Tech Sector Nonprofit Saves 79 Percent, Gains Global Market Access with Cloud Hosting

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Pro Bono Net provides web-based technology services that support law firms, courts, legal aid, and individuals throughout the United States. So when some of its own, on-premises servers reached end of life, what technology did the organization choose to replace them? Windows Azure. The nonprofit reduced annual cost after payback by 79 percent, made its service faster and more reliable, and has access to a global marketplace that was previously out of its reach.

Business Needs

Companies of all sizes are turning increasingly from on-premises IT infrastructures to cloud-based services for obvious reasons: they cost less and make it possible for companies to focus on their core strengths, rather than on commodity IT maintenance. But what do the providers of those services do when they face the same choice as their customers—and should those customers care?

A case in point is Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing access to justice through innovative uses of technology and increased volunteer lawyer participation. The organization meets this mission, among other ways, through its Pro Bono Manager™ service, which boosts a law firm’s pro bono program management capacity. Operating as a secure, seamless extension of a law firm’s intranet, Pro Bono Manager integrates content from the public-interest legal community with reporting, knowledge management, and lawyer-and-case matching tools that draw on a firm’s own human resources and time keeping systems.

Pro Bono Manager is a web-based, or software-as-a-service, solution—and the low-cost and minimal management required by the law firms that adopt it has been one of its selling points. But the cloud that hosted the service was a very physical set of servers owned and managed by Pro Bono Net. When those servers reached end-of-life, Pro Bono Net faced the same choice that their customers had answered by choosing Pro Bono Manager: Should Pro Bono Net refresh its hardware installation, or migrate Pro Bono Manager to a cloud platform?

The organization had to consider the economics of its choices, as any enterprise would. But, as a service provider to others, it had additional considerations: Would a move to the cloud affect the prices, availability, reliability, and speed that Pro Bono Net offered its customers and, if so, how?


Pro Bono Net already had experience with the cloud; some of its other solutions ran on Amazon Web Services. But when it came time to migrate Pro Bono Manager, the organization chose Windows Azure, the Microsoft cloud computing platform.

One reason: Windows Azure was built from the ground up to support the same Microsoft technologies—Microsoft SharePoint Server, Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (in the cloud: Windows Azure SQL Reporting), and the Microsoft .NET Framework—that Pro Bono Net already used. Another reason: Microsoft offered Windows Azure Virtual Machines, which provided the flexibility and availability that comes from the use of virtualization technology.

Pro Bono Net used Windows Azure Virtual Machines for persistent virtualization in support of SharePoint Server, which serves as the foundation for Pro Bono Manager. If the organization had been moving between more consistent platforms—say, two virtual platforms, one managed on-premises and one in the cloud—it would have been easier to estimate cost. Going from a physical/on-premises platform to a virtual/cloud platform required some experimentation in preproduction environments, which the organization and Microsoft completed successfully.

Pro Bono Net eventually decided on a high-availability infrastructure that replicated domain controllers, front ends, application servers, and Windows Azure SQL Database instances on virtual machines. It also adopted Windows Azure availability sets to further mitigate risk and promote reliability. And as its use of Windows Azure grows, the organization expects to adopt geo-colocation features that will further increase fault tolerance and business continuity.


By using Windows Azure, Pro Bono Net gains lower cost, greater reliability, faster performance, and new business opportunities. The organization plans to move its Amazon-based sites to the Microsoft cloud platform, too.

Avoids 79 Percent Cost of On-Premises Solution

Cost was a key factor for Pro Bono Net in deciding between an on-premises and cloud-based platform for Pro Bono Manager. By choosing Windows Azure, the organization avoided a US$25,000 investment in production hardware and services, plus $8,300 in maintenance and system administration. It also avoids another $25,000 investment to replicate the environment for the sake of business continuity.

For its specific configuration on Windows Azure, Pro Bono Net spends $11,000 annually—and saves 79 percent over comparable cost for an on-premises infrastructure and support, after a 1.4-year payback period.

Uptime Rises to 3 “9s,” Users See 20 Percent Faster Loads

Pro Bono Net now pays less to support Pro Bono Manager while gaining more, particularly more reliability. Since the move to Windows
Azure, uptime for the application has increased from 99 percent to 99.9 percent. “That’s a significant increase for us,” says Alec Rosin, Consulting Engineer for Pro Bono Net. “On-premises, if we had a disaster, we could be out for a week. We don’t anticipate that happening on Windows Azure.”
Pages and reports now load about 20 percent faster on Windows Azure, creating a more natural user experience.

Gives National Organization the Tools to Go Global

Pro Bono Net expected lower cost and better service from Windows Azure. What it didn’t expect was new business opportunities—but it now has them, too. Many countries or regions require that sensitive data, including legal data, remain within their borders. Pro Bono Net, with its US-based data center, couldn’t go after this business before.
Now, using Windows Azure’s global data centers and Content Delivery Network, it can. “We can go from being a national service organization to a global service organization, by using Windows Azure,” says Adam Licht, Director of Product Management at Pro Bono Net.

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