Acumatica is a software company that develops enterprise resource planning and business accounting software. Acumatica developed its Web-based software using the Microsoft® .NET Framework and offered on-premises software that required customers to invest in application and database servers. The company wanted to deliver a software-plus-services solution to its customers, effectively hosting and managing its solutions on the Internet through data centers. Acumatica chose to develop its software-plus-services application using Windows Azure™ and Microsoft SQL Azure™. As a result, Acumatica developed its hosted offering in five weeks, reduced capital expenditures, reduced the deployment time for customers while improving their ability to quickly scale up and down, and improved its time-to-market for new services.
Headquartered in Washington, DC, with several overseas offices, Acumatica develops an integrated set of Web-based applications designed to improve the productivity of midsize organizations. The three core applications include a financial management suite, customer relationship management suite, and distribution management suite.
Most accounting and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems are built using client-server technology and hosted onsite. Acumatica designed the first midrange financial application for the Web that has the power, usability, and speed of a client-server application.
||With Windows Azure, we get the ready-to-use infrastructure instantly without costly investment so we were able to rapidly launch our on-demand accounting and ERP solution.
Chief Technology Officer, Acumatica
Acumatica offers its Web-based solutions with either an on-premises model or a hosted model. Its solutions are built on the Microsoft® .NET Framework with Microsoft SQL Server® data management software on the back end and were designed to be hosted onsite at customer locations or at a data center. Once implemented, customers can access Acumatica applications from anywhere using any Internet browser—delivering the benefit of anywhere, anytime access for midsize businesses with scattered offices and remote workers.
However, the capital expenditures associated with purchasing hardware or renting server space for application servers and database servers can be daunting for businesses, and the additional cost to hire IT personnel to manage and maintain those servers further compounds expenses.
Acumatica wanted to offer a solution to its customers that would help reduce the capital costs involved with hardware and expenses associated with computing usage and data storage. Acumatica also wanted to reduce the costs inherent with adding hardware to the IT infrastructure, such as hiring systems administrators to maintain the new hardware and servers. At the same time, the software-plus-services model needed to be secure and one that customers would trust.
Acumatica recognized that its partner resellers would also be interested in a software-plus-services option. “Nearly every one of our partners wants a software-plus-services solution as a part of their offering. They want something where the software that we’ve built comes bundled with a platform and the hardware,” says Douglas Johnson, Vice President of Marketing for Business Development at Acumatica.
The company still wanted to support both its on-premises and hosted offerings, while adding an option to manage the entire solution in the “cloud”—on the Internet through a data center. Delivering its software and services in the cloud would make Acumatica a competitive differentiator in the Web-based ERP and accounting software industry. But as a young company with only 30 employees, Acumatica needed to implement a solution as economically as possible, that would require as little development time and minimal financial investment.
Acumatica decided to extend its existing applications and build its software-plus-services solution on the Windows Azure™ platform, an internet-scale “cloud computing” services platform hosted in Microsoft data centers that provides application hosting by Microsoft and that is designed for high availability and virtually unlimited scaling to match usage needs. Acumatica evaluated multiple options, including Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), but chose the Windows Azure platform based on the services the platform offers: Windows Azure, a cloud services operating system; Microsoft SQL Azure™, a database as a service; and Service Bus and Access Control Service for connecting and interoperating with its existing on-premises applications.
“Comparing Amazon EC2 to the Windows Azure Platform made the decision very simple for us,” says Mike Chechelkonogov, Chief Technology Officer at Acumatica. “We compared performance of the runtime environment, storage capabilities, and cost—Windows Azure was the clear winner.”
The implementation process for Acumatica was quick and straightforward—developers made minimal changes to the Acumatica development platform and reused the code from the original Web-based ERP and accounting applications. Developers at Acumatica develop the software using the C# programming language and the Microsoft Visual Studio® 2008 development system. Applications run in a managed code environment and strictly follow all security and design recommendations from Microsoft. “We made very few changes at the runtime level, and our applications were able to run in the Windows Azure environment—it just worked,” explains Chechelkonogov.
Acumatica used SQL Azure for its cloud storage solution, also a quick implementation from its traditional SQL Server back end. SQL Azure provides the tabular data access the company needed and required few adjustments to the database schema. "Migrating to SQL Azure was a quick and simple process,” says Chechelkonogov. “It was incredibly straightforward.”
A Cost-Effective Business Application in the Cloud
With the Windows Azure platform, Acumatica can deliver its ERP and accounting software in the cloud—offering a cost-effective solution for its midsize customers.
When customers sign up for Acumatica software, they can still choose the on-premises option, which requires them to buy their own hardware, including at least one application server that includes Internet Information Services (IIS), and Microsoft SQL Server data management software. Then, the customer installs and configures the Acumatica software before using it.
Now, customers have the option to deploy Acumatica software as a software-plus-services solution. Through Acumatica’s partner channel, customers purchase the software and select an image. Partners customize the image to
|Figure 1. Acumatica delivers its ERP software|
in the “cloud” with Windows Azure.
meet a customer’s unique business needs and configure it for deployment. “At that point, customers can start using our business applications,” explains Johnson. “They don’t have to worry about purchasing or renting hardware, or choosing a hosting provider, before getting started managing their business with our software.”
Not only is the deployment process considerably simpler for the software-plus-services model, it is also a cost-effective option for customers. Acumatica offers customers an easy-to-understand monthly flat-rate pricing option. Acumatica can offer clients a low price because instead of having banks of under-utilized servers, or paying a flat-rate for hosted servers, Acumatica only pays for consumed resources —scaling up and down quickly depending on their needs. For instance, at the end of the month, when customers are reconciling their financial statements and using more computing power than at other times of the month, they pay for more use.
Because Windows Azure is hosted by Microsoft, customers are confident that they have invested in a reliable solution. “Being supported by Microsoft is critical for our industry,” explains Johnson. “There are undisputed benefits to using a software-plus-services model, but customers are often conservative when it comes to their ERP software. With Windows Azure, customers know that they are getting not only the best performance, but also the best-in-class solution when it comes to security and reliability.” By standardizing on the Windows Azure platform, Acumatica can not only scale and grow their technology infrastructure but also their customer base.
By using the Windows Azure platform, Acumatica can efficiently implement a cost-effective Internet-based offering of its ERP and Web-based accounting application. Acumatica quickly developed the software-plus-services application while reducing capital expenditures for itself and its customers. In addition, customers can quickly deploy the application and scale up and down as necessary. Due to of the ease of deployment, Acumatica can now focus on its business operations and take products to market faster.
Quicker Development Time
Developers at Acumatica use Visual Studio 2008 and C# to develop its applications on the .NET Framework. When building the “cloud” version of its business applications, developers only made minor modifications to the on-premises version because they were able to use their existing skills and repurpose code from original applications. Two developers spent one week learning about the Windows Azure platform and its services, two weeks developing the software, and another week and a half developing the SQL Azure database. “Because our application was already built on the .NET Framework, implementing a cloud solution with Windows Azure was more of a migration process and less of a full-scale development process,” says Johnson.
Lower Capital Costs
Because Acumatica uses Windows Azure, the company can avoid making costly investments in its IT infrastructure to deliver its software-plus-services offering. “To invest our own time and money to build a software-plus-services infrastructure would cost us more than $100,000,” says Chechelkonogov. “With Windows Azure, we get the ready-to-use infrastructure instantly without that costly investment—that’s the big difference for us when it comes to Azure.”
In addition, Acumatica customers also avoid capital expenditures by relying on software-plus-services hosted by Microsoft. “Without the need for application servers and database servers onsite, customers can save an average of $8,000 for startup hardware costs, depending on the number of users and the customer’s processing needs,” explains Chechelkonogov. Adding to that savings, with the services hosted by a trustworthy source, customers do not have to hire additional IT personnel to manage the applications.
Reduced Deployment Time and Greater Scalability
By eliminating the need to purchase or rent hardware, Acumatica can help customers implement their software faster. “Realistically, taking into consideration internal approval and procurement processes to add hardware to IT infrastructure, it can take up to two months for customers to implement software using the on-premises model,” explains Chechelkonogov. “With Windows Azure, customers can purchase our solution and be up and running in as little as two hours.”
In addition to cutting initial deployment time from two months to two hours, customers can also scale up and down quickly with Windows Azure. Instead of configuring and deploying new physical servers to meet increasing computing needs, Acumatica and its customers can rely on robust processing power and storage capabilities, hosted by Microsoft. And when customers’ computing needs are less demanding, they do not worry about paying for servers that are not in use.
By using Windows Azure, Acumatica can better focus on its business and bring new applications and software enhancements to market faster. “We’re not a hosting provider and we’re not experts at running services; we’re experts at bringing premier Web-based ERP and accounting software to our customer,” says Johnson. “With Windows Azure, we can focus on what we do best and bring applications to market much faster.”
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. In addition, Windows Azure serves developers’ connectivity needs through the following services.
- The Service Bus connects services and applications across network boundaries to help developers build distributed applications.
- The Access Control Service provides federated, claims-based access control for REST Web services.
- Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 technologies.
To learn more about the Windows Azure platform, visit:
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