Home appliance hire firm Mr Rental is trialling a Windows Azure environment as a burst capacity and redundancy measure for its Telstra-based private cloud environment.
The company, which has about 90 franchisees in Australia and New Zealand, has also completed the deployment of Office 365 to all stores, consumed via Telstra's T-Suite and served out of Microsoft's Singapore data centre.
Chief information officer Brad Rappell told iTnews that Mr Rental had decided "a few years ago" to centralise the IT systems used by franchisees, rather than have franchisees run their own systems.
"[Franchisees] used to all have servers and needed to make sure they were backed up, have a local IT provider and license themselves correctly," Rappell said.
"They would install a piece of software from us as the franchisor on that server, and we would need to manage at the time 50 or 60 different outlets and make sure that software was up-to-date, which was very expensive internally for us."
Mr Rental decided to shift the individual instances of the line-of-business application off franchisee-held servers and into a private cloud hosted under Telstra's Network Computing Services.
The company is now considering its redundancy options for the cloud environment.
"We're building redundant elements of that up into the Windows Azure environment," Rappell said.
"We've got some flexibility so [we] can burst a little bit faster out of Azure ... in high load periods or when we go through [periods of business] growth. I can guard that little sliver of resources [in Azure] and I can rapidly scale them with everything already pre-configured.
"Also, too, [Azure] actually acts as failover for us, so if one cloud environment is not available we do have a backup plan."
Mr Rental began deploying Microsoft's Office 365 hosted productivity suite in December last year, beginning with hosted Exchange before branching into SharePoint and Lync this year.
"We put a Lync test group in and it took off," Rappell said.
"The franchisees almost just demanded it. All of a sudden we started doing regional meetings on Lync.
"It wasn't something that we had planned necessarily to do, but it got kind of used the way [franchisees] wanted to use it."
Expanded Lync use broadly satisfied elements of Rappell's remit.
"The challenge for us has always been as a franchisor, how do we ensure there's consistency across the network in the way in which we operate, and how do we get communication to everybody?" he said.
It was also an aspect of Microsoft's hosted productivity suite that Mr Rental had always been keen to make use of.
"We actually ran a pilot of [Office 365 predecessor] BPOS ... before [Microsoft] made the announcement about Office 365," Rappell said.
"We knew [Office 365] was coming [so] we sort of held off for a little bit because we wanted to have the ability to do Lync outside of the WAN, where BPOS you could only do it inside of the WAN, you couldn't do voice and video, and we really wanted those capabilities."
For Rappell, cost is a major selling point for the cloud. "It's just good value," he said.
"One of the funny things about cloud is I can have a lower cost solution but have a higher quality product. Thats the exciting thing for me.
"It's not just the license, it's the servers, storage, security, all of that architecture and things that go along with it, and it's the service level that sits around it.
"I think sometimes people get a bit confused when they look at the cost of the product versus the cost of [an on-premise software] license. I'm just thoroughly impressed at what I get for my money."
It also takes some of the pain out of proposing new technology adoption to the business. Whereas in the past, asking the board to fund a technology trial might have been in the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, a cloud trial is as cheap as switching on a few seats — and "if it doesn't work out I can say, 'We can turn them off'."
"Beforehand I was capitally constrained and risk constrained," he said.
"If I sat in front of a board, [they] would be looking and saying, 'What's the risk we take if we make this investment?'
"[With cloud it's] fundamentally different. I can be more agile and I can limit the business's risk, but I can also give them assurance on the [ability to] scale."
Cloud also allows Mr Rental to practice its own mantra.
"Mr Rental exists to make rental more attractive than ownership; thats our motto," he said.
"All the cloud solutions ... is effectively us living our motto. We're renting our stuff."
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