Web content experts at Kentico help small companies to enterprise businesses improve their web presence and increase their marketing outreach by using Kentico CMS for ASP.NET, a set of extensible and easy-to-use website creation modules. In response to customer interest and industry changes, Kentico added cloud capabilities to its on-premises solution by porting Kentico CMS to the Windows Azure platform from Microsoft. By using the cloud-enabled version of the solution, customers can create engaging and highly scalable websites without the need for up-front hardware investments. Kentico also uses Windows Azure to bring new features of its solution to market more quickly, which provides customers with a better product, strengthens sales opportunities for Kentico partners, and allows Kentico to refine its business model.
Microsoft Gold Certified Partner Kentico
makes it easy for businesses to create engaging, interactive websites by using its flagship product Kentico CMS for ASP.NET. Kentico is based in Brno, Czech Republic, with offices in Nashua, New Hampshire, and Seattle, Washington. The company was founded in 2004, and it currently has 67 employees. In October 2010, Kentico was named by Deloitte as the fastest-growing technology company in the Czech Republic with nearly 1800 percent annual revenue growth. Companies like McDonald’s, Vodafone, Samsung, and Subaru have used Kentico CMS to create 6,000 active websites in 84 countries around the world.
Kentico CMS is a content management system (CMS) designed to help even nontechnical people to easily create rich websites without the need for ongoing developer involvement. The product includes 34 out-of-the-box modules ranging from simple page creation to an advanced e-commerce infrastructure. Kentico delivers the product as a project for the Microsoft Visual Studio development system and the Microsoft .NET Framework with all of the application code included, so developers can extend and customize the product’s functionality for more complex implementations.
“We feel our strongest value proposition is immediate productivity to build your website,” says Thomas Robbins, Chief Evangelist at Kentico. “Without any extensive training, many of our customers have been able to go from installing Kentico CMS to implementing a website in a matter of hours, as opposed to the months it might have taken before.”
Kentico CMS has been primarily an on-premises solution, but in 2007 Kentico began working with its first customer in the United States to run Kentico CMS with the Amazon EC2 cloud platform. At that time, Kentico saw a shift in the industry toward cloud computing. “We were hearing from our customers that they were interested in the cloud, and we wanted to make sure that Kentico CMS would be the best solution, whether they are planning an on-premises installation or a cloud deployment. We think of it as giving our customers freedom of choice.”
||Our customers trust the accountability they get from Microsoft hosting, and we’re encouraging them to move to Windows Azure if they’ve been using another cloud platform.
Chief Evangelist, Kentico
Kentico saw a lot of advantages in providing customers with a cloud option. In addition to reducing on-site infrastructure costs
, including everything from servers to network connectivity, it gives customers the ability to set up a website quickly, and it makes it much simpler to quickly bring up microsites—smaller websites that might be used for short-term promotions—and easily scale high-volume websites.
Although Kentico had experience working with Amazon EC2, the company had some reservations about the platform. “In a way, Amazon EC2 is easy to use, because it doesn’t have many options,” explains Dominik Pinter, Senior Developer at Kentico. “You create a virtual machine with your site and that’s about it. But when we heard about the Windows Azure platform, we quickly decided that it was the platform we wanted to support for the future. We saw the features as key for our customers.”Solution
Kentico began researching Windows Azure in late 2009. Even while the product was still in development, Kentico saw a lot of potential. “Windows Azure has a lot more services than Amazon already, and we know there will be more in the future,” says Pinter. “And it’s clear that Microsoft really believes in this platform. I don’t think anybody else can compete with Microsoft and Windows Azure in the cloud arena, so it was clearly the best choice for us.”
The Update of Kentico CMS for Windows Azure
Kentico assigned two developers and a tester to the task of creating a version of Kentico CMS that would interoperate with Windows Azure. The team first needed to learn Windows Azure programming. “We took some seminars from Microsoft, and I learned a lot by reading the Windows Azure developer blogs on MSDN
,” says Pinter. “Microsoft was also very responsive when we had problems. And although it’s a relatively new product, there is a big developer community around Windows Azure, so there are a lot of resources available.”
|Figure 1. The prebuilt modules in Kentico CMS help companies to easily |
set up a website and customize it to their needs.
Although Kentico CMS has almost a million lines of codes, developers found that they had to make very few changes to make the product work with Windows Azure and create a single install package for both versions. The team worked with the Visual Studio 2008 development system, and that helped simplify development. “Visual Studio has special extensions for Windows Azure and Microsoft also offers a client library in the Windows Azure Software Development Kit [SDK] that handles a lot of the core code for communication with computing and storage services, and that made it much easier,” says Pinter. “We didn't need to write all those basic functions from scratch, which really sped up development.”
In December 2009, after five months of development, Kentico released Version 5.5 R2 of Kentico CMS—the first version of the solution to work with Windows Azure. For the first release, developers focused on hooking Kentico CMS into the Microsoft ASP.NET web role in Windows Azure and moving Kentico CMS back-end data to a relational database running Microsoft SQL Azure. The updated Kentico CMS also uses Windows Azure storage for special modules.
Kentico made sure that the move to a cloud-enabled version of its solution would be transparent to customers—they work with the product the same way whether the data is stored locally or in the cloud. The changes are also mostly transparent for Kentico partners who need only learn about a few differences to work with the new version. “We don’t sell directly to customers,” explains Robbins. “We rely on a network of 1,200 partners who sell the software and help customers with complex deployments. Bringing Windows Azure into the picture gives them additional features they can take advantage of.”
||It’s clear that Microsoft really believes in this platform. I don’t think anybody else can compete with Microsoft and Windows Azure in the cloud arena, so it was clearly the best choice for us.
Senior Developer, Kentico
When it was time to start migrating customers’ on-site deployments to the cloud, Kentico turned to one of its Gold Partners, Florida-based Bit-Wizards, which is also a Microsoft Gold Certified Partner. “Bit-Wizards was looking at Windows Azure as the next evolution of their business,” says Robbins. “So it was a natural fit for them to take six of the sites they were working on and move them over to Azure. Everything went really well, and they also provided us with valuable feedback to help shape our next major release.”Future Plans
Kentico is currently working on the next major release of Kentico CMS, and it is incorporating additional features and services of Windows Azure. Version 6.0, which is due in the second half of 2011, will store all files in Windows Azure Blob Storage
, and Kentico plans to take advantage of advanced caching capabilities. “So much of the web is driven by video now,” says Robbins. “So caching is very important to efficiently deliver data, and we have access to the power of Windows Azure AppFabric Caching
for data storage. In the current version, customers can use AppFabric Caching for session state data with a quick modification to a configuration file, and in the next version, enabling AppFabric Caching will be an option in our user interface.”
In order to more easily serve a global customer base, Kentico also plans to use the Windows Azure content distribution network (CDN). “The Windows Azure CDN will make it much easier for us to efficiently deliver Kentico CMS as a multi-language application, because it enables localized video storage,” says Robbins.
To take advantage of the updated software development kit (SDK) for Windows Azure, Kentico has recently upgraded to the Windows Azure SDK 1.4. In the meantime, developers have already added an important new feature to their product. “We call it the ‘semi-layer,’” says Pinter. “It communicates with the rest of the CMS and allows you to write your own custom routines for storing data anywhere you want, including local file systems for on-premises installations and blob storage for cloud deployments. I don’t think anyone else has done this yet.”
|Figure 2. Customers who move from a virtualized on-premises solution to a |
cloud platform can expect to save nearly 70 percent over three years.
The experience with Windows Azure has given Kentico confidence that they chose the right cloud platform. “Kentico CMS is completely a Microsoft solution,” says Robbins. “It’s built entirely in ASP.NET with Visual Studio on top of SQL Server, and we only run on the Windows operating system, so our product is used by companies that already have an investment in Microsoft products. Our customers trust the accountability they get from Microsoft hosting, and we’re encouraging them to move to Windows Azure if they’ve been using another cloud platform.”Benefits
By extending its CMS solution with a reliable, feature-rich cloud platform, Kentico has created benefits not just for the company, but also for its partners and customers. Kentico can take advantage of rapid and efficient development with Windows Azure, and this opens up new business opportunities. Partners can now use their Kentico CMS expertise to create even stronger solutions, and customers can more easily build powerful and engaging websites at a much lower cost.
Kentico developers found that working with Windows Azure and Visual Studio makes it possible to quickly build and update the cloud features of Kentico CMS without worrying about coding basic functionality from scratch. “Windows Azure enables me to be very productive because I don’t need to worry about rewriting core code for things like database connectivity every time,” says Pinter. “There are a lot of prebuilt pieces that I can assemble quickly, and it’s really easy to scale. I can create one server one day, and then add 20 more servers the next day without any problems. It lets me focus on making the product better and concentrating on adding great new features.”
A New Business Model
The evolution of Kentico CMS into a cloud-enabled application is providing Kentico with opportunities to evolve its business model. “We’re constantly looking for ways to bring better value to our customers, so the cloud is absolutely changing the way we look at our business,” says Robbins. “We’re rethinking everything from licensing to support services to how our sales process works. We’re thinking about new software-as-a-service pricing models and how to best manage them. It also gives us new ways of working with our partners.”
Increased Partner Opportunities
For Kentico partners, the addition of a cloud option to Kentico CMS gives then more opportunities to help customers find the right solutions. “Our partners have more flexibility to give the customers exactly what they need,” explains Robbins. “So rather than worrying about infrastructure, they can talk to customers about building out additional features and functionality. And we can now be more responsive to partners’ feature requests for new releases, since development is so much faster.”
Flexibility and Cost Savings for Customers
Kentico is excited about the opportunities that cloud computing gives its customers to save money and promote their businesses with a strong web presence. “Our customers tell us all the time that moving to the cloud makes them more productive, and it helps them get sites up faster and at a lower cost, which helps them gain a competitive advantage,” says Robbins. “And they can do all this without a big hardware investment
. It’s particularly great for small companies and startups that have great ideas and products but may not have the budget to build their own data center to host their online infrastructure.”
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 custom enterprise and web applications and extend the reach of data assets.
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