Is the cloud killing your business?

Is the cloud kiling your business?

Is the cloud kiling your business?Cloud adoption is accelerating and it is also in the process killing many businesses. I read today an interesting blog entry “Are Cloud Vendors Cutting Out the Channel” and this article explains in great detail what is happening on the marketplace in respect to channel partners including value-added resellers (VARs) and MSPs. I remember vividly when Steve Ballmer suggested strongly a few years ago that Microsoft partners should really start adopting the cloud and a couple of years later, he stated that it might in fact soon be too late as the competition is already doing it. Pure channel partners with a business model to resell without adding any value will disappear from the markets.

I have recently talked to quite a few channel partners and the common message that I heard was that the markets are getting tougher and having a business without having a specialty or vertical experience might in fact kill the business sooner than later. I am seeing this also among software vendors that are refusing to adopt the cloud model. There are thousands of new pure SaaS entrants that want to be new market leaders in their domain and many end user organizations are refusing to go with the old-fashioned model where IT departments are the only part of organization that will be buying software and services. Based on the blog entry today, Tiffany Bova from Gartner concludes that many IT consumers are now “front-office buyers” from departments such as sales, marketing, finance, and human services. These departments are bypassing the centralized IT and this type of “uncontrolled” buying pattern will continue going forward in my opinion.

Microsoft management has been vocal to its partner network that every partner should by now be looking at cloud transformation and Kevin Turner (Microsoft COO) expressed his concern during Microsoft Worldwide Conference in Houston (July 2013) that only 3 percent of the company’s channel network was actively selling cloud services and this included products such as Windows Azure and Office 365. These numbers will change with time and I am convinced that there will be many partners that will experience the pressure the hard way. If the channel partner starts too late with the transformation, it might become irrelevant and have the wrong type of personnel with skills that do not match what the market wants. I am sure that somebody reading this blog will not agree with me, but I have seen already now quite a few channel partners that do not know what to do going forward. There is a real need to reboot the business model and rethink how the company will be surviving in the future.

I forecasted a couple of years ago that Sony will not survive the competition of e-books and devices due to many factors, Amazon Kindle being one of them.  A few days ago, I read that Sony will be exiting the business. Sony had its own e-book format and I was one of the ones that spent hundreds of dollars in books, which now will be converted to Kobo Android devices. I have no intention to buy any new devices. The reason I am sharing this is that even large organizations are forced to change the business model every now and then and consumers make wrong bets on the horse that they should be riding.

When I look at the global markets and what is happening around us, the change has accelerated in software domain and it has taken many by surprise. I would not be surprised that we hear bad news from many large industry dominant players in the software space that the transformation into new generation solutions has failed and consumers and businesses have adopted technologies that are more nimble and easy to use. It is very dangerous to ignore the trends and even more dangerous to think that market leadership means anything without hard work to maintain it.

App Ecosystem and APIs

Design by connectionI am a big proponent of APIs (application programming interfaces). Many of you might think that I must have a sick sense of humor, but I am seriously excited about this topic. We have finally moved to a new era where software development is moving away from trying to build colossal solutions that take years to implement and are hard to use. I gave an example of this in one of my previous blog posts how PowerObjects have been able to solve a business problem for me.

I am a true believer in assembling solutions of top-of-the-breed solutions and not trying to reinvent the wheel. If you felt a pinch in your heart, you should think about this and how you develop your software within your organization. Are you building things that already exist or are you building things that provide value-add to the overall solution based on your own core competence? I have led development teams an built more than 30 international software products with my teams, so I know what it means.

Application programming interfaces (APIs) can change your business and is a way for you to transform your business. It enables smart developers to create functional entities (consumable services) that can become a part of a larger entity. You do not have to go far to understand that quite a few companies have taken this approach such as Facebook etc. What is interesting is that APIs do not have to be only tied to external connections (messaging across organizations), but some large organizations are executing on effective API strategy within the company firewall. I truly think that the massive “one-fits-all” era is gone and the new era will be more about how you become part of your own ecosystem.

What we are seeing when working with large ISVs is the trend to not try to replace the old legacy solution, but to simulate a start-up by creating a MVP (Minimal Viable Product) that can meet the requirements of “good enough” for the end users. I think we have really come to the end of an era where more functionality is better, people do not have time to learn and re-learn things that should be self-explanatory. I am very excited about this MVP approach and will be writing more about this in my upcoming posts. I think this gives a new opportunity for legacy vendors to be competing towards new market entrants than every before.

I am excited about the potential with software, software apps and the cloud. I have been in the business for more than 20 years (hard to admit) and I feel like a young boy with the opportunities at hand. I like to challenge my brain (and keep myself relevant) by developing solutions and last weekend I spent customizing our internal Dynamics CRM 2011 Online instance to include the ability to collect information of TELLUS Academy students and also how to integrate all of this with our SharePoint 2013 Online instance. All of these are of course cloud-enabled and can be used from anywhere, anytime and independent of device. I set the objective in 2005 when I founded TELLUS to NOT have any servers that everything had to be surfaced from the cloud. Think back to 2005 and you will realize that there were not that many native cloud applications at the time.

If you are in the software business, you should look at the opportunities around apps and how you can build something exciting using the cloud. Unfortunately many organizations tend to think that creating an app has only to do with smart phones, but there is much more into apps than that. The app is just the “window to a service” that lives in the cloud and the user gets the benefit of this from many perspective such as scalability. I has been fun to see many organizations going into this direction with Windows Azure as backbone for the cloud services and Windows apps as the foundation. Windows Azure supports other mobile technologies such as Android and iOS as well.

 

Will your app developer be able to support your app use?

Light BikesI believe in the new app ecosystem. I can see the change happening in front of my eyes and I can see this in many ways. I can buy and install value-added apps for our Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Online solution without having to call anybody and most of these solutions can be tried out for a period of time. I can also buy apps to my Windows Surface Pro and RT and some of the same apps can be purchased to my Nokia Lumia 1020 Windows 8 Phone.

The app economy is here and we can’t stop that. I also have a tremendous opportunity to see what is happening on the marketplace as I have to talked and worked with many ISVs about their cloud and app plans. It is fascinating to see how the change is impacting every single company and person that has to deal with software. If you are in denial mode, you will be left behind and many have already lost market share to smaller and nimbler vendors due to ignorance and in some cases arrogance.

I put a question in my title whether you feel that the app developer is going to be able to support your app use. I have already acquired quite a few Dynamics CRM 2011 solutions into our Dynamics CRM instance and each one of these solutions are critical in our daily use. To give an idea what type of solutions one can use is PowerAutoNumber from PowerObjects, an amazing company in the US that was selected as 2013 Microsoft Partner of the Year Winner in the Customer Relationship Management category. PowerObjects have identified a nice niche in their business by adding value to a software platform that is used by many system integrators and software vendors as a platform for derivative software product line development.

This PowerObjects solution module does one thing very effectively: it enables me to generate numbers to CRM entities with a 1-to-many relationships. I recently had a need to start tracking all of TELLUS Academy course participants and decided to build a small app in Dynamics CRM 2011 (like XRM) using custom entities but I did not realize that auto numbering was not part of the “base Dynamics CRM 2011 pack” so I had two options: to build one using JScript, use a bunch of “open source” code from the Internet or buy/pay for a solution to an ISV that will maintain and amend the solution. I decided to stick to the last option.

In my case, it is like having a bunch of Lego blocks that are assembled together and each building block brings value to the overall solution. I am sure that this is nothing new to the ones that still remember the discussion of component-based development in 90s. What has made this a reality in my mind is the acceptance of SOA-based solutions and some ISVs have really understood the importance of building effective APIs for others to consume.

What I like in the case of PowerObjects is their innovation of solutions that any Dynamics CRM 2011 user really needs on a daily basis. I will explain more about these and other topics in our solution portfolio in my later posts.

My message to any organization is that it should select very carefully the solutions/components that it is going to rely on in its operations. This is of course nothing new, but the new app/solution ecosystem is assumed to make everything so easy and we tend to forget that many easy things might break and the ISV even go out of business. What are we going to do then? Do check the background of the company that you are going to bet your business on, that is just a logical thing to do even if the buying and installing is easy in the new app economy.

Will your web-site work with different devices?

It surprises me how few software vendors have realized to change their web-site to work with any type of mobile or tablet device. Almost a year-and-a-half ago I made a decision to make things simple and base my web-sites on technology whereby I do not have to think about different devices, the web-site technology will take care of it and I can focus on content.

During the history of our company, we have had many attempts by having external designers doing the web for us and we ended up having an everlasting fight to keep our web-site compatible not only with different browsers, but also different devices. Every time we needed to change something on the site, it was a major hassle and it seemed like having a house or cards that would collapse as soon as anything was touched. It was time to move on and change the approach. I bit the bullet and decided to make a chance and  research what would be the best platform to base our  consulting company and our educational portal on. I looked at many different factors such as richness of component ecosystem, reviews from industry analysts of pros and cons of each CMS and also how our web-site would be integrated to our Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 Online that has become the heart of our daily lead management.

I ended up with WordPress as the foundation and a big plus was also that Microsoft supports WordPress on Windows Azure platform so it became and opportunity for me to learn Windows Azure Internet Web Sites technology as well. We had invested quite a lot of time and effort into DNN (DotNetNuke) in the past, but I felt that WordPress gave us the simplicity what I was looking for and the huge ecosystem of software plugins and themes made it as an easy selection. There was absolutely nothing wrong with DNN, but I just felt that WordPress was the right choice for us at this time of our company evolution and that is why I ended up changing horse.

I listed all of the needed functional elements that our site would have to support and I spent time looking for the right theme that would support our multi-device and browser requirement. Once those had been selected, the rest was just execution. All of our sites have commercial skins that are updated by the designers to include the latest and greatest features of the platform and the WordPress can be managed from my Lumia Nokia device using an app that support WordPress backend.

In the end, what I ended up is having following things when moving to our new web-site technology:

  • Simple and well-known CMS technology (WordPress) with thousands of commercial themes and plugins
  • Support for any type of device  either via an app or via native browser
  • Scalable backend server technology by using Windows Azure
  • Simple and fun to use CMS solution that just “make sense”
  • Lots of third-party integration solutions that can be applied to our web-site
  • Etc.

My new mantra “keep it simple” has really worked in our new strategy and I will be writing more about our modules that we are using to run our business in later posts.

Aligning your business with your ecosystem

Your business is always part of an ecosystem. So is mine. I am completely aligned with Microsoft business cycle that starts 1st of July and ends last of June. Therefore Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) is the most important event for me and my TELLUS team. Why? Because during WPC I will get the first hunch of the direction that Microsoft is taking for the new fiscal year. This year, it will be all about devices and services (with lots of measure around this) and I have to align my services to reflect this direction. What it means in practice is that all our offers have to reflect and build upon devices and services for us to be able to help both Microsoft and Microsoft partners to align themselves with these objectives. If I continue stubbornly to message the “old fiscal year” objectives that do not reflect what the field needs to do, then please do not expect to have much support from your ecosystem, because they are not incentivized to care about that anymore. It might seem shortsighted (which it is many times), but that is they way it is with businesses today. Everybody has to cut their checks and to be able to do that, one has to look at where the money is coming from.

During the years, I have become pretty brutal in focus when it comes to my own business. I have see too many examples of entrepreneurs that are “all over the map” trying to do different things, but really not doing anything well. I do not want to be in that boat. Have I made mistakes? Sure, and lots of them. As an entrepreneur, I see money all of the place and it is one of the hardest things for me to look away from these opportunities especially if they do not contribute anything to the TELLUS “platform”. If these is value add to the platform, then I am willing to invest time in checking it out, but if it is not, then I have to walk away.

Do you have a focus in your business? If you are an SI, do you spread yourself too thin to too many things and then your team is perplexed as they seem not to know anything really well. If you are an ISV, do you have a focus in a vertical or functional area and become world known for it? If not, you need to revisit your plan as being “too many things to all is like not being anything to anybody”. I have witnessed this so many times that it is not even funny anymore. I suggest you run a small exercise using Business Model Canvas to see if your business makes sense.

What I would like you to do is to really contemplate who well you know your ecosystem and the internal working of it and if the answer is: “I really do not”, then you might want to consider doing something about it. Also, if you work within Microsoft ecosystem, you might want to segment it into smaller segments as there are more than 600k Microsoft partner to work with.

 

The App Economy – How should we view app monetization?

The blogosphere is all about apps and how different ecosystems compete for the eyeballs of these and the money of course. You might still remember the the news when a far app pulled as much as $10,000/day in revenue but since then there is tens of similar applications on the marketplace. This started a trend where people left their well-paid jobs to chase their dream of creating apps and living a life without pressures. The growth of app economy is one of the most promising trends, but people/organizations that want to make real money of it, need to include some risk management into it as well. The app industry has become similar to film industry where relatively few people make money and the ones that make, are hugely successful like Angry Birds phenomenon from Finland.

One might of course ask oneself is whether this is a shift in our society and how work is performed. according to Erik Brynjolfsson (director of the M.I.T. Center of digital business), “technology is always destroying jobs and always creating jobs, but in recent years the destruction has been happening faster than the creation”. There is no question that technology is creating new jobs and apps can be part of this opportunity as can be seen in many of the reports that have studied this trend towards “app economy”.

What I have not seen many discussions around is how the app economy is linked with the enterprise software business. I have researched around this and identified the “dimensions” that are typically linked to the app business, but not that much is said how established software vendors should view this space and how these vendors can make a entry to the app space in a way that makes sense and where there is also a sustainable economical model.

So, the question that we should ask ourselves is how much of the app business is truly geared towards the consumer business and how much of this will gradually move into enterprise business? Should software vendors keep the app business in their plans when building enterprise solutions specifically using the cloud? If they should keep this in mind, what kind of pricing should the ISV use? Maybe free as the real money comes from the enterprise solution and not the app that accesses it? As you can see, it is not that clear and my own experience when working with both small and large enterprises, the app business hardly ever comes up in discussions. I am convinced that this will change and it will change very quickly. One of the drivers will be Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 developers that will create solutions that will be based on app technology and not on traditional desktop app architectural model even if these will be able to run in Windows 8 Pro environment.

Another valid question that we need to ask ourselves is whether app economy should be see purely from mobile app development perspective or should we view it from a perspective where the device is just the means to get to what you want and the backend (typically the cloud) is the one that provides the services and brokers the interaction between different services. Shouldn’t we in fact be talking about services economy instead where organizations build apps to consume and combine information from different sources using different SOA interfaces that organizations/developers have exposed to the world. Isn’t this what we have always dreamt about?

NokiaExpressI downloaded today a Windows Phone 8 app (Nokia Xpress) to my shiny Nokia Lumia 920 and this app really demonstrates where things are going. After having installed the app, it asked me whether it can use location information (which most apps want to use), but what really made me to think about the future of apps is that developers really have to think “outside the box” on when developing apps. The thing with this Nokia Xpress app is that it enables users to store and read articles on your phone (locally) so when you travel, you do not have to use expensive data roaming. I know.. there are many of these apps from before, but what this app has specifically thought of is to really monitory and minimize data usage and provide a combination of technology such as Microsoft SkyDrive technology to store videos and images without having to use the data plan. Why is this relevant to me? Just this week, my son’s data plan was going over the limit and I found out that it was all about video streaming and 2 gig data plan does not cope well with this.

The topic of “app economy” is very interesting to me as researcher, but also as practitioner. A recent paper written by Dr. Michael Mandel and Judith Scherer (commission by CTIA (The Wireless Association) and Application Developers Alliance provides an interesting view on the app economy. According to Mandel, the entire “App Economy” was coming to use in early 2009 and was popularized by a cover story run by BusinessWeek in November 2009.

The way that Dr. Michael Mandel describes App Economy in his February 2012 report resonates well with what I have educated my customers in respect to ecosystems:

“ App Economy is a collection of interlocking innovative ecosystems”. Each ecosystem consists of a core company, which creates and maintains a platform and an app marketplace, plus a small and large companies that produce apps and/or mobile devices  for that platform. Businesses can belong to multiple ecosystems and usually do”.

There is no question in my mind that this topic is relevant to anybody that works in the software industry and it is fascinating to see how this evolves with time and what kind of new companies will rise to take advantage of this.

If you work in the Microsoft ecosystem, I highly encourage you to read the article “Microsoft’s cloud vision: Why Azure is the linchpin of the firm’s new devices and services strategy”. Another great article from Information-Management.com that predicts Enterprise Apps to go mobile big time and that money apps will move to the cloud. The article lists quite a few things that are very interesting and I encourage you to read that article as well.

Stay tuned for more, there will be more to come on my research on different topics and this app economy being one of them!

Is Big Data going to replace Enterprise Data Warehousing?

In my blog entry yesterday I concluded that Big Data as an acronym is on the rise and ISVs need to pay attention to this. The next question that one needs to pose is how is Big Data different from the traditional enterprise data warehousing? I still remember vividly the arguments 15 years ago whether Bill Inmon (considered the father of data warehousing) Top Down approach should be replaced by Ralph Kimball’s approach (Bottom Up) where the Enterprise Data Warehouse is built as collection of data marts that then together conform the enterprise data warehouse. There are also concepts such as operational data store, master data etc. Following link shows a couple of pictures that explains the difference in these approaches and a blog entry that explains pretty well the differences in these two approaches.

During my career, I have personally been involved with all and above and the latest implementation was based on SQL Server 2008 R2 with not only ETL logic to the ERP applications, but also a staging area, relational data warehouse and then the multi-dimensional OLAP cubes with SharePoint 2010. Needless to say, you need to have an understanding of multi-layer architecture and how all of this work together.

The question is how Big Data relates to all of this? One view of this is that different market segments sees it in a different way. Start-ups will see this more of a web-based approach with cloud solutions supporting Big Data. The SMB market has invested in Business Intelligence solutions and to get scale, they are going to look at cloud solutions that can take their analytics to the next stage. An then the larger enterprises that have invested huge amounts in enterprise data warehousing, data marts, ETL processes etc. will probably keep these solutions but might amend to cloud-based solutions when it is appropriate.

The competition in the Big Data space will increase during 2013 and we have already seen this by new solutions being introduced to the market like Amazon Redshift and Windows Azure Big Data. The distinction in the Big Data solutions is that many of them are typically based on NoSQL technology and data is dumped into computer memory (In-memory) and these solutions are specifically good for non-structured data. It is important to understand that there isn’t one “turn-key” solution as these types of Big Data implementations are both complex and require very distinctive skills to maneuver like “programming, statistics and how to visualize and communicate data”.

What we also need to remember is that the need to integrate data from different sources still exist, the data will be typically very different to what we are used to (like digital sensor and cameras) and when you add social media to all of this, you will have a mixture of data that never existed.

And finally, if you have been involved in Business Intelligence or Data Warehousing projects, the data/information still has to be presented in a format that makes sense for your audience, whether it be your management or other information junkies. What I do know is that analyzing the data won’t be easier than before given the fact that there is so much statistical swing into it, but the results of that data could take you and your company to the next level if information is used in proper manner.

To answer to the question I posed in my heading. No, I do not think one thing replaces another, but I would say is that you can expect to see multiple different variations on implementations and you can call them what you like and cloud will definitely be part of that implementation.

Business Analytics is on the rise again with Big Data leading the way

It is fun to see how some things will just continue being relevant. Business Analytics, Data Warehousing and lately Big Analytics are topping the charts. Based on my own feelings, Big Data really took off the second half of 2012 and we also included that in our business modeling workshops as one optional extension that software vendors (ISVs) should look at. Harvard Business Review brought Big Data to the forefront in its October 1, 2012 magazine with Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson (guru whom I followed when I worked on my PhD) with an article “Big Data: The Management Revolution”. According to the authors, Big Data is far more powerful than analytics of the past, specifically in making predictions.

One of the key reasons for the sudden explosion if Big Data has to do with the urge to achieve competitiveness by getting a better understanding of your customer, its behavior and the only way to do this is to enable massive analysis of data and in the past, this has not been possible with on-premise environments due to scalability issues. With new cloud technology such as Azure Big Data, ISVs and end user organizations can scale up the analytics/calculations based on the need (in bursts) and scale down when the calculation is done. There are quite a few new interesting startups in the Big-data-as-a-service domain (Zoomdata, Bidgely, Ginger.io, AgilOne, Continuuity). I expect this trend to continue specifically as cloud platforms enable startups to innovate without having to invest huge amount of capital in hardware and use the elasticity of the cloud instead.

What I expect to happen during 2013 is that you will hear more about real cases of Big Data use and conferences such as BigData TECHCON appear on your radar screen. Big Data is no longer about if there is technology to do it, it is more about finding the people that understand it and how to utilize it. According to McKinsey & Company, there will be a shortage of 140,000 to 190,000 people with deep analytical skills as well as 1.5 million managers and analysts with the know-how to use the data to make effective decisions”. The McKinsey article breaks down the importance of Big Data very nicely, including things such as dealing with policies around privacy, security, intellectual property and even liability. There is a full report that can be downloaded from McKinsey web-site.

How does all this rely back to software vendors that I work with on a daily basis? If you are an ISV that deal with lots of data, you have to have a game plan for Big Data. Even if you do not care about it, your customers will be asking for it going forward. It is the same what has happened with the Cloud. Three years ago, the question about cloud was almost non-existent in many domains and today an ISV can’t really survive without the cloud. How about that as being a guiding factor for Big Data.

Personally I feel this is very exciting to me as Analytics, Data Warehousing, Business Intelligence has been my core domain for more than 20 years. Even my doctoral dissertation Evaluation of a Product Platform Strategy fro Analytical Application Software from 2004 is still relevant and explains the drivers that a software vendors should be looking at from a software product platform and software product line perspective. The link will download the dissertation (in English) and it is in PDF format.

Expect to hear more about Big Data from me during 2013 as it will be even more relevant than during 2012.

Why software is still relevant and even more so going forward

When I reflect my past more than 20 years, I have been fortunate enough to be part of the software industry on a global level. First 10 years I spent in Europe working for software companies and the past 15 years I have lived and worked in the US as entrepreneur helping out software companies both domestically and internationally to expand their business.

I happened to run into a blog entry from TechCrunch by Jon Evans where he reflects on Journalism and how everything has become tech. The reference he makes is to a blog entry with the topic Software is eating the world  and is written by  Marc Andreessen whom most of us know already from the Netscape time. Marc Andreesseen is co-founder and general partner in a very well known venture capital company Andreeseen Horowitz with investments in many well known companies such as Facebook, Groupon, Twitter and many more

When you read the article from Andreessen, there are a few things that confirms some of the things that I have pondering on and also telling my software vendor clients in discussions. Software has not only become a necessity, it has become a must even for traditional hardware companies that one would not think that they need to ponder about software. This trend has been going on for a few years and we see this happening in the for example auto industry and what makes things even more exciting is that cloud technology is now part of this formula of success. Some mature industries are using new cloud technologies to achieve competitive edge towards the rest of the industry.

There are software companies such as MetaCase that will benefit of this trend. This software development tools company is the leading domain-specific modeling software company in the world that has very impressive clients working on embedded software solutions in different industries, including mobility and auto industry. The development environment MetaEdit+ enables organizations to create software product lines more effectively and also with higher quality.

Andreessen claims that we are in the midst of a huge and dramatic technological and economic shift where software companies are poised to take over a large part of the economy. It is easy to see this happening for real. Just think about how insurance companies and financial industry are able to use the cloud to execute heavy-duty risk calculations by submitting the request to the cloud and the only question that the cloud will ask is how much time it can take. Following picture shows pretty nicely how a company with pre-existing infrastructure investment (Datacenter) should view when considering a PaaS environment (Platform-as-a-Service) and in the figure we are referring to Windows Azure.

Azure vs. datacenter

The more capacity is allocated for the calculation, the more it will cost but this cost could easily be justified by opportunities to make more money due to time savings. In the picture above, it is easy to see that there will be a point in time when your own datacenter just does not scale where it needs to scale and that is why solutions/platforms such as Windows Azure will come to the play. This is also why we have to understand that new technologies such as cloud will bring new innovations to the market and this will definitely reflect on the valuations of these companies.

Andreessen gives lots of software related examples from different industries and I have had the luxury to work with many new an innovative (small and large) software companies that are now making this change in a very rapid pace. There will be lots of losers in this game as well. These will be the ones that feel that they already “own” the market and suddenly realize that smaller and more nimble players suddenly take the market and run with it.

The message that I want to send with this blog entry is to really emphasize that ignoring the change that is happening due to multiple factors such as mobility and cloud is probably one of the biggest mistakes that one can make as software leader. I encourage each one of you to do some due diligence in your own operations and answer to this simple question: “ will I still be relevant in 5 years”. If the answer is no, then you might have bigger issues on your hands than just the cloud transformation.

Some thoughts and tips in moving existing WordPress blog to Windows Azure

I happen to work with many different types of software companies and one of my passions is to follow the industry and make sure that I stay focused and current. One of my “things to do” has been to move my personal WordPress blog from a private hosting site to something that enables me not having to worry about loosing my site. I have unfortunately see quite a few hosting companies go belly up and that was a scary moment as I had multiple sites.

As I work closely with Microsoft and Microsoft partners, it was very natural for me to test out Windows Azure Web Sites that can be easily scaled up when needed and on top of that, Microsoft provides WordPress out of the box when setting up your Windows Azure account.

Azure Websites-001

What I did of course first was to see whether I could learn something of the process and experiences from other players. I found one article specifically which helped me tremendously to be convinced that I was on the right track. This blog entry shows with nice pictures the entire process and I highly recommend this to be read before the transfer of your blog. One thing in this article however is that the DNS instruction did not work out for me and I had to take other measures/articles how to get it done. I had some issues getting the DNS pointed from GoDaddy.com to my Windows Azure environment. The instructions on the web where a bit conflicting, but after some trial and error, I was good to go.

The initial install of WordPress took less than 30 seconds, which was very impressive to me. I did do some mistakes in my migration process (more later), but those where my mistakes and had nothing to do with Azure as such. With the transfer of data from former hosting site, the transfer was 20 minutes and with the DNS transfer, I think I worked around 60 minutes on the transfer. Not bad I would say….

One of the first mistakes I did was that I did not define a FTP client to point to my Azure service and when I upgraded a WordPress plugin, the WordPress site went into maintenance and I had no ways to get to the admin UI. I searched again and luckily there was one good blog entry by Avakash Chauhan (Microsoft) that gave good instructions where to find the information how to define FTP towards Azure Web-sites. The cure for my “web-site going to maintenance mode” was to remove a file called .maintenance from the web-site root.

I was able to get up-and-running again and happy that all worked well. My next move was to do an export from my current WordPress site (at the private hosting location) and this is very easy to do. Just go to WordPress Dashboard, select “Tools” and then “Export” and this lets you export all of your entries to be transferred to the new site. The action is the same on the new site, but now you just import the information. In my case, most of the information was successfully imported, but of some reason, some blog entries where missing so I think there must have been some issue in the file that caused it. I did not want to redo it, so I just move over a few entries manually.

One all said and done, my last bit was to make sure everything was OK on the new site and then pull the plug from the old site and move my GoDaddy.com managed DrSalonen.com to point to the new Windows Azure-powered WordPress site. Just by searching on the internet, it was obvious that this part is something that most have had issues with. There is a bunch of good advice on the net, but some of that information could be more clear. One of the blog entries (Windows Azure team) I followed got me started, but in the end it was a matter of trial and error. One of the things that you have to do when you want to use your own URL such as www.drsalonen.com and not drsalonen.azurewebsites.net , you have to “upgrade” your Azure instance to be a reserved instance and this is completely understandable as now it is the way it has been in the past in the private hosting site.

I have never been fond of having to deal with DNS stuff, A records… pointing here and there.. but I got it done… It seems that it is something that is done a bit differently by different DNS registrar’s sites… so I have had to learn how GoDaddy.com works.

And then finally to my BIG MISTAKE. As final part of the advice, you have to remember and NOT to do how I ended up doing it. Once I had “turned on” the DNS settings in GoDaddy.com, I was not sure whether the DNS settings would be replicated and when/how I should turn the local settings in WordPress.

WordPress-Settings-001

You can see in my settings (they are now working well), you have to make SURE you get those paths right. If you don’t, you can’t get to the admin panel. It was like an eternal loop where my site at “drsalonen.azurewebsites.net” tried to locate DrSalonen.com but either I had those settings incorrectly or I was just too impatient to wait for the DNS replication.  The only way to sort this out was to use the search engine again and I found good advice how to “trick” WordPress site by changing functions.php file content to force the values above to be changed to something I knew would work well. Following pictures shows this:

Updating-WordPress-URL

Once this was done, I was good and could focus on other things in WordPress, which I will turn in later posts. In summary, this transformation to Windows Azure Websites was seamless, painless and now I can scale my site to anything.