The ongoing shift to the cloud is affecting nearly all types of IT environments—including Microsoft platforms and applications that companies have been relying on for years to support key business processes.
Because these applications are generally so well entrenched within organizations and among end users, migrating to the cloud can be a cultural and technical challenge. It can also take a relatively long time to complete, particularly for large enterprises with far-flung operations.
Nevertheless, moving Microsoft environments to the cloud could be well worth the effort if companies create a valid business plan.
Here’s a look at how three companies—J.B. Hunt, H&R Block, and A.P. Moller – Maersk—have made or are making the shift from on-premises Microsoft applications and systems to Microsoft’s Azure cloud services.
Moving old and new applications off premises
Trucking and transportation company J.B. Hunt Transport Services is in the midst of a migration to Azure for applications that fall into three categories: mainframe applications, existing distributed applications, and new applications.
“We are in the process of migrating our core operating system to the cloud, which is provided by a mainframe today hosted on premises,” says Gary Dowdy, vice president of engineering and technology at J.B. Hunt.
and then transitioning to increasingly leverage cloud-native platforms and services,” such as Azure SQL, Thadani says.
With the cloud services, “we no longer have data platform silos to serve our clients in-person versus online,” Thadani says. “This has been the single biggest [impact] for us to enable seamless omni-channel experiences for our clients. Additionally, our data analysts can quickly spin up new solutions in Azure to bring together data from multiple sources and leverage it to deliver smarter, more powerful solutions to serve our clients.”
The migration to Azure “has served as a significant accelerant in our digital transformation journey,” Thadani says. “We have now been through one entire tax season servicing over 20 million clients on systems deployed in Azure. From a technology operations perspective, we have successfully leveraged the elasticity of public cloud to meet tax-season peaks in demand, and our users are happy with the performance and reliability of these systems.”
From a business operations perspective, the firm was able to deliver a richer, omni-channel experience to clients and meet their evolving expectations. “Also, Azure has made it easier for us to continue our work using AI, machine learning, and other data-driven strategies to serve our customers better,” Thadani says.
The data migration effort presented some technical challenges, due to the table sizes and data type compatibility between legacy warehouse platforms and SQL Server, Thadani says. But the firm’s engineers were able to work through those issues with support from Microsoft.
Powering an Internet of Things initiative
In August 2019, transport, logistics, and energy company A.P. Moller – Maersk moved its remote container management (RCM) platform—which the company uses to manage the containers it ships for customers—from on premises to the cloud as part of its RCM 2.0 project. The effort aims to reduce the running costs of RCM and significantly cut hardware costs in the future.
Among the other reasons for launching the RCM 2.0 project were to improve system performance and reduce outages, and create enhanced security around the RCM process, says Siddharta Kulkarni, senior IT project manager at the company.
“RCM is essentially an IoT [Internet of Things] solution,” Kulkarni says. “As part of the migration we built an enterprise IoT platform using Azure services such as IoT Hub, Event Hub, and Device Provisioning Service.”
A key driver for moving to Azure was to leverage serverless computing, which helps Maersk manage additional capacity for backlog situations and peak load scenarios.
Other drivers included reduced maintenance due to the use of components; access to a scalable IoT platform enabling more use cases; improved availability through migration of key components over Azure PaaS; improved security through the decoupling of core enterprise components and Internet-facing IoT components; and improved monitoring capability.
The Azure IoT Hub and its Device Provisioning Service have been key components of Maersk’s IoT platform, helping the company manage connected devices securely.
Maersk uses another offering, Azure Cosmos DB—Microsoft’s distributed database service—to manage its device metadata, telemetry, and management commands. “Cosmos DB, being schema agnostic, has helped us manage profiles of heterogeneous devices,” Kulkarni says.
And the company use Azure Functions to help build its event-driven computing applications. “The functions have provided us greater capabilities to process high volumes of telemetry events,” Kulkarni says.
With the shift to the cloud, Maersk has limited overhead for its IoT effort because most of the key components have been migrated to Azure platform-as-a-service. IoT has enabled the company to collect a huge amount of data from more than 380,000 containers and to use the information to derive insights, Kulkarni says.
“Moving to the cloud has delivered the underlying infrastructure we need to take RCM to the future,” Kulkarni says. “We will be able to run on-the-fly analytics, and with new devices some of these analytics will be pushed to edge computing.” This opens doors for exploring new business offers for customers, he says.