Office 365 Case Study: PATH
Office 365 Case Study: PATH
Saving lives through innovation and IT
PATH, a Seattle-based global health nonprofit that innovates better solutions to help the world’s most at-risk groups, also tackled an equally daunting logistical problem: “With a piecemeal infrastructure struggling to keep pace with 38 offices and nearly 1,300 employees, most of whom work in the field in hard-to-reach locations, the organization needed to improve its own technological vitals. In short: “Our global footprint had expanded beyond our investment in IT,” explains chief information officer Erik Arnold.
A global rollout of Office 365 not only standardized its infrastructure; the cloud-based tools helped staff work faster and smarter to pursue projects in the most remote corners of the world—where its life-saving work is most needed. They now
overcome in-country connectivity issues,
strengthen coalitions with outside organizations,
break free of physical IT hardware,
expand without extraordinary expense, and
collaborate with colleagues around the world.
“This solution ensures we maximize the amount of our funding that goes directly to the activities that advance our program missions.” - Chief Information Officer Erik Arnold
Technology overcomes global barriers
Adapting to on-the-ground realities
PATH works in what Arnold generously calls “challenging places”—where internet connection, electricity and even roads aren’t reliable. Office 365 enables staff in remote areas to communicate with other locations, make deadlines and most importantly meet health needs. Mobile access to SharePoint, for example, allowed field staff in Kenya to send invoices and time cards to the Nairobi office, replacing their old system—delivering paper documents via motorcycle and airplane.
Employees can also check out documents to their laptop or mobile device from SharePoint, make edits then check the file back in—all so changes aren’t lost if the internet connection fails. “That feature means our teams in Tanzania and Zambia can use it more easily, helping them buy in to the system,” says Laurie Werner, deputy director of PATH’s Better Immunization Data Initiative.
“The cloud is the only way our teams can efficiently collaborate not only within the organization but also when we partner with corporations, universities, governments and other nonprofits to build coalitions and partnerships,” Arnold says. “Office 365 is the obvious solution.” He has seen how adding Zambian health officials’ edits in real time to a diagram of health supplies distribution using Visio, flow chart software available at a steep discount to Office 365 Nonprofit recipients, strengthens relationships and streamlines workflow.
Another example: The Better Immunization Data Initiative, which uses data to improve countries’ delivery of vital vaccines, used SharePoint to collaborate on literature reviews, initial assessments and other documents at its onset; now that the project is underway, it provides updates to its external evaluator via the same platform. And because PATH depends on outside alliances—to develop lifesaving medicine and track children’s immunization schedules, for example—these tools are literally saving lives.
PATH’s footprint is continually changing—it opens and closes offices as needed, moving personnel as they meet milestones and tackle new health crises. “We are cloud first—we have to be,” Arnold explains.
Instead of relying on on-site servers and other hardware, PATH safely stores all data in the cloud for immediate access anywhere, anytime and from any device. “We can move more quickly, scale up teams and spin up new solutions in sites in different countries,” Arnold says. “It’s so much easier when we’re not managing physical boxes and configurations.”
PATH is always evolving to meet the world’s health needs: It has seen double-digit growth for more than a decade. Modernizing its IT system provides scalability without a huge expense. “As a nonprofit, it would be irresponsible to build a large, complex, and expensive IT organization,” Arnold says.
“This solution ensures we maximize the amount of our funding that goes directly to the activities that advance our program missions.”
Collapsing distance and time zones
“SharePoint reduces my workload but increases our ability to communicate,” says Werner, who manages an international team from Seattle. She has set up alerts when staff from other offices update documents or complete tasks, so she always knows the status of any given deliverable. With all important documentation uploaded into SharePoint, she no longer has to hunt for information buried in her email or rely heavily on conference calls spanning multiple time zones.
“Office 365 gave us an efficiency we didn’t have,” she adds. “We have been able to develop interventions and ramp up our projects more quickly even though our teams are dispersed.” From the Peruvian rainforest to far-flung villages in Myanmar, that means PATH can build healthier communities—and save lives.
Jet built its entire e-commerce platform, including development and delivery infrastructure, on Microsoft #Azure.
Jet.com - E-commerce challenger eyes the top spot, runs on the Microsoft cloud
Marc Lore is perhaps best known as the creator of the popular e-commerce site Diapers.com, which was eventually sold to Amazon. Now, the entrepreneur and his team are ready to compete head-on with the e-retailing giant through an innovative online marketplace called Jet.com. To get up and running quickly, Jet built its entire e-commerce platform, including development and delivery infrastructure, on Microsoft Azure, using both .NET and open-source technologies.
In 2010, Marc Lore sold his company Quidsi (which ran e-retailing sites like Diapers.com and Soap.com) to Amazon for $550 million. Four years later, Marc is competing against Amazon directly—with the creation of a new online marketplace called Jet.com.
There are many reasons to think that Lore might just pull it off. For one, he plans to eliminate any margins from product sales. The company’s only source of revenue will come from membership dues, eliminating the kind of mark-ups that Amazon charges and passing the savings on to the customer. In addition, an innovative pricing engine will work to reduce or eliminate costs in the e-commerce value chain, especially fulfillment costs and marketplace commissions.
“Our pricing engine will continually work out the most cost-effective way to fulfill an order from merchant locations closest to the consumer,’ explains Lore, Co-Founder and CEO of Jet. “The engine will also figure out which merchants can fulfill most cheaply by putting multiple requested items into one shipment. And so we can cut probably 10 percent of a cost of a typical e-commerce transaction just by being smarter about fulfillment.”
With a value proposition like that, the company is confidently looking forward to explosive growth. “We want to be one of the leading e-commerce destinations in a very short period of time—18 to 36 months,” says Mike Hanrahan, CTO at Jet.
To fuel that growth, Jet was able to quickly secure more than $220 million in financing. Meanwhile, aggressive marketing has already created a user base of more than 400,000 customers—even before the site launched.
Next step: find the right cloud partner to support the company’s ambitious growth plan. “We realized that we simply did not have the resources to build and manage the kind of datacenters and development infrastructure to meet our growth strategy,” says Hanrahan. “So we quickly decided on a cloud model.”
The decision to work with Microsoft Azure was driven, in part, by the .NET development platform—and Visual F# in particular—which was a good fit with the microservices architecture used to build Jet. As Hanrahan explains, “The event-driven, microservices paradigm eliminated a lot of the overhead that comes with a service-oriented architecture such as Amazon uses, meaning that everyone can build all their systems in parallel and then publish and subscribe to an event bus. We found that F# works very well with this paradigm, especially the immutable data streams that are a key part of our microservices architecture.”
The Microsoft Visual Studio development system is the primary IDE for back-end infrastructure, with Node being used on the front end. To get its code through development and into production as fast as possible, Jet uses a mix of Azure App Service, Azure Web Roles and custom servers, with deployment happening from Jenkins.
Jet also has many open-source middleware components, which it runs on Azure Virtual Machines, including Elasticsearch, RedisLabs, Hadoop, and Event Store—an open-source event-sourcing data store.
Jet is taking advantage of several other Azure services to streamline its development processes. For example, to make it easier for merchant partners to integrate with the platform, it has created a developer portal for its APIs using Azure API Management.
Jet is also using Azure Key Vault to store encryption keys as well as Azure Application Insights, which will provide real-time alerts to its developers to help them identify and triage problems as they occur. Application Insights also enables Jet to learn, in real time, how customers are using their application, so they can implement an agile build-measure-learn cycle.
“Being able to leverage so many off-the-shelf services and tools from Azure enabled us to go from zero to a full- fledged e-commerce marketplace in just about 12 months. That same system would have taken us at least two years to build on our own, plus capex costs,” says Hanrahan.
The company also relies on other Microsoft cloud services to run its day-to-day business, including Office 365 and Azure Active Directory. In fact, Jet’s entire operation is now run in the cloud using Azure. “We have no servers at all onsite right now, not a single one,” says Hanrahan.
Working with Microsoft Azure cloud services has provided Jet with a level of flexibility and scalability that has been critical to its aggressive development schedule.
Moving from code to production in minutes.
By using App Service for its consumer front end, Jet has been able to dramatically streamline its development process, so that it can build, deploy, and scale consumer-grade web apps more rapidly. As Hanrahan says, “We’ve been able to get our critical code through our CI/CD process in a couple of minutes using App Service.”
Scaling automatically to meet customer demand
As with any popular e-retailing site, Jet requires extremely rapid and flexible scaling based on ever-changing customer traffic. To streamline this process, Jet was able to set up auto-scaling on both PaaS servers and App Service to scale its servers based on load or schedule. “Because both PaaS and App Service scale automatically for us, we are able to throw as many machines as we need at the front end, when we need them,” says Hanrahan.
Accommodating rapidly growing storage requirements
As the company grows, Azure provides a wide range of storage options to handle virtually any amount of data. “Right now our data warehouse sits in a SQL Server instance, but we will be augmenting that using HD Insight,” says Hanrahan. Azure HDInsight is designed to handle any amount of data, scaling from terabytes to petabytes on demand.
With Azure, Jet has created a cloud infrastructure that’s ready to meet the company’s most ambitious growth plans. “To be one of the best e-commerce destinations in the US, we will have to handle millions of customers, placing tens of thousands of orders a day. That requires a top-class e-commerce system built on a flexible, open cloud platform. That is exactly what we got with Azure,” says Hanrahan.
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