewell
Architect, ADERANT

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“One of the great things about AppFabric is that all of the monitoring information goes into the centralized monitoring database,” Sewell says. “We used to have to work with individual logs per individual machine. It was very difficult to gather those logs together and piece together an end-to-end picture of what was happening inside a running system for either services monitoring or for diagnostics. With the AppFabric monitoring store, and in particular with the end-to-end tracing that WCF provides, we can now see the logical flow of a user’s interaction with the complete system.”

Scalability
ADERANT had long wanted the ability to scale out services, giving its customers the option to simply plug in more servers to support workflow processing. So the company was delighted to find horizontal scaling supported by Windows Server AppFabric. “Older versions of ADERANT Expert supports vertical scaling by adding processors and memory to the host computer,” Sewell says. “With AppFabric, right out of the box, we get the ability to scale our workflow services horizontally, which our customers will appreciate.”

The company’s developers appreciate that they didn’t have to create their own horizontal scaling solution. “AppFabric is a huge benefit for ADERANT and our clients,” Sewell says. “Microsoft has taken on the responsibility of managing the ability for workflow services to be hosted in a Web farm. That required a lot of complex infrastructure that we didn’t want to have to write ourselves.”

Goodman notes that the scale-out technology also contributes to high availability, “With a Web farm if one computer goes down, your workflow can continue on the remaining servers.”

Easier Deployment
ADERANT will use Windows PowerShell, a command-line shell and scripting language that helps IT professionals more easily control system administration and accelerate automation, in an upcoming release of ADERANT Expert to streamline deployment.

“We are simply reusing PowerShell scripts that shipped with AppFabric, and we are getting nearly one-click simplicity for deployment,” Sewell says. “We are impressed with how easily a multi-server configuration can be deployed using the PowerShell Scripts.”

Beyond deployment, ADERANT will provide PowerShell scripts to assist in ongoing systems administration, using the PowerShell application programming interface (API).

“The PowerShell API is significant for us because it provides a very simple API to write administration scripts against,” Sewell says. “We have a much simpler and cleaner solution than we had before. Using PowerShell scripts significantly lowers the development cost of creating automated deployments.”

Summary

In summary, ADERANT is using Windows Server AppFabric, WCF, WF, and other Microsoft products and technologies to create the next-generation of its popular ADERANT Expert application suite. The company credits AppFabric with simplifying its SOA development efforts by providing a services-hosting solution, scalability, and monitoring capabilities.

Windows Server AppFabric

Windows Server AppFabric is a set of application services focused on improving the performance and management of Web and composite applications. To deliver these benefits, Windows Server AppFabric provides distributed caching technology and pre-built management and monitoring infrastructure that utilize familiar Microsoft .NET Framework skills. Windows Server AppFabric enhances the Application Server role in Windows Server and is available as a free download. Moving forward, Windows Server AppFabric will help developers take advantage of the scale and performance of the cloud, how and when they choose.

For more information about Windows Server AppFabric, please visit:

www.microsoft.com/windowsserver2008/en/us/app-main.aspx

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 ADERANT products and services, call (888) 604-2366 or visit the Web site at: www.aderant.com

This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Solution Overview




Organization Profile

Based in Atlanta, Georgia, ADERANT is a global operation, creating integrated business management software used by some of the largest law firms in the world.


Business Situation

The company wanted to update its popular ADERANT Expert suite of applications, using a service-oriented architecture design, and needed a services hosting solution.


Solution

ADERANT is creating its solutions for deployment using Windows Server AppFabric for services hosting, and is creating services using Windows Communication Foundation and Windows Workflow Foundation.


Benefits

  • Services-hosting solution
  • Faster development
  • Greater visibility with monitoring
  • Scalability
  • Easier deployment


Hardware
  • Varies by customer


Software and Services
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 Enterprise
  • Windows Server AppFabric
  • Windows Server 2008 R2 Enterprise
  • Microsoft Visual Studio 2010
  • Microsoft .NET Framework 4
  • Microsoft Internet Information Services 7.0
  • Windows Communication Foundation
  • Windows PowerShell
  • Windows Workflow Foundation

Vertical Industries
Professional Services

Country/Region
United States

Languages
English

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