Instant ERP on Azure

by John S. Howell, Jr.

I set up this web site including hardware, operating system, network connectivity, the WordPress bolgging software, PHP scripting language, Apache web server, and supporting MySQL database in minutes using the new Azure Public Cloud services announced by Microsoft on June 8, 2012.

Big deal you say — I can set up a blog or web site in the same amount of time or less using Google, Yahoo, or other comparable service.  Well yes… and no.

For most cases a basic application is often all that is needed.  But let’s say you, or your organization, want more control.  Maybe you don’t want someone else’s ads appearing.   Or maybe you want integration over a fast local network with other applications, databases and web sites you already own.  For mission-critical applications maybe you just don’t like the idea of being locked-in without much bargaining power.  Your vendor knows the bulk of your switching cost is not the cost of a new license – it is the customization and re-integration cost.

The new Azure services provide a potentially very cool alternative for those of us who want the productivity of web-based and SaaS business applications, but with more control over the details.  With Azure, complex multi-tier applications and their supporting infrastructure are up and running in the cloud, in minutes.  To help you get started Azure even offers a gallery of pre-built images for many popular products.

Vendors like Acumatica (Accounting / ERP) and Microsoft Dynamics CRM have excellent web-based applications that you can buy as SaaS if you like, or you can purchase a license and deploy the code wherever you want.  That is where the new Azure Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) services come in.  Using Azure you can instantly deploy your application, have full control over customization, integration and the database, and also have very fine grained control over costs and performance.

If Azure’s pricing, performance or features get out of line you can take your licenses, your applications, and your complete computing environment to another IaaS vendor (like Amazon Web Services) or move on premises in as little time as it takes to upload your Virtual Machine images. (enabled by the VHD standard supported by Azure, Amazon AWS, Xen, VMWare, Windows, and more) This lets you negotiate SaaS and IaaS pricing with much more leverage.  It is also practical – for all but the most basic cases, no one application vendor can do it all.

So before you decide on your next web-based accounting, erp, crm (or blog) application, remember there is a lot more to the Cloud than SaaS.  Check to see if the application you want can also be deployed using an IaaS provider like Microsoft Azure – it could make your entire organization more productive while saving you a bundle.

About the author – John S. Howell, Jr. has 30 years of experience in business software development. He helped build Solomon Software, Inc. (now part of Microsoft) to be the largest privately held ERP software company in the USA.  Mr. Howell is currently on the board of Acumatica, a developer of ERP and CRM software.  He can be contacted at:


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