About six months ago Microsoft DX conducted a hackfest with Edupoint, a software vendor based in Arizona that builds Student Information Systems (SIS) - solutions to help teachers track each student’s progress and identify where changes might be needed.
For the last several years, Edupoint has been relying on Infrastructure as a Service VMs to deploy its applications, but as the cloud has become more widely adopted, they saw the need to make a shift. They’d already made the decision to move to Microsoft Azure and wanted to make a quick transition to take advantage of evolving customer requirements.
That’s when they contacted the Microsoft TED (Technical Evangelism & Development) team, particularly a group of architects who cover the Azure ISV space for DX. Greg Oliver and a few of his colleagues put together a great hackfest, which really started three weeks beforehand with a phone call to discuss Edupoint’s architectural needs.
I wanted to get a Behind the Scenes look at how the hackfest went down, so I spoke with Greg, along with Edupoint CIO Rob Wilson, and vice president of product development, Noam Luft.
As it turns out, during that initial phone call that Greg had with Edupoint, he identified two primary requirements: the need to provide for session affinity for their state-ful web servers and providing a highly available SQL Server tier.
It’s been my experience that having these discussions up front is critical to the success of any hackfest – just knowing in advance what the likely gotchas will be, and being able to prepare beforehand, leaves more time for the other issues that inevitably crop up. In this case, we also had to create a local file store that would accommodate Edupoint’s imaging requirements.
To address Edupoint’s session affinity issue, we used Application Request Routing (ARR), a free IIS module, to create a front door architecture that would route requests to the correct compute instance as they came in. In a couple of days we had an application up and running. From there it was just a matter of working out the kinks. It was this kind of need that led us to build the Service Gateway pattern, providing a very turnkey service for developers.
Rob and his colleagues might have experienced a fair amount of frustration with the process of building a solution as part of their company’s move to platform-as-a-service (PaaS). But having an app in place by day three helped eliminate any possible frustration and engendered a new level of respect and understanding between folks from Microsoft and Edupoint.
Rob’s opinion was that the interactions they had with DX during the hackfest were critical to developing a solution that would function well on Azure. Most importantly, it helped Edupoint develop a PaaS solution that was first to market.