To the Cloud or Bust

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Recently, we here at Rockton Software, made a big change in our IT infrastructure and have gone to the cloud for most all of our internal systems. We had been running on hosted servers but have been maintaining our own CRM, GP, websites, domain, and at one time our own Exchange server as well.

The Exchange system was our first experiment with the cloud, and we had migrated our mailboxes over a year ago. Office 365 has proven to be a very good move for us and continues to be more beneficial as Microsoft continues to improve their tools and becomes more evolved as a system.

Our most recent move included our company websites to Windows Azure, moving to a hosted CRM environment, and setting up a GP terminal server. Not only did we make many changes at one time, but we also were able to roll our Rockton Connect accounting solution into our Dynamics CRM hosted environment. You heard right, we are running Rockton Connect in house!

Due to the amount of testing that was put in by all of our company, the change-over was smooth for the most part, but we did have some minor issues as is to be expected. For any of our loyal customers that may have been inconvenienced in our changeover period we do apologize, please know this was a big step forward that will bring some great changes that will make our relationship simpler & easier.

Why make the move?

The biggest reason was that we're very near ready with our newest project Rockton Connect. In order for us to be on Connect and test like we believe our customers will use it, we need to be on a hosted CRM solution. Additionally, we're a Microsoft ISV. With the trend towards the cloud, we believe strongly that we should embrace the changes and technology enhancements that are available, so we can understand them and be an advocate for new technologies. Finally,  being a company that is the size we are, we're hoping to eliminate some of our IT management costs and allow us to focus on our development and less on infrastructure management.

What did we learn?

While the move went well for the most part, we did experience some issues in the move over to the hosted environment.

1. Reports -  Since we're moving to a hosted CRM server instead of using CRM online, we were able to keep most of our SQL based custom reports. However, we didi have a couple reports that we had to move over to FetchXML queries. That conversion took us much longer than expected but will work on any environment we might move to.

2. Logging - Being that we're hosted, error logging with code is essential. We don't have access to CRM tracing, and the CRM server to troubleshoot and debug plugins as we are used to. For a lot of our internal customizations that have been carried over from system to system and upgraded several times, we hadn't included tracing statements. When an error occurs, not having the logging becomes time consuming and usually requires a support case to determine the cause. Proper logging goes a long way!

3. DNS - When moving the Start of Authority (SOA), you're given a warning that the changeover could potentially take 24 hours. That is rarely the case, but after making our move we came in Monday morning to our websites failing to render due to a DNS error. After tracking down the issue, we came to find out the company that we use for our domain name was having an issue and the cause was not the changeover--but a rare issue. While troubleshooting the website issue, I came across a great piece of advice: contact the  company that has your previous SOA and ask them to lower the Time To Live (TTL) setting to a lower value to ensure that the changeover happens much sooner that the long-term range that is typical.

4. Hosting Company - Always pick a proven hosting provider for anything hosted. We chose to go with Njevity, and they have been great to work with. Since we're not controlling our environments, it is essential that you've a partner that is quick to respond and has the technical knowledge to find problems quickly and have the expertise to make the most appropriate fix. Njevity has done just that for us and believe me: we've given them some challenging tests in just our first few weeks in.

So, here we are today, enjoying our time in the cloud! We want to say a big thank you to all our customers and partners that may have experienced any hiccups in our transition and give you a reassurance that we are making the changes to make your experience better.

Written By Bryan Page, .NET Developer at Rockton Software, Microsoft Dynamics Add-On Partner.

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