As part of the Real World Windows Azure series, we talked to Conor O'Riordan, CEO at TradeFacilitate, about using the Windows Azure technology platform to build the company's premier Web site and the benefits that Windows Azure provides. Here's what he had to say:

MSDN: What services does TradeFacilitate provide?

O'Riordan: TradeFacilitate delivers an online service that enables importers and exporters of excisable alcohol products in the European Union (EU) to exchange customs data in a paper-free format.

MSDN: What was the biggest challenge your company faced prior to implementing Windows Azure?

O'Riordan: The EU required us to prove that we could scale up quickly and securely in order to meet upcoming regulatory requirements for paper-free trade data. Because our base of users has to work with government agencies spread across 27 EU member states, we needed a solution that was trustworthy and reliable.

MSDN: Describe the solution you built with Windows Azure to address the need for cost-effective scalability?

O'Riordan: We built a cloud-based version of our primary application that enables EU exporters and their U.S. importers to submit the required data in advance of loading to meet customs requirements. We collate the required trade data from the EU seller and the U.S. buyer and present it to the U.S. importer-facilitating a smooth, cross-border, paper-free trade transaction. We're also using Microsoft SQL Azure for relational storage, in addition to Windows Azure Tables for membership and session state data and Blob Storage for unstructured binary data.

MSDN: To how many users are you initially deploying TradeFacilitate?

O'Riordan: We are aiming to have our first 50-100 users deployed on the TradeFacilitate solution by the end of February 2010.

MSDN: How will Windows Azure help with an increased number of transactions as you continue to deploy to more and more users?

O'Riordan: We don't have to change our core application architecture. We can scale vertically or horizontally by increasing either the size or number machine instances.  This ensures we can maintain acceptable user response levels as the system grows.

MSDN: What makes your solution unique?

O'Riordan: TradeFacilitate is uniquely validated by the EU as a paper-free solution provider and, by delivering our service using Windows Azure, we see tremendous potential for taking our business to new levels and concentrating on our core capability as a paper-free provider. We plan to take advantage of Access Control Service and single sign-on features in the Window Azure platform that will encourage quick adoption. We're also developing a rich community for our users by offering instant messaging through Windows Live.

MSDN: Are you offering the application to any new niche markets or customer segments outside of alcohol products?

O'Riordan: International trade in alcohol is the first vertical for our current commercial deployment, but we are also actively engaged in other sectors on a project basis which we will roll into the live GA system. Other industry sectors on our deployment roadmap are food and perishables, electronics, pharmaceuticals, automotive and machinery parts, and other excise goods, such as oil and gas and tobacco.

MSDN: Have you found other ways to take advantage of Windows Azure? For instance, have you started building any new applications for the platform? 

O'Riordan: Yes, we are in the process of developing a number of new applications which will be rolled into the overall TradeFacilitate system running on Windows Azure in the second half of 2010. These include extensions to third-party systems, such as enterprise resource planning systems, and devices, such as smartphones; offline functionality; and enhanced services such as electronic invoices and bills of lading.

MSDN: What are the key benefits TradeFacilitate has seen as a result of implementing Windows Azure?

O'Riordan: Now, we have the ability to scale up and down quickly. We can take advantage of the storage and processing power of the Windows Azure platform, accommodate tens of thousands of importers and exporters in cross-border trade, and eliminate the current paper inefficiencies. Also, with hosting provided by Microsoft, we have the enterprise-class service of a global technology company that has deep expertise in online services.

Read the full story at: http://www.microsoft.com/casestudies/Case_Study_Detail.aspx?CaseStudyID=400000588

Read more Windows Azure customer success stories, visit: www.windowsazure.com/evidence