The Aidmatrix Foundation creates web-based supply-chain management solutions that simplify the distribution of humanitarian aid. To meet growing demand for its expertise from partners worldwide, it sought a more cost-effective, scalable method for delivering its solutions. After evaluating several cloud services solutions, the organization selected Windows Azure. It wanted to take advantage of existing skill sets and investments in Microsoft technologies while maximizing the global reach of its services through the use of Microsoft data centers worldwide. Aidmatrix worked closely with Accenture and Avanade, members of the Microsoft Partner Network, to convert three of its standard web applications to cloud services. By adopting Windows Azure, the organization has reduced its data center costs by 20 percent while providing more responsive, scalable service to help those most in need.
Increasingly, technology plays a vital role in enabling the rapid, targeted distribution of relief supplies to those affected by catastrophic events. Formed in 2001, the Aidmatrix Foundation specializes in developing web-based supply-chain management solutions that make it easier to get the Right Aid to the Right People at the Right Time™.
The organization’s software-as-a-service–based solutions are designed to address the two main challenges of disaster response: the efficient collection of donated materials and the precise matching of those supplies with evolving needs on the ground. To capture and accurately process the maximum number of donor offers, Aidmatrix needs to ensure that its applications can consistently deliver the highest levels of stability and throughput performance. Because Aidmatrix works with so many different kinds of partner organizations, its solutions—most of which are based on Microsoft technologies—need to synchronize with business systems that run on diverse operating system platforms. Also, its applications need to flexibly scale to handle massive bursts in demand. Following several recent natural disasters, Aidmatrix applications have experienced usage spikes on the order of 1,000 times the standard rate.
||In about two hours, we were able to use Windows Azure to deploy a web portal application to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Before, this project would have taken several days.
Vice President, Delivery, The Aidmatrix Foundation
Aidmatrix continues to expand the reach and influence of its services. In 2010, the organization noted a 20 percent year-over-year increase in the number of people who used its applications. And, while it has historically worked with relief organizations located in North America, the Texas-based nonprofit has recently teamed with partners in Europe and Asia.
Its rapid growth has only compounded the challenges that Aidmatrix faces in deploying, configuring, and scaling online relief management solutions. For several years, Aidmatrix hosted its applications in data centers in the United States. However, in response to recent requests for services from humanitarian organizations in Europe, it has needed to locate additional server resources overseas. “Setting up and maintaining data centers around the globe can be expensive and time-consuming,” says Michael Ross, Vice President for Delivery at Aidmatrix. “In a few cases, we’ve needed to pre-position assets and leave them turned off. Instead of paying for what we use, we’ve ended up investing up front for resources that we may or may not eventually need.”
Beyond the capital cost, Aidmatrix found that the time required to source and deploy new hardware sacrificed agility. In mid-2010, it began a partnership with a large food bank network that has locations spread across the United Kingdom. After a few weeks, Aidmatrix noticed performance issues with one of its applications. Explains Ross, “The distance between our servers and end users caused the application to run slowly and even time out before people could complete their donations.”
Ross led the evaluation of UK-based data center facilities and managed the process of acquiring, securing, and deploying new servers in the region. “It took us about four weeks to get the servers up and running,” says Ross. Executives further recognized that the time needed to perform essential maintenance tasks once assets were operational, such as deploying security updates, inhibited innovation. Ross estimates that administrators spent up to three hours a week handling such tasks.
To empower more partners to help more people around the world, Aidmatrix needed the ability to scale its applications at a moment’s notice while maintaining reliable performance. With an eye on keeping operating costs as low as possible, executives began to investigate the possible advantages of moving Aidmatrix solutions from a self-hosted to a cloud-based environment. In considering this change, they wanted to minimize the time needed to migrate existing applications. They also placed a priority on a cloud technology platform that would support the agile development of new functionality, along with the creation of new solutions to meet the unforeseen demands of future humanitarian crises. Solution
Ross led the evaluation of several cloud services technologies, including Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Aidmatrix ultimately decided to adopt Windows Azure—the Microsoft cloud services development, hosting, and management environment—for several reasons. Ross and other leaders concluded that it offered the best solution for reducing migration time, preserving existing application code, maximizing global reach and scalability, and automating administrative tasks.
“Simply put, Windows Azure gives us all the tools we need to be more agile,” says Ross. “It offers platform-as-a-service capabilities, so we don’t have to push out updates or worry about building out our own redundancy system. Plus, it incorporates a familiar development environment, so we can maximize productivity.” Solution Testing and Validation
The Aidmatrix team was particularly interested in evaluating the process for converting database components based in Microsoft SQL Server data management software to run in Microsoft SQL Azure, which provides fully managed relational database capabilities in the cloud. Developers also wanted to test scenarios for bi-directional synchronization of data between on-premises systems and Aidmatrix applications running on Windows Azure.
Aidmatrix worked closely with Accenture and Avanade to transition several Aidmatrix solutions to Windows Azure. Both long-standing members of the Microsoft Partner Network, with Gold competencies in Business Intelligence, Accenture and Avanade were jointly named the Alliance Partner of the Year—Application Platform in the 2011 Microsoft Partner of the Year Awards. “Our experience suggests that the Windows Azure platform is ideally suited to scale and globally deliver critical applications at times of urgent need,” says Aaron Reich, Global Business Development Manager for Windows Azure at Accenture.
Rapid Deployment of Software That Helps Improve Lives
||We will be able to redirect the time and money we save from using Windows Azure toward creating and enhancing applications that help save lives.
Vice President, Delivery, The Aidmatrix Foundation
Executives prioritized moving the Aidmatrix Program Metrics and Evaluation and Online Warehouse solutions—both of which were originally based on the Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 and used Microsoft SQL Server—to Windows Azure. In June 2010, the development team started the process of converting the Program Metrics and Evaluation solution, which an Aidmatrix partner in the United States uses to track the services delivered to clients at more than 1,000 locations. “Moving the database component to Microsoft SQL Azure took five minutes, and we instantly gained high availability, along with reliable fault tolerance and security, at a fraction of what it would cost to build out those capabilities ourselves,” says Ross. Then, in early 2011, Aidmatrix moved the organization’s Online Warehouse solution to Windows Azure. Aidmatrix Online Warehouse provides end-to-end inventory management tools for tracking donated goods. The conversion process for each of these applications took approximately six weeks to complete.
Aidmatrix also recently used Windows Azure to configure and deploy a web portal application built by Microsoft to assist Second Harvest Japan, the Japanese food banking network. “From home, I was able to deploy the application to the Microsoft data center in Hong Kong,” says Ross. “I didn’t need to worry about how many instances to deploy because I could quickly scale out server resources if needed.”Tools for Managing Performance, Ensuring Interoperability
For all of these solutions that now run in the cloud, Aidmatrix takes advantage of Windows Azure technologies to ensure reliable, scalable performance. For example, it will use Windows Azure Connect to enable data sharing between its Online Warehouse solution and the on-premises operational systems used by its partners, including Oracle and SAP enterprise resource planning systems. And it relies on Windows Azure storage services to collect data on session state management so that Aidmatrix staff can monitor application performance and troubleshoot issues in near real time.
As part of its ongoing effort to convert more of its solutions to Windows Azure, Aidmatrix is taking advantage of the growing number of independent software vendors (ISVs) that have adopted the technology. For example, the organization was recently looking for a way to simplify the migration of its Virtual Aid Drive solution to Windows Azure. This application uses components built on the Microsoft .NET Framework, in addition to ColdFusion Markup Language (CFML). By using BlueDragon, an application from New Atlanta Communications, Aidmatrix is now able to redeploy Virtual Aid Drive to Windows Azure while preserving its investment in CFML technology. Benefits
By adopting Windows Azure, Aidmatrix is experiencing the following benefits:
Strengthened Capacity for Innovation
Because Aidmatrix no longer needs to purchase, set up, and maintain database management and web servers, it expects to save 20 percent on data center costs with a Net Present Value of US$100,000. “We will be able to redirect the time and money we save from using Windows Azure toward creating and enhancing applications that help save lives,” says Ross. “Instead of spending valuable resources on server upkeep, we can redirect time and cost savings to higher-value tasks, like developing a new module for one of our applications,” says Ross.
Boosted Agility in Serving the Needs of Global Partners, Aid Recipients
Aidmatrix uses Windows Azure to simplify deployment of its solutions. “In about two hours, we were able to use Windows Azure to deploy a web portal application to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan,” says Ross. “Before, this project would have taken several days.” It also capitalizes on the growing ecosystem of ISVs that have adopted Windows Azure to accelerate its own development lifecycle. “Taking advantage of functionality from other ISVs speeds our development and ultimately increases the value of our solutions,” says Ross. “This is a major benefit of working with a cloud provider like Microsoft that has a large and growing network of partners.”
Enhanced Service Model Through Greater Scalability
By taking advantage of the global availability of Microsoft data centers and the pay-as-you-go model offered by Windows Azure, Aidmatrix can ensure cost-efficient dynamic scalability for its solutions. “Our applications need to handle usages spikes of 1,000 times the normal load,” says Ross. “With Windows Azure, we can scale up or down in a very agile and efficient way, which is essential for the kind of work we do,” says Ross.
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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