4-page Case Study
Posted: 1/11/2013
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University of Washington University Moves Reporting Solution to Cloud for Scalability and Easier Management

Three years ago, the University of Washington (UW) developed a self-service reporting application called Michelangelo that helps users access the university’s databases and then quickly and easily create accurate reports. With the growing popularity of—and outside interest in—its application, UW met the challenge of increased demand by moving Michelangelo from an on-premises environment to Windows Azure. Now, the university can scale the application on demand to support as many users as needed, including potentially giving outside educational and other research organizations access to Michelangelo. Thanks to cloud infrastructure resources managed by Microsoft, UW is also able to reduce hardware, labor, and maintenance requirements for Michelangelo. As a result, UW can now focus more internal IT resources on other strategic, value-added activities.

Situation
With campuses in Seattle, Tacoma, and Bothell, the University of Washington (UW) has 16 colleges and schools, 1,800 undergraduate courses, and a world-class academic medical center. To support this preeminent academic environment, UW relies on diverse IT solutions, many of which run on Windows Server operating systems and use Microsoft SQL Server data management software. UW uses some of these solutions for analysis and reporting tasks. For example, UW often needs to create lists of alumni based on their location, degree earned, donation history, and so on, as part of the university’s fundraising efforts.

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* With Windows Azure, we no longer have to deploy our own resources for things like internal system uptime, maintaining firewalls, or deciding what machines to partition or what virtual instances to provision. *

Chris Sorensen
Associate Director of Reporting, University of Washington

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Historically, compiling lists like these at UW has been a slow (up to two weeks) manual process that includes a lot of technical steps. As a result, it has often required assistance from a database programmer or administrator. In 2008, to make this task easier, UW developed Michelangelo—a self-service reporting application that works with an ordinary web browser and requires no customized client software. Michelangelo offers an intuitive interface for accessing key organizational data, filtering the data by wide-ranging criteria, and delivering the results to a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for convenient analysis. At UW, Michelangelo draws data from a third-party customer relationship management (CRM) system using SQL Server, although the application is designed to support almost any structured data source. UW created the application using the Microsoft Visual Studio development system and the Microsoft .NET Framework.

By 2010, the reporting application had become quite popular, used by several UW departments and attracting the attention of outside organizations, including North Carolina State University and the University of California, Davis. “The time had come to determine what technologies we would need for Michelangelo to support perhaps 500 users and many more data sets,” says Chris Sorensen, Associate Director of Reporting at the University of Washington. “Simply adding more servers and storage did not make sense for us from a capital investment and labor perspective.” UW needed to find a cost-effective way to expand the reach of its application, scale it as needed, and minimize the IT resources required to support it.

Solution
In 2011, the University of Washington decided to move the Michelangelo reporting application to the cloud to make managing an enhanced version of the application as simple as possible. “We chose Windows Azure because it has the combination of scalability, reliability, and strong security that we were looking for,” says Sorensen.

Prior to choosing Windows Azure, UW examined cloud services from Amazon and Google. “What really convinced us to go with Microsoft was trust,” says Sorensen. “Our experience with Microsoft solutions—everything from the Windows family of operating systems and SQL Server to Microsoft Office applications—has been very positive. Our initial look at Windows Azure was positive too, and we like the direction that Microsoft is going in with it.” Additionally, Sorensen notes that Microsoft was able to guarantee that it would store customer data only in the United States, as the university’s compliance policies require.

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* We chose Windows Azure because it has the combination of scalability, reliability, and strong security that we were looking for. *

Chris Sorensen
Associate Director of Reporting, University of Washington

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UW also liked Windows Azure for its flexible federated authentication capabilities, including the fact that it works well with InCommon (a shared authentication framework for participating educational and research organizations). The new cloud version of Michelangelo, with its access to Windows Azure workload and federation resources, supports InCommon as well as the university’s own authentication system (UW NetID). Using InCommon is particularly important to UW for enhancing security when working with outside organizations. To protect CRM information, for example, Michelangelo can use InCommon to allow access only to select data sets and users based on the users’ job role.

According to Sorensen, porting Michelangelo to Windows Azure required only modest customization and rewriting of code, and resulted in an improved application architecture. Updating the reporting application to use both blob and table storage was straightforward. (Windows Azure Blob service stores large amounts of unstructured data, while Windows Azure Table service is used for structured data.) Use of Windows Azure SQL Database wasn’t immediately required, although developers expect to take more advantage of it in the future.

Prior to deployment, most of the IT staff effort was spent testing the Michelangelo reporting application in the cloud. “We wanted to be sure the data results from Michelangelo running in the Windows Azure environment exactly matched the results of the previous version,” Sorensen says. “We also had about 50 users accessing the system at the same time to make sure it could handle a real-world load.” Finally, IT staff tested the integration with UW NetID and InCommon authentication.

With the successful completion of these tests, the updated Michelangelo running in Windows Azure was deployed in late 2011. “Michelangelo is the first application that we’ve moved to Windows Azure, and the success of this project will serve as a model for migrating more applications in the future,” Sorensen says.

Benefits
By moving its Michelangelo reporting application to Windows Azure, the University of Washington has lowered both short-term and long-term IT costs and improved the productivity of its IT staff. The application runs with increased performance and reliability, and its high scalability will support extending Michelangelo to other departments and organizations.

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* Since the move to Windows Azure, our developers can be 100 percent focused on creating new solutions, instead of IT tasks.… [which] has led to a big jump in productivity. *

Chris Sorensen
Associate Director of Reporting, University of Washington

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Lowers IT Costs—Now and Long-Term
Although UW has not yet calculated specific dollar amounts, Sorensen explains that the cost model of Windows Azure will result in significant immediate and ongoing savings for managing Michelangelo: “I don’t have to make bets on how many network hours we’ll need in the future or how much computer hardware to buy or rent—or worry about the related electricity, maintenance, and backup costs that would come out of my budget. From a cost standpoint, we feel very comfortable going with Windows Azure.”

He further notes that the pay-as-you-go pricing of Windows Azure is an especially important benefit, given the critical need for scalability. “It’s very convenient to have a monthly bill that’s associated with our true use of Windows Azure, both now and as our needs grow. It’s an ideal cost-effective billing model for us.”

Improves IT Staff Productivity
Sorensen is pleased with how improvements in efficiency (particularly in the use of labor) became quickly apparent after moving to the cloud. “What we really liked about the migration was that it decreased our management time for Michelangelo. With Windows Azure, we no longer have to deploy our own resources for things like internal system uptime, maintaining firewalls, or deciding what machines to partition or what virtual instances to provision,” says Sorensen. “That’s all taken care of at a Microsoft data center.”

As a result, UW IT staffers have more time to work on more-strategic and value-added projects. “Since the move to Windows Azure, our developers can be 100 percent focused on creating new solutions, instead of IT tasks, and putting them in the cloud,” Sorensen says. “That’s a huge difference from the way things worked in the on-premises server environment, and it has led to a big jump in productivity.”

He adds that moving the Michelangelo application from an on-premises system to Windows Azure was seamless. “End users didn’t notice, which is great, and IT gets the cost, labor, and management benefits of the cloud.”

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* I don’t have to make bets on how many network hours we’ll need in the future or how much computer hardware to buy or rent.... From a cost standpoint, we feel very comfortable going with Windows Azure. *

Chris Sorensen
Associate Director of Reporting, University of Washington

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Increases Performance and Reliability
After adapting Michelangelo for, and moving it to, Windows Azure, Sorensen was pleased with the application’s improved speed. He explains that, to gain the response times that UW needs, all the imported relational database information is held in memory, whether it is from an internal database or one from an outside partner. “That’s what now makes Michelangelo so fast,” says Sorensen. “The Windows Azure storage architecture—the blob and table storage that is afforded to us—is ideal for the quick interaction model that we developed in Michelangelo.”

Michelangelo running in Windows Azure also offers greatly improved reliability. “I know that, when I come in in the morning, our system will be up and running,” says Sorensen. “We don’t get calls at 2:00 in the morning anymore from a network administrator saying, ‘Hey, we lost the box.’ Everything just works. And the failover capability and knowing that the hardware is in a secure location—those are all things that help people like me sleep better at night.”

Opens Opportunities for Partnering with Other Institutions
UW is considering plans to take advantage of the flexible platform of Windows Azure to expand Michelangelo to include outside institutions. Sorensen says, “We can combine the scalability of Windows Azure, its strong security and authentication model, and technologies such as InCommon to bring Michelangelo to other organizations, whether they’re small, medium, or large.”

UW is confident about these plans because it has already demonstrated the application’s ability to connect to databases at North Carolina State University and the University of California. Says Sorensen, “We’re able to leverage their existing campus logon credentials and authenticate their users into Michelangelo.” Elaborating on the relationship between UW and these outside institutions, he adds, “Our two earliest educational partners, NC State and UC Davis, have been particularly helpful to work with on federated authentication. Together with our other partners, we believe that we are creating a solution that will be indispensable to many organizations and universities. Windows Azure as a platform makes it all possible.”

Sorensen concludes, “We see almost exponential growth options to expand our service. That’s what really excites me about Michelangelo being deployed to Windows Azure. Our ability to bring incredible value to our end users is limited only by our imagination.”

Windows Azure
Windows Azure provides developers the functionality to build applications that span from consumer to enterprise scenarios. The key components of Windows Azure are:

Windows Azure. Windows Azure is a development, service hosting, and service management environment. 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.

SQL Database. SQL Database 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 custom enterprise and web applications and extend the reach of data assets.

To learn more, visit:
www.windowsazure.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 University of Washington services, call (206) 543-2100 or visit the website at:
www.washington.edu

Solution Overview



Organization Size: 25000 employees

Organization Profile

Founded in 1861, the University of Washington (UW) is one of the oldest state-supported universities on the US West Coast and is a world-renowned research institution.


Business Situation

UW wanted to expand the capacity of its popular self-service reporting application called Michelangelo, reduce IT resources required to manage it, and potentially extend it to outside organizations.


Solution

To take advantage of the efficiency, cost, and scalability benefits of the cloud, UW moved its reporting application from on-premises systems to Windows Azure.


Benefits

  • Lowers IT costs—now and long-term
  • Improves IT staff productivity
  • Increases performance and reliability
  • Opens opportunities for partnering with other institutions


Third Party Software
  • InCommon from Internet2


Software and Services
  • Microsoft Azure
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2

Vertical Industries
Higher Education

Country/Region
United States

Languages
English

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