On April 7th, we hosted our first Azure Hack-a-thon, a competition meant to inspire our engineers to get creative in researching and designing cloud solutions that Cal Net can use in its official reference architecture.

Azure is Microsoft’s cloud computing service that manages applications and data for businesses through a global network of secure, reliable data centers. Three teams were tasked with solving challenges for fictitious organizations using Azure. Who came out on top?

cal net azure hackathon teams

Team Nervous Systems: Honorable Mention

Eric Luke, Joe Pontius, Gary Stanton, and Kareem Ibrahim

Challenge:

  1. Increase information security
  2. Manage and lock down devices from a central location
  3. Encrypt emails and prevent data leakage
  4. Control where information is stored and how it’s share

Solution:

“With our security monitoring solution – Intune, Security & Compliance Center, encrypted email –  clients would be able to remove on-prem machines and cut down on expenses and administrative needs,” explains Joe Pontius. “[The event] was very educational and challenging. I was forced to explore technologies within Azure for which I had no experience.”

Joe’s Advice:

“Try [the cloud] for a few months in a development environment,” he says.

Team Everlasting Industries: Honorable Mention

Scott Irwin, Stephen Kerr, and Orlando Flores

Challenge:

  1. Reduce on-prem active and archive file server storage
  2. Require a resilient backup and disaster-recovery to minimize downtime
  3. Permit mobile workers to easily access file share content while on the road
  4. Displace need for Datto and rely on Azure technologies

Solution: 

“Our data backup and failover solution was a one hour or less RPO/RTO of all critical business services using Azure Files, Azure Backup, and Azure Site Recovery,” says Stephen Kerr. “Presenting the solution with real working servers/products was a great way to show off all the hard work we put in. [Ultimately] I see most small business needing even less on-premise and far less cloud servers such as AWS and Azure. The reason for this is because ERP, CRM, Accounting and other LOB applications are all being developed with a web front-end and are all becoming cloud-hosted, requiring no infrastructure for the small/medium business.”

Stephen’s Advice:

“Cloud computing is perfect for a lot of solutions, but it’s not perfect for everything,” he says. “Take some time to evaluate what you are really trying to achieve and then look at your options to take it to the cloud first. Think cloud first, on-premise second.”

Team Zero Prem Inc: Overall Winners!

Gerry Gainford and Jerlson “Jay-R” Alvarez

Challenge:

  1. Eliminate on-prem servers and storage
  2. Create single-sign on with Google Apps
  3. Create self-service password reset
  4. Launch LOB client application from just an icon the user’s local desktop
  5. Access mapped network share from local desktop

Solution:

“We showed how our self-serve password reset and RDS (Remote Desktop Service) connect cloud solution could completely remove all on-premise hardware and move our server and services to the cloud,” explains Gerry Gainford. “We moved AD to Azure Directory with ADDS and moved out SQL server and app, and our file server to virtual machines in the cloud. We increased security with Microsoft’s multi-factor authentication and had a single sign-on with Google Apps.”

Gerry’s Advice:

“The first thing to know is that the cloud is secure,” he says. “Really secure. More secure than your on-premise server when it is set up correctly. With the cloud, you have a team of Microsoft’s experts managing the technology 24×7. You can have your servers running on redundant hardware across the globe so that your servers will always be running no matter what. These are in highly secure environments that just cannot be matched on a small business’s budget.”

cal net azure hackathon teams

Inspiring Innovation & Creativity

When you get the best and brightest minds in the same room, good things are bound to happen.

“It was great to see the teams dedicate the time to get their hands dirty, learn how the solution works – what’s good and when it makes sense, as well as when it doesn’t,” says CTO Randy Nieves, one of the Hack-a-thon judges. “The entire organization is better for it. Congrats to all that participated, as well as the cash prize winners!”

Excited about the future potential the cloud brings to modern business, Gerry Gainford is already looking beyond his win.

“It was fun, a lot of work and a lack of sleep but fun and we learned a lot,” he says. “Azure has a lot of very new features, which may not be quite ready. We do expect them to mature very quickly and to grow in use over the coming months.”

“I enjoyed hearing about the Zero-Prem solution,” admits Stephen Kerr. “I have two clients moving that direction now and it is a challenging solution. There are many ways to skin this cat, and I enjoyed seeing what the other team used to solve their problems.”

SPONSOR SHOUT-OUT: Thank you to Microsoft and SonicWall for making this event possible!

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