What Canadian developers are building on Azure

A developer with a Canadian vendor of legal practice management software expects to make use of the new capabilities introduced on Thursday by Microsoft Corp. to its cloud platform Windows Azure, including making it easier to move apps to the cloud.

“The interest in that is you can put what you like on it. You control completely the environment and that opens up some stuff as well,” said Chris Cardinal, chief technology officer with Gavel & Gown Software Inc.

This week, at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference (PDC) the Redmond, Wash.-based company introduced new services to its cloud platform including Windows Azure Virtual Machine Role for easy deployment of apps in the cloud. It also now offers Server Application Virtualization so can developers can transfer app images to the cloud.

Cardinal thinks Windows Azure’s new capabilities are particularly useful for large enterprises faced with the expensive task of managing legacy apps. “If you want to move to the cloud and you have this old thing that you can’t completely divorce from all these dependences, then you configure a virtual machine then you can put it in the cloud,” he said.

Toronto-based Gavel & Gown Software has been using Windows Azure earlier this year to meet the demands of customers who began asking for scalability of its Credenza software, developed by daughter company Credenza Software Inc. Originally, Credenza was built for micro-shops of one or two users but today it can accommodate legal firms with 10-15 users, said Cardinal.
 

It’s a move the company would not have otherwise been able to make considering its team of developers have no skill in infrastructure management, said Cardinal. “It’s the point of contact between the two,” he said.

The new capabilities certainly transform Windows Azure into more of an infrastructure-as-a-service offering given developers can now tap into the underlying infrastructure, said Cardinal. “The fact that you are able to put in a virtual machine, you can configure your own OS and then have Azure host it is more along the lines of an infrastructure play versus a platform play,” said Cardinal.

Another Canadian developer using Windows Azure is Vancouver-based VRX Studios Inc. that offers multi-media services to the hotel and travel industries. The day of Microsoft’s announcements at PDC, VRX unveiled its revamped digital asset management system, Media Valet, on which it hosts and manages content like still images and virtual tours for its customer base of 10,000 hotels.
 

David MacLaren, president & CEO of VRX Studios, said it would not have been possible two years ago for the company to build Media Valet due to the cost of building and running data centres to support the software. Using a cloud platform, said MacLaren, “enabled us to not just build it, but deploy it because deploying is just as expensive as building.”

Regarding the new capabilities to Azure, MacLaren said the value for VRX Studios is in the addition of nodes to broaden the content delivery network for Media Valet.

Many Canadian businesses approach the cloud primarily driven by cost reduction but then realize the pay-as-you-go benefits of scaling up and down on compute resources as its needed, said Ryan Storgaard, director of platform strategies with Microsoft Canada Co.

Storgaard said the new capabilities—in particular the “very critical” Virtual Machine Role—in Azure will resonate with Canadian businesses who are currently focuses on how to manage data centre systems.

The option of a cloud platform also allows businesses a hybrid approach to housing apps, where they can pick certain apps they feel best belong in the cloud or on premise, said Storgaard.

Further pushing cloud platforms is the variety of mobile development platforms that app developers must contend with, said Storgaard. Allowing users to share data across mobility platforms by using the cloud is “another big theme I’m noticing from a Canadian perspective.”

As for what Cardinal would like to see next added to Windows Azure is some sort of a capability to search for content housed in Azure.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau