Advanced Telemetry helps businesses monitor and control energy usage both on-premises and remotely with its EcoView system and EcoView Web application. The company has experienced tremendous growth, encouraging it to reexamine the scalability of its computing architecture. To reduce costs, increase scalability, and improve service, Advanced Telemetry is using the Windows Azure™ platform for hosted application and data storage, plus the Visual WebGui application platform from Microsoft® Registered Partner Gizmox to provide rapid development and run-time efficiencies for cloud applications. Advanced Telemetry developers have been able to use existing programming skills and experience with Microsoft development tools to migrate to Windows Azure. This saves the company money, improves functionality, and enables it to easily scale its computing resources to keep up with its rapid growth. Situation
Since 1999, the core development team at Advanced Telemetry has pioneered advancements in the use of the Internet to remotely monitor and control “intelligent” devices like air conditioners, fans, and other mechanical equipment. The company received venture capital funding to launch in 2007.
The flagship product created by Advanced Telemetry is the EcoView energy management system. Designed primarily for buildings such as restaurants and convenience stores, EcoView includes an on-premises touch panel that communicates wirelessly with the building’s energy systems. The local touch panel is connected to the Internet so that devices and energy consumption can be monitored and controlled remotely through a Web interface called EcoView Web (Figure 1). “EcoView brings the benefits of sophisticated, low-cost, easy-to-install energy management to medium and small buildings to dramatically reduce resource consumption and offer very short term ROI [return on investment],” says Tom Naylor, Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Advanced Telemetry.
The EcoView touch panel is built on the Microsoft® Windows® CE 6.0 operating system, and it communicates with designated intelligent thermostats and power meters. The touch panel has a secure Internet connection to Advanced Telemetry servers, middleware, and data storage. Advanced Telemetry built the middleware layer on Microsoft ASP.NET and Microsoft SQL Server® 2003 data management software. The middleware layer exposes an application programming interface (API) that allows Web-based user interfaces—like EcoView Web—to be built against it.
The touch panel interface provides real-time and historical usage data, and it stores remotely tunable algorithms that can react to local conditions. For instance, if the power consumption of a facility reaches a certain threshold, the system can automatically adjust the thermostats to cause the air conditioners to use less power. The system offers three levels of control. Managers at the district or region level can use EcoView Web to set energy schedules and thresholds and manage energy consumption at all their sites. At the local level, the facility manager can adjust temperature within the ranges specified at the district level in order to respond to local conditions without compromising the company’s energy management strategies. Advanced Telemetry also offers its own remote monitoring service as a standard part of the EcoView product.
“Support services is a very important part of our product offering,” says Naylor. “Our technicians monitor all of the sites from our network operating center. They can set parameters that tell the middleware to alert them about unusual conditions or something that needs to be looked at. Having that human element for making judgment calls is crucial, because humans can make inferences that computers just aren’t good at making yet. Many customers prefer calling support services to using the Web interface themselves.”
|Figure 1. EcoView Web provides detailed energy consumption statistics in a variety of formats.|
As businesses focus more on energy consumption and “green” computing, Advanced Telemetry has seen rapid growth in its customer base. As of October 2009, the company services 500 sites, including many fast-food chain restaurants, and it expects that number to grow to 1,000 by the beginning of 2010. Customers have found that EcoView can save them up to 20 percent or more in energy and gas costs.
EcoView is also the most cost-effective solution in the industry—as of October 2009, it sells for U.S.$1,500. Competing solutions typically start out around $10,000. “The entrepreneurs who run convenience stores and restaurants work on very thin profit margins,” notes Naylor. “They need a product that gives full ROI within a year, and that’s a challenge.”
Although Advanced Telemetry is pleased with the rapid acceptance of its product, the fast growth has provided challenges as well. “Inside a store, our system collects a tremendous amount of data about store conditions and user interactions and records it to our middleware system. We’re currently using servers hosted through a collocation vendor, and we’ve been concerned about the increase in servers and personnel necessary to scale out as much and as fast as we need to.”
Advanced Telemetry began looking for new tools, systems, and platforms that would enable it to scale easily to accommodate business growth without forcing the IT department to spend increasing money and personnel on server hardware and management overhead.The Right Platform
Advanced Telemetry first considered Bigtable from Google for storing its historical data while keeping its collocated servers but eventually dismissed it as an incomplete solution. The company wanted a more comprehensive framework that would include the application as a whole and not just the data storage portion.
||With Windows Azure, you can quickly achieve what, a year ago, would have taken more people, more money, and a lot more time. It’s going to enable applications of types we’ve never seen before.
Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Advanced Telemetry
A number of vendors now offer solutions for “cloud computing,” where applications and data can reside on remotely hosted servers, while being accessed by users across the Internet on an as-needed basis. This frees businesses from the cost of managing their own hardware and networks, so they can focus greater resources on business development and customer experience. After looking at several competing products, Advanced Telemetry chose the Windows Azure™ platform.
The Windows Azure platform is an Internet-scale cloud services platform that is hosted in Microsoft data centers. It provides an operating system and a set of developer services that can be used individually or together. Also, Windows Azure affordably fits the needs of customers by offering a scalable infrastructure with a pay-as-you-go model.
“We see the Windows Azure platform as an alternative to both managing and supporting collocated servers and having support personnel on our side dedicated to making sure the system is always up and the application is always running,” says Naylor. “Windows Azure solves all those things for us effectively with the redundancy and fault tolerance we need. Because cost is based on usage, we’ll also be able to much more accurately assess our service fees. For the first time, we’ll be able to tell exactly how much it costs to service a particular site.”
Advanced Telemetry considered competing cloud services providers, but it felt that Microsoft was the best bet. “It’s a big move putting my systems and data in someone else’s hands,” says Naylor. “You know that Microsoft is not going to go away, and that’s big. That was my issue with Google and Amazon’s services. They’re younger companies, and this isn’t their primary business. They could decide at any point that it doesn’t make business sense and start abandoning those things.”The Right Tools
Advanced Telemetry chose the Windows Azure platform partly because it works with tools like the Microsoft Visual Studio® 2008 development system. “If you’re a Windows developer, you most likely use Visual Studio,” explains Naylor. “So it’s almost a no-brainer to move to Windows Azure, because support is built right into the tools. I hear a lot about ‘free’ tools and environments like Java and Linux, but I’ve always found that they really aren’t actually free because you’re engineering and developing and de-bugging with substandard tools. All that cost and struggle far outweighs the cost of a simple Visual Studio license.”
Adds Naylor, “Another important part of the solution is the Visual WebGui application platform from Gizmox.” Microsoft Registered Partner Gizmox, based outside Tel Aviv, Israel, provides rapid development and deployment for Web-based and cloud-based applications in the government and business enterprise markets. More than 150,000 developers around the world use Visual WebGui to build and deploy applications.
“On the development side, we are basically an extension to Visual Studio,” explains Gil Mor, Vice President of Business Development at Gizmox. “We give .NET developers the ability to develop very rich applications for the Web and the cloud without the need to learn a new method of development. We extend the Microsoft stack with additional features and make it easy to port applications to the cloud.”
Adds Itzik Spitzen, Vice President of Research and Development at Gizmox, “A Visual WebGui application is highly optimized to reduce bandwidth and CPU requirements. So it is especially well suited to a cloud computing platform, where the customer is charged based on usage.”
Advanced Telemetry has been impressed with the tool. “Visual WebGui lets developers focus on user interface requirements without getting caught up in code for formatting the look and feel,” says Naylor. “The default result has the look and feel of a Windows desktop application, which is exactly what we wanted. Visual WebGui closes the gap between what you want to do and getting it done in a Web-based application, and it saves a lot of time. When Gizmox announced support for the Windows Azure platform, it sealed the deal and we began working on a migration plan.” The Development Process
Advanced Telemetry chose a phased process for migrating its systems to the Windows Azure platform, starting with rebuilding the Web-based user interface (UI). “Starting with the UI components first will get us familiar with the Windows Azure product. After that, we’ll work on moving our middleware data storage and middleware application, which will be a much larger project. But by then we’ll be more informed and have more experience.”
Developers gained familiarity with Visual WebGui development by rebuilding the company’s internal-facing service applications. “There was no learning curve with Visual WebGui,” says Naylor. “To a Windows developer, it is very natural, very drag-and-drop, and you don’t get bogged down in tables and style sheets and other HTML artifacts.”
The ease of use of the platform and tools has helped Advanced Telemetry develop its new Web application quickly. Work began in August 2009, and the company has an alpha release scheduled for the end of October, with a full public beta scheduled for the end of November. Advanced Telemetry expects to complete middleware migration by the end of the first quarter of 2010.
||I feel like this move by Microsoft might turn out to be the most important technological shift that I have been part of during my career.
Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Advanced Telemetry
Advanced Telemetry is enthusiastic about its migration to the Windows Azure platform and a different computing paradigm. “I feel like this move by Microsoft might turn out to be the most important technological shift that I have been part of during my career,” states Naylor. “It enables applications to be developed with a lot less financial investment. With Windows Azure, you can quickly achieve what, a year ago, would have taken more people, more money, and a lot more time. It’s going to enable applications of types we’ve never seen before.”
The move to a flexible, cloud-based computing platform has made it possible for Advanced Telemetry to more easily scale its business in response to rapid growth, while simultaneously reducing costs and improving application functionality. The company can do all this with a set of familiar technologies that speed up application development.Better Support for Business Growth
Advanced Telemetry can now react more easily and spontaneously to the company’s rapid growth. “The ability to scale smoothly as we grow is the single most important challenge we’re facing,” says Naylor. “To be able to scale up without a whole lot of planning, financial investment, and hardware maintenance is key. No one has ever done this on the scale we’re doing it. The cloud-based, pay-as-you-go model of Windows Azure is an excellent fit.”Business Cost and Resource Savings
By moving to a cloud-hosted application and data platform, Advanced Telemetry saves money and can more efficiently use its engineering staff. “Our goal is to no longer own any servers, except maybe for a couple internal development servers,” says Naylor. “But even they might go. The ideal for me would be that I no longer invest in server hardware, operating systems, support, infrastructure—none of that. It will all be moved to the cloud. Not only is it a financial impact, but it’s also about how you’re using your resources. We can focus more on our technology offering instead of hardware management.”Increased Competitive Advantage
Because Advanced Telemetry has more transparency into its computing costs with the Windows Azure pay-per-use fee structure, the company can better assess its own charges. “We’ll be able to know exactly how much it costs to service a single site. Right now we can estimate that, but we don’t have access to firm data. Our preliminary calculations on our costs with Windows Azure are very encouraging. We’ll almost certainly be able to pass savings on to the customer, which definitely gives us an advantage over any competitor because we can lower our price and improve ROI. That makes sales much easier.”New Data Analysis Capabilities
Advanced Telemetry expects that its migration to the Windows Azure platform will enable the company to do more with its data. “With Windows Azure, we can offer functionality we couldn’t before,” says Naylor. “We’re considering a redesign of our middleware API that allows data mining and analysis capability that would be nearly impossible to do on our own, just because of the economics. Azure data storage, in particular, allows us to do things in real time that we just couldn’t do before.”Tools for Rapid Development
Advanced Telemetry believes that the development tools available for Windows Azure are a key part of the product’s appeal. “Windows Azure support is built into Visual Studio,” notes Naylor. “And over time it will become even more integrated, so you can build on your years of investment in Visual Studio and work in a familiar environment with a familiar approach. You don’t have to learn radically new tools and methods, and you get to keep all your skills and best practices. ”That had a big influence on our decision to choose Windows Azure.”
Third-party product support from vendors like Gizmox is also important. “Gizmox is putting a lot of effort into making sure that the developers’ early experience with the Windows Azure platform is a good one,” says Naylor. “That encourages me and reinforces the fact that Windows Azure is a very important technology moving forward. Visual WebGui from Gizmox, working with Windows Azure, is a game-changer in my view. It can radically reshape how developers approach Web-based application.”
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: For More Information
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Download: Windows Azure Tools and SDK
View: Architecting and Developing for Windows Azure