4-page Case Study
Posted: 7/11/2011
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Boeing Boeing Takes to the Cloud with a Solution to Market its Best-Selling Airplane

The Boeing 737 is the best-selling airplane in aviation history. With new 737 models continually being developed for the product line, Boeing wanted to create exciting new ways of marketing the aircraft to prospective customers. It turned to Microsoft and Wire Stone, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, to create a tool that it calls “Boeing 737 Explained.” Based on thousands of high-resolution photographs that are stitched together to create a seamless, immersive presentation, Boeing 737 Explained provides a rich, compelling way for customers to view and understand the plane without needing to actually stand next to one. The tool runs on Windows 7 and is hosted on the Windows Azure cloud platform, using Microsoft Silverlight and Windows Touch technologies, providing users with a dynamic experience, whether viewing it with Microsoft Kinect on a cinema-size screen or Windows Phone.

Boeing is the world's largest aerospace company and a leading global manufacturer of commercial jetliners and defense, space, and security systems. With a history dating back to World War I—when William Boeing launched his first floatplane and sold training aircraft to the U.S. Navy—Boeing is a Fortune 500 corporation operating in more than 70 countries. The company has two major business units, Boeing Commercial Airplanes and Boeing Defense, Space & Security, and reported revenues of U.S.$63.3 billion in fiscal 2010.

Boeing makes the world’s best-selling airplane, the Boeing 737. The 100- to 215- seat, single-aisle aircraft is designed for short- and medium-range flights, making it popular with airlines everywhere because of its suitability for so many routes. It’s estimated that more than 1,200 Boeing 737s are aloft at any given time of the day. Current Boeing 737 models, which com-prise the product’s “Next-Generation 737” series, are built at the company’s Renton, Washington, manufacturing complex.

The overwhelming success of the 737 series creates opportunities for Boeing marketing teams, which are constantly on the lookout for innovative ways of telling the airplane’s story and representing its features to potential customers. Boeing has a large portfolio of marketing tools for explaining the 737 to prospects, but wanted to find new methods of explaining the plane’s immense array of features to customers by using technology platforms such as PCs, touch-screen devices, and smartphones.

“If we look at all the approaches that we use for communicating about the 737, I think it’s fair to characterize most of them as very analytical tools,” says Diana Klug, Director of Marketing for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “They enable us to talk about the financial operating costs, the maintenance costs, performance, and other attributes. But we’ve been very interested in augmenting those analytical tools. We wanted to take our marketing process for the Next-Generation 737 aircraft to the next level, and the current set of tools did not allow us to convey, in the way we wanted, the full range of new features and improvements that we’ve made in the product.”

Anthony Ponton, 737 Brand Manager for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, points out a fundamental challenge of selling an airplane. “It’s not easy to demonstrate the actual product to people. You have to be at an airport to do that,” he says. “And selling an airplane is a long, complex process. What we wanted to do with the 737, which is a very well-known product, was to find a way of communicating the essence of what makes this aircraft such a powerful product in the marketplace. We also wanted to associate it with new technologies, which meant finding new ways of using technol-ogy to show the aircraft to our potential customers.”

Boeing teamed up with Microsoft and Wire Stone, a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, to create the “Boeing 737 Explained” tool, a high-resolution, interactive, and annotated photographic presentation of the Boeing 737. The solution—which is hosted in the cloud and can be viewed from a wide range of Windows-based devices, from smart-phones to full-size movie screens—shows the aircraft in extremely realistic, 3-D-like detail.

* [The Boeing 737 Explained tool on Windows Azure] makes this the best thing that customers can see, next to actually walking around and through a real aircraft. *

Diana Klug
Director of Marketing
Boeing Commercial Airplanes

Jon Baker, Chief Technology Officer for Wire Stone, explains that Boeing and Wire Stone decided to build a cloud-based solution because the cloud represented the best option in terms of performance, scalability, and the ability to deliver the presentation to different types of devices.

“We wanted to use a cloud-based implementation so that we had the flexibility to increase the number of server instances supporting the application in order to keep performance levels very high,” he says. “We tested three different cloud platforms. We felt that Windows Azure would give us the greatest performance and flexibility.”

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. Wire Stone developed and is managing the Boeing 737 Explained tool for Boeing using Windows Azure and several related products. It uses Windows Azure Blob Storage for storing text and binary data; Windows Azure web roles to deliver the front-end user interface; and the Windows Azure Content Delivery Network to cache static data at multiple locations to improve performance and the user experience.

The solution runs on Windows 7 and takes advantage of Windows Touch, a feature of the operating system that enables touch-screen capabilities. With Windows 7, the Boeing 737 Explained experience is available for customers on a wide range of devices. These include large screens at venues such as the Boeing Customer Experience Center, where sales representatives and customers can use touch gestures to move around different parts of the plane, as well as much smaller screens, such as 8- to 12-inch screens on Windows PCs and Windows slate devices, and even on Windows Phones.

“A key aspect of the project was driving the experience across a number of form factors—some of them in-browser and others out-of-browser,” says Baker. “However, all of the experiences are hosted on, and driven by, the Microsoft cloud platform.”

Silverlight Deep Zoom technology supports rapid zooming in and out of the presentation for a rich user experience that includes a 360-degree navigation of the airplane. With Deep Zoom, users can move around the airplane, viewing components as varied as individual rivets, printed instructions and safety details on landing gear, and the interiors of jet engine rotors. Boeing provided annotations on many of the plane’s components to augment the images. (See Figure 1.)
Figure 1. Boeing 737 Explained annotations around the leading edge of a wing.

Wire Stone dramatically enhanced the user experience by integrating Microsoft Kinect technology into the solution. Kinect has been used in presentations with sales staff, and is ideal for use in trade shows and other venues that can support massive digital displays on which the Boeing 737 Explained solution can be viewed in real-world dimensions. Users stand a few feet back from a life-size image of a Boeing 737 plane and use Kinect to quickly move around and explore the aircraft. For example, they can jump from the brakes on the main landing gear to the leading edge of a wing in one fluid movement. Kinect supports skeletal recognition and gesturing to propel users through a powerful, immersive experience that provides a strong sense of dimensions, colors, and other airplane characteristics.

Creating the Boeing 737 Explained presentation took a lot of planning and equipment. A Wire Stone crew shot the images of a Boeing 737 from every angle with high-resolution digital cameras on robotic camera mounts, which provided stability and exact placement for the cameras and precise sequencing of the resulting images. More than 20,000 frames were captured, and the image files were “stitched” together in a software program to create a seamless, 17-gigapixel image of the airplane with extraordinarily life-like detail. Wire Stone used the Microsoft Image Composite Editor, a tool developed by Microsoft Research, to combine the images.

The project was so unusual that it has been submitted to Guinness World Records. “We believe it is currently the largest gigapixel image of a commercial object,” Baker says, adding that most gigapixel images created today are of landscapes. “It opens up new ideas for using this technology in commercial applications.”

By building its Boeing 737 Explained tool in the cloud using Windows Azure and other Microsoft products, Boeing and Wire Stone created a solution that gives customers who cannot actually touch a real plane the next best thing. It delivers a powerful, immersive experience that lets potential customers explore the Boeing 737 in amazing detail. It helps Boeing can reach more customers than before, because it is based in the cloud and can be viewed through a variety of devices. And, because the solution is hosted in the cloud, both Wire Stone and Boeing avoided the costs and complexity of purchasing and maintaining a separate IT system to support the project.

Offers Compelling, Immersive Experience
Together, the high-resolution photography, Silverlight Deep Zoom experience, and ability to easily navigate the airplane’s image contribute to a customer experience that far exceeds any other tools that Boeing previously had in its marketing arsenal.

"The typical reaction when we first show the Boeing 737 Explained tool to someone is, ‘Wow!’” says Klug. “This tool has helped us to create an extraordinarily rich visual presentation with the ability to navigate around the airplane from many different directions. It makes this the best thing that customers can see, next to actually walking around and through a real aircraft.”

Further enhancing the experience are the annotations that Boeing created on details such as engine parts, cargo bays, and wheel brakes. Potential buyers—and the general public—can stop the presentation anytime to read about what they are viewing.

Klug says that the overall effect is compelling not only due to the images and annotations, but also due to the speed at which the solution operates. “We’re continually astounded by the fact that with the tens of thousands of photographs used in this solution, it performs very quickly, even over ordinary Internet connections in our homes and offices,” says Klug. “It makes the solution all the more effective, because it can be used in so many locations. Plus, it demonstrates that we are on the leading edge of technology innovation.”

Helps Reach More Prospective Customers
By making the solution a cloud offering, Boeing is able to reach a much wider audience than with more traditional marketing materials like brochures, data sheets, or slide presentations. “A great thing about this tool is that we’ve overcome the limitations that we had with our previous tools,” says Ponton. ”In the past, it was much harder to bring the complete 737 story to people wherever they were in the world, wherever they needed to see it. The cloud platform allows us to make the Boeing 737 Explained tool available to any customer just about anywhere, anytime, and it lets them view it on a range of devices.”

It also helps Boeing compete more effectively—even in a market where it has a strong product lead. “With this new approach, we have been able to create one of the best marketing tools that I’ve seen, to differentiate Boeing from its competitors,” continues Ponton. “There’s nothing out there like it—or even close to it—is the sense of power it gives you to look at an airplane, swing it around, look at it from any angle, and drill into details. It’s like a real hands-on product experience.”

Reduces IT Investment Needs
By choosing Windows Azure cloud computing, Boeing not only gained a highly scalable and flexible platform for its solution, but also avoided a costly investment in physical IT infrastructure. With Windows Azure, Boeing can tailor its infrastructure usage according to demand.

“We can focus on what we do best, which is using the tool, figuring out new ways to deploy it in the marketplace, and getting it out there effectively. Then, our customers can use it to understand our products better and faster, so they can grasp the important details that will help inform their buying decisions.” says Klug.

Microsoft Cloud Power
Microsoft offers a complete set of cloud-based solutions to meet business needs, including solutions for advertising; communications (email, meetings); collaboration (document storage, sharing, workflow); business applications (customer resource management, business productivity); data storage and management; and infrastructure services. In addition, customers can take advantage of an entire ecosystem of solution providers and Microsoft partners.

For more information about Microsoft Cloud Power, go to: www.microsoft.com/cloud

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. Windows Azure 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 2008 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

Related Resources and Information
To learn more about the Windows Azure platform, visit the website at: www.windowsazure.com  
Learn: Channel9 Windows Azure Training Course
Read: Security Best Practices for Developing on the Windows Azure Platform
Download: Windows Azure Training Kit
Download: Windows Azure SDK

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 Wire Stone products and services, call (888) 838-5102 or visit the website at: www.wirestone.com

For more information about Boeing products and services, call (206) 655-1131 or visit the website at: www.boeing.com

To view the full story plus video of Boeing and other success stories, visit the Microsoft Success Web site at: www.microsoft.com/business/success/
Solution Overview

Organization Size: 1000 employees

Organization Profile
Boeing is the world’s largest aerospace company. Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, it employs more than 160,000 people around the globe.

Business Situation
The Boeing Commercial Airplanes division wanted to create new, technologically innovative ways of marketing its best-selling aircraft—the Boeing 737—to prospective customers.

Boeing worked with Microsoft and Wire Stone, a Microsoft partner, to create “Boeing 737 Explained,” a presentation of the Boeing 737 that is based on thousands of high-resolution photographs hosted on Windows Azure.

  • Offers a compelling experience
  • Helps reach prospective customers
  • Reduces IT investment needs

Software and Services
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Windows 7
  • Xbox 360 Kinect Sensor
  • Microsoft Silverlight
  • Cloud Services
  • Microsoft Azure Platform

Vertical Industries
  • Automotive, Industrial Equipment & Aerospace
  • Manufacturing & Resources

United States

Business Need
Cloud & Server Platform

IT Issue
Cloud Services


Wire Stone