Microsoft Case Study: Windows Azure and iQmetrix

Link to the original case study.

Date: June 142012

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ISV Speeds to Market, Trims Costs 30 Percent by Using Open Source Tools, Cloud Delivery

iQmetrix uses a software-as-a-service model to deliver innovative marketing solutions to the retail industry. By using Windows Azure to host its newest product, iQmetrix was able to use the MongoDB to achieve faster time-to-market, instant global scalability, and IT infrastructure cost reductions of 30 percent. iQmetrix can now focus on what it does best — develop great retail solutions — and give customers better solutions at a lower cost than the competition.

Business Needs
iQmetrix provides retail management solutions for specialty retailers. Its flagship product, RQ4, is a software solution that wireless retailers use to manage people, processes, and products. iQmetrix offers RQ4 using a software-as-a-service delivery model, hosting the application from a leased data center.

When iQmetrix set out to develop its next product, XQ Interactive Retail, an in-store shopping service, it wanted to consider a different approach. The economics of building and managing a data center infrastructure didn’t make sense for this product,” explains Anne Weiler, Vice President of Marketing for iQmetrix. XQ would have a much larger market potential than RQ4, which meant that the required infrastructure could cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. We wanted to focus our investment on building the product versus building the infrastructure to host it.”

iQmetrix also wanted to be able to scale the XQ service quickly and globally, provide all customers with the same levels of performance and availability, and make it easy and economical for customers to use. It wanted to get the XQ development team up and running as quickly as possible, too, which also meant shortening the deployment time and letting developers use tools of their choice.

iQmetrix decided to avoid the expense of an internal IT infrastructure and host both the XQ development effort and the finished product in Windows Azure, the Microsoft cloud services development, hosting, and management environment.

The platform-as-a-service model was very appealing,” says John Woakes, Development Lead at iQmetrix, referring to a technology model whereby a third-party provider delivers a complete development environment over the Internet. We considered Amazon Web Services but chose Windows Azure for the ease of use and deployment.” Additionally, iQmetrix chose to use the open source MongoDB database software, and iQmetrix was pleased that Windows Azure supported it.

iQmetrix developers became familiar with Windows Azure in hours, without the need to requisition, wait for, and configure servers. Whenever developers hit a barrier or a crunch period, they simply increased their instances of Windows Azure virtual servers — in minutes — and kept going.

Initial development started in May 2011, and iQmetrix launched XQ Interactive Retail in September 2011. Consumers in stores access XQ from touch-screen digital media players to view and compare products, watch how-to videos, and learn about complementary products. The in-store digital media players run the Windows 7 operating system — including the Windows Touch feature — Windows Media Player, the Microsoft Surface software and touch computing platform, and Windows Presentation Foundation. By using XQ to display products, retailers can give customers a rich, interactive product browsing experience while reducing in-store inventory and theft. They can also update pricing and availability in multiple stores instantly, from a central location.

The application and database infrastructure are hosted in Windows Azure using Microsoft ASP.NET MVC 3 and the MongoDB database. iQmetrix uses Windows Azure Blob Storage and Windows Azure Caching to improve data access and storage, and Windows Azure Media Services to deliver rich media. It uses the Windows Azure Service Bus to provide messaging services. iQmetrix licenses XQ for a monthly subscription per media player.

iQmetrix collects data on every customer-product interaction and sends it to Windows Azure for reporting. Retailers such as fast-growing Airport Wireless can find out how frequently various products were digitally touched” at each of their stores.

By developing and hosting XQ Interactive Retail in Windows Azure, iQmetrix was able to get to market faster, scale without limits, and reduce costs.

  • Get to Market Faster Using Open Source Technologies like MongoDB
    iQmetrix was able to get XQ to market faster by developing in the Windows Azure cloud. By using Windows Azure, our developers could use the software they already knew and felt was best for the job — open source MongoDB — to get our enterprise product to market in just six months,” Weiler says.
  • Scale to Meet Growth, Seasonal Peaks
    With Windows Azure, iQmetrix can quickly and easily scale the XQ infrastructure to keep pace with business growth and the seasonal nature of many retail businesses. With Windows Azure, our customers can add more XQ screens during busy periods such as the Christmas season to deal with increased store traffic, and we can double our number of servers in 10 minutes without a big financial hit,” Weiler says. We are going after a global market, and with Windows Azure we can deliver XQ from multiple Microsoft data centers and ensure high levels of performance and availability for every customer.”
  • Reduce IT Costs by 30 Percent
    By using Windows Azure as its development environment, iQmetrix was able to lower its development and hosting costs by 30 percent because it didn’t need an on-premises development and hosting infrastructure or management staff. We have a large infrastructure team for our RQ4 product,” Weiler says. Without that need for XQ, we were able to hire more software developers to enhance the product. We feel that we have a greater competitive advantage with Windows Azure, because we can focus our resources on delivering services rather than on building and managing IT infrastructure.”

By accessing XQ from Windows Azure, iQmetrix customers also save money. Our customers don’t need on-site servers or IT expertise to run XQ, which is a savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars across a retail chain,” Weiler says. Plus, customers can change product lineups, prices, or availability from one central location and update dozens or hundreds of stores. Windows Azure saves our customers money and makes product management more convenient.”

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