eCraft helps its customers manage their business processes with powerful systems and software such as Microsoft Dynamics NAV. The company wanted to deliver scalable web applications that would link with Microsoft Dynamics NAV, without requiring itself or its customers to make high investments in hardware and infrastructure maintenance. eCraft used Windows Azure from Microsoft to develop an e-commerce website that uses Microsoft Dynamics NAV to manage product information, order processes, payment systems, and delivery logistics. Now the company is reaching new markets and new customers by delivering low-cost, high-performance web applications that provide its customers with the power, focus, and flexibility to grow their businesses.Situation
With 80 employees and operations in Finland and Sweden, eCraft helps companies around the globe integrate IT systems with specific business practices. A Microsoft Gold Certified partner
, eCraft both provides consulting and IT services, and develops customized, easy-to-use interfaces that give its customers access to powerful business systems and software.
eCraft works with hundreds of enterprises, many in the manufacturing and energy industries. A part of the company’s business is set up to help small to midsized customers use Microsoft Dynamics NAV software to manage business processes such as financial administration, manufacturing, distribution, customer relationships, and e-commerce.
To meet the needs of both large and small customers, eCraft wanted to begin developing and offering its own software to work with Microsoft Dynamics NAV. But according to Nicklas Andersson, Chief Technology Officer at eCraft, the software that the company had built for many of its larger customers had required significant investments in hardware.
|We used Windows Azure to build a service that young, fast-growing companies can use to not only cut costs, but focus on their business, sell more products, and make more money.|
Project Manager, eCraft
“Our Microsoft Dynamics NAV customers tend to be smaller companies,” he says. “They are often averse to high costs associated with buying, operating, and managing new software and hardware on-premises.”
While eCraft needed to accommodate its customers’ need for reduced costs, it also had to offer these often fast-growing companies the flexibility to scale solutions up quickly. So eCraft began looking for a way to deliver its solutions as Internet-based services, rather than as software that customers needed to install and manage themselves.
Also, eCraft did not want to be involved in owning and operating the infrastructure to run and deliver the solution. To provide the level of scalability it wanted to offer, eCraft would have had to invest in significant excess server capacity, an expense and a risk that the company wanted to avoid.
“We had to offer customers a very low initial investment, press down on the service price, provide a pay-as-you-go cost structure to scale up, and still maintain a good margin,” says Andersson.
To get the elasticity it wanted and to avoid the extra work and expense of maintaining its own on-premises infrastructure, eCraft wanted to deliver Microsoft Dynamics NAV add-on solutions with cloud technology, the use of vast computing and storage resources that are managed in large external data centers and delivered as services over the Internet.Solution
eCraft evaluated several cloud services such as Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Windows Azure from Microsoft. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform
. It provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, and bandwidth, and a content distribution network to host, scale, and manage web applications through Microsoft data centers.
The company quickly recognized that while most services could provide access to computing resources hosted off-premises, it would be more efficient to use Windows Azure to host, manage, and develop its Microsoft Dynamics NAV add-on applications with a single platform. “Windows Azure was clearly the most cost-effective alternative,” says Jörgen Westerling, Chief Communications Officer at eCraft. “The other services offered virtual machines in the cloud that are still yours to manage. But we could use Windows Azure to actually build a true multitenant solution. Then, we could use the Windows Azure framework itself to achieve the scalability we wanted without additional servers to manage, virtual or not.”
In 2010, eCraft was contacted by PowerStation Oy, a company in Helsinki, Finland, that wanted to run a cluster of online shopping websites—or webshops—that it could use to sell ecologically responsible office supplies and energy-saving products online. Stefan Lindberg, Managing Director at PowerStation, needed a solution that would not require a big investment in hardware, would scale up or down as he needed it, and that would not burden his new company with a large IT management responsibility.
“I believe it’s a huge risk for a startup business to try to manage a complex IT structure by itself,” says Lindberg. “I had to concentrate on building my business. I needed other guys to concentrate on running my IT systems.”
Lindberg also wanted to use technology that would be consistent with PowerStation’s mission of environmental conservation. He wanted a solution that would use fewer resources in terms of hardware, space, and energy.
|Figure 1 - eCraft developed a Microsoft Dynamics NAV multitenant webshop integrated with computing and storage resources supplied through Windows Azure.|
eCraft took the opportunity to launch a project to develop a Microsoft Dynamics NAV multitenant webshop integrated with Windows Azure (Figure 1). A multitenant architecture allows the same application to be shared by multiple tenants by isolating each tenant’s data. To launch the solution, eCraft used Windows Azure to power three PowerStation webshops, www.ecooffice.fi
, and www.greenpower.fi
The webshop cluster uses computing and storage resources supplied through Windows Azure, and the databases are managed with Microsoft SQL Azure, a cloud based, self-managed database service built on technologies in Microsoft SQL Server data management software. The webshops deliver an online interface that displays product information and images, and it links to Microsoft Dynamics NAV so that PowerStation can effectively manage product information, order processes, payment systems, and delivery logistics.
All the data remains in the Microsoft Dynamics NAV system and a third-party data-catalog application. Administrators can use the AppFabric Service Bus in the Windows Azure platform to easily connect the webshop operating in Windows Azure to Microsoft Dynamics NAV no matter where it is operating—on-premises, in a local hosting service, or in the cloud.
“Traditionally, it was a lot of work to connect a webshop to Microsoft Dynamics NAV, to safeguard the data and make it available for the webshop to retrieve,” says Andersson. “With Service Bus, we can let Windows Azure communicate with Microsoft Dynamics NAV without the customer having to do anything with firewalls or make changes to their existing infrastructure.”
PowerStation launched www.ecooffice.fi, www.ecolife.fi, and www.greenpower.fi in the spring of 2010. According to Andersson, a key design goal of the Microsoft Dynamics NAV webshop was to keep the solution as broadly applicable as possible. “We use Windows Azure to deliver a Microsoft Dynamics NAV webshop that works no matter what you sell on the web,” he says. “For instance, PowerStation does not manufacture the products it sells, but a company could link the webshop to the manufacturing module in Microsoft Dynamics NAV and it would work just as well.”Benefits
Now eCraft can deliver a webshop solution to its customers that links with Microsoft Dynamics NAV easily and cost-effectively, without requiring large up-front investments in hardware, and allows easy scalability with a pay-as-you-go cost structure. The company is already developing new offerings and reaching new markets and new customers. New Customer Offerings
eCraft used Windows Azure to develop and deliver its own Microsoft Dynamics NAV webshop service for any company that needs to manage online sales, reduce costs, or scale up their existing systems. “We used Windows Azure to build a service that young, fast-growing companies can use to not only cut costs, but focus on their business, sell more products, and make more money,” says Peter Löfgren, Project Manager at eCraft.
|I believe it’s a huge risk for a startup business to try to manage a complex IT structure by itself. I had to concentrate on building my business. I needed other guys to concentrate on running my IT systems.|
The company has begun using Windows Azure to develop more offerings, including an Ideation Process Management tool, a sales management and tracking tool, and Catalyst, a parts-ordering webshop for manufacturers that integrates high-tech schematic drawings with an online order-placement system.
“We’ve made a commitment to using Windows Azure so we can build and operate new services with a single, repeatable environment,” says Löfgren. “We don’t have to learn other ways to deliver these solutions because Windows Azure works.”Fast Development, Simple Deployment
Because eCraft had already been working with the core development technologies in Windows Azure and SQL Azure for a number of years, they were able to significantly streamline the development process.
“We could use knowledge and skills we already had,” says Andersson. “For instance, working with SQL Azure is exactly the same as working with SQL Server. That helped us to cut costs and trim our time to market by at least half.”
Andersson also notes that by operating the solution in a multitenant Windows Azure environment, eCraft could focus on optimizing the service instead of accommodating different customer environments. Customers also can adopt the service almost instantly, instead of spending weeks or even months purchasing, installing, and configuring hardware or negotiating a change order with a local hosting provider.
“With Windows Azure, we can deliver services to our customers faster, and remove a lot of the cost, complexity, and uncertainty that’s often associated with adopting a new solution,” says Löfgren. Easy Integration and Flexibility
PowerStation could connect its eCraft webshop with its Microsoft Dynamics NAV system without requiring new firewalls and complicated configuration, even though it operated Microsoft Dynamics NAV in a hosted environment in the United Kingdom. According to Löfgren, that saved more than half the work it could traditionally take to integrate a webshop with Microsoft Dynamics NAV.
eCraft built a scalable multitenant service that it can simply expand as demand requires, paying only for what it uses, a flexibility and cost-structure it can pass on to its customers. According to Lindberg at PowerStation, he can add a new webshop to his cluster in as little as two days.
“Many startups and growth companies can scale at a pace that challenges IT structures,” says Löfgren. “But with Windows Azure we can accommodate exactly those kind of companies.”Low Costs, High Performance
Andersson estimates that by using Windows Azure, eCraft is saving up to 70 percent of what it would have spent to operate the Microsoft Dynamics NAV-based webshop on-premises or in a Finnish data center. When eCraft projects the number of customers it expects for the solution over two years, it calculates a total savings of more than U.S.$750,000. Andersson says that by delivering the solution as a service through Windows Azure, eCraft can save its customers up to U.S.$50,000 in hardware and other startup costs.
Now eCraft can deliver a low-cost, high-performance service that enhances a customer’s investment in Microsoft Dynamics NAV. It allows companies to manage their webshops with the advanced business-management tools in their Microsoft Dynamics NAV systems without having to rely on a separate user interface.
“When we started this project for PowerStation, they were just launching their business,” says Andersson. “But it didn’t mean they had fewer requirements than a big company for the functionality of their webshop. By using Windows Azure to provide this service for any size company, including small ones hoping to grow, we will increase our potential market quite a lot.”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. It provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, and bandwidth, and a content distribution network to host, scale, and manage web applications through Microsoft data centers.
Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on Microsoft SQL Server technologies.
Windows Azure AppFabric. With Windows Azure AppFabric, developers can build and manage applications more easily both on-premises and in the cloud.
− AppFabric Service Bus connects services and applications across network boundaries to help developers build distributed applications.
− AppFabric Access Control provides federated, claims-based access control for REST web services.
Windows Azure Marketplace DataMarket. Developers and information workers can use the new service DataMarket to easily discover, purchase, and manage premium data subscriptions in the Windows Azure platform.
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