From flower trading to Hollywood casting, Microsoft

Azure cloud hits right notes for Canadian companies
Microsoft Corp.’s new Azure cloud is hitting the right notes with some its Canadian customers, two of whom spoke to ComputerWorld about how it could affect their business.

The Azure upgrades include the ability to run virtual machines on the cloud (including Linux machines) as well as the ability to manage secure VPNs between private and public clouds. Microsoft also announced an improved software development kit and support for various applications on Azure.

The first company is a Montreal-based firm called Sierra Flower Trading Inc., an online flower vendor that is now hosting what it says is the world’s largest open-source flower encyclopedia on Azure. With its infrasrtucture currently deployed over a hybrid cloud, Sierra will soon move more elements to the public side, beginning with its legacy ERP system and then, eventually, an e-commerce Web site.

“The nature of the flower industry is very dynamic,” said Sergey Filin, director of information services at Sierra, “so we were looking for something responsive, quick, not expensive — some environment that gives us the flexibility.”
Flower purchases don’t happen evenly over the year, he added, and with farms in 140 countries supplying the product, Sierra needed a scalable system. “Since we moved to the cloud, to Microsoft Azure, we saved five servers. Now they’re virtual on the hybrid cloud, and we also saved bandwidth because 35,000 visits and 250,000 page views per month would take two-thirds of our bandwidth.”

What intrigues Filin among the recent Microsoft announcements is the one around SQL Server reporting. Previously only available for on-premise systems, it will now be possible to run the database reporting functions in the cloud, said Darren Massel, senior product manager for public cloud at Microsoft Canada [NASDAQ: MFST]. 

 
“As a DB admin,” Filin said, “I would love to see how that will integrate into Windows Azure and how I can use it for all the reports that we’re planning to do for the e-commerce Web site.”

Meanwhile, the CTO of another company, Infusion Canada, which has developed a tool called Personif to collect user-generated video content online (including for Hollywood casting, soliciting citizen feedback on the part of governments, and human resources), said moving to the Azure cloud has brought certain jobs from “nightmare” into “effortless” territory.

Running Personif on its old on-premises network, said Sheldon Fernandez, director and CTO of the company, there was constant concern about capacity being overloaded by spikes in video traffic, for instance, on the last day of a casting. Now, he said, things have changed dramatically.
 
“With Azure I can dynamically allocate my hardware according to the needs of the show at that particular day or even that particular hour. So, as a result of being able to mirror it like that we’ve really reduced our costs significantly.”

One of the new Azure features that interests him most is the virtual machine capability. Infusion spends a great deal of time writing custom programs to configure machines on startup, which isn’t always easy, he said. “Having the option to have pre-canned virtual machines with Linux, with SharePoint, with other Microsoft enterprise products, is huge for us.”

He also likes the new media capabilities, including streaming video and Microsoft’s upgraded content delivery network.
 
“Those features, I would say, are definitely going to find themselves into our second iteration of the product,” said Fernandez.
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