Irish cloud entrepreneurs reach for an Azure sky

7 Jan 2011

Three young Irish technology companies have reached a global market by embracing Windows Azure.

Just under 500 Irish technology companies are now part of Microsoft’s BizSpark ecosystem and more than 1,000 different cloud software applications are now in use in Irish businesses.

Yes, the cloud computing revolution is under way and Irish companies are leading the charge in adopting Microsoft’s cloud platform Windows Azure to reach a global marketplace and develop successful software products at a fraction of the traditional cost.

“For small businesses, they’ve got a world-class, enterprise-class application platform ready for them to go to work on,” explains Clare Dillon, head of Microsoft Ireland’s Developer and Platform Group.

“There’s no up-front investment in time or money, smaller companies can get their apps to market much faster than they were able to in the past. It means that when you deploy an app on the Windows Azure platform, you have a scalability in-built. If your customer base online grows from zero to 1,000 in a few weeks, you are ready to serve that.”

Apps for Windows Azure

Dillon says businesses with .NET, PHP or Java skills can quickly and easily develop apps for Windows Azure. “In Ireland, we’ve had 1,000 Windows Azure applications go live in our data centre. That is by far the largest number in any country in the western world.”

Among the companies to develop apps for this ecosystem are HR Locker, Dynamic Route Maps and New Code.

Seasoned technology entrepreneur John Dennehy’s company HR Locker allows SMEs in Ireland to create a legally compliant staff handbook in five minutes. Employees can log onto the site and electronically sign the handbook. It replaces the whole paper process.

“The software costs typically €10 per user per year and saves a company €40 per user annually,” Dennehy says.

He explains that his company started off developing the technology on SQL server and a year ago decided to port it to Azure.

“The reason we did that was because we wanted to successfully scale internationally. We made good use of the Azure platform and have created an instance of the app in Hong Kong, where we serve China from. With less than one hour of engineering time we were also able to create an instance of the product in the US.

“The core benefit of Azure for us is we don’t have to worry about security as much as we normally would and we don’t have to invest in our own infrastructure, which allows us to provide our service to the end user at a very low price.”

Airlines app

Dynamic Route Maps has developed a dynamic application for airlines around the world that allows users to book flights and other services from an online map.

“We developed an Azure delivery tool on Silverlight that lets users click on a city they want to go to and see what flights go to that location and other cities and go straight into a booking flow of an airline’s website,” says Chad Gilmer of Dynamic Route Maps. “This provides new online revenues for airlines that didn’t exist before.”

Gilmer says that what excites him most is how the technology can function seamlessly on the new Windows Phone 7 and other smartphone devices.

“Windows Azure ticked all the boxes as a pure platform-as-a-service. We didn’t have to worry about infrastructure, bandwidth requirements or security issues.”

Another company to see its business revolutionised by Windows Azure is New Code, which enables businesses to move legacy applications onto the cloud.

“There used to be a phrase ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’,” says Peter Owens of New Code. “But with the the cloud that is all changing. There are no compelling reasons to move legacy applications to the cloud and our business is built around providing the enabling tools to facilitate that migration.”

Owens explains that the company had been constantly changing its software tools to get a better performance and, after discovering the Windows Azure platform, is now able to complete the migration process in a few steps.

“Because we’ve done this the hard way several times, we know the pitfalls and challenges. We can potentially offer massive productivity to companies and help them avoid the pitfalls.

“We have a well-defined process that allows us to migrate different legacy applications and databases onto the Windows Azure cloud and make it easy for businesses to provide access to their employees.”

The advantage of Azure for software companies is the ability to quickly and easily change products and services and create a more compelling sell, continues Owens.

“Our own tools are provisioned through the Windows Azure cloud service, so we practice what we preach,” he concludes.