- Case Studies
Here at AOT, we aspire to enable all of our clients. We had the pleasure of working with BC Housing last year to digitally transform their internal document management system.
What are the main takeaways?
- Azure Blob is a robust cloud storage solution that can be utilized by the government to streamline their document management
- A Proof of Concept-based approach to Cloud Migration can help your organization save money
- Public cloud-based storage solutions are a viable option for BC Government and BPS clients – the solution offers flexibility and accessibility options to both public and private sector clients.
- In this article, we outline the process involved in creating an Azure Blob Service based Document Management Proof of Concept
Who is BC Housing?
BC Housing develops, manages and administers a wide range of subsidized housing options across the province. They aim to make a positive difference in people’s lives and communities through safe, affordable and quality housing. BC Housing is on a digital transformation path to provide more electronic services to its Partners and Citizens via their two online portals.
BC Housing, as part of its digital transformation initiative, required transformation of its processes for document management in order to scale the digital services the organization offers through its Partner and Citizen portal.
The organization had an existing legacy document management solution in their on-premise infrastructure. This solution housed terabytes of documents, all of which were becoming increasingly difficult to organize and retrieve. Their most sizable challenge was that their document management technology stack was almost at its end of life. BC Housing had a few options.
- They could upgrade to the newest version of the existing technology. This option turns out to be significantly complex and cost-prohibitive
- They could leverage a public cloud service with Canadian datacenter. This would alleviate the challenges of software currency, backups, or availability
The organization opted for the latter option, and began to commence planning for the pilot project. The objective of the adoption of a hybrid cloud strategy was to help BC Housing in organized storage and retrieval of documents for their key digital transformation initiative planning.
BC Housing’s end goal was to pilot a cloud service that made it simple to organize a wide variety of documents from different sources & locations. The technology needed to make it easy to store information for convenient retrieval as well as provide benefits such as lower costs, improved analytics, scalability, reliability, and disaster recovery.
The Solution Approach
BC Housing made the choice to pilot Azure Blob Services as the document management solution integrated with their existing on-prem infrastructure. We were brought in as the qualified vendor to do the hybrid cloud integration work required. Our team, comprised of Nikhila and Shankar, conducted the PoC on the project as well as the configuration.
Nikhila acted as our Azure specialist on this project. She developed methods to test the Azure Blob storage API and their feasibility to replace the legacy setup. Shankar used the research, observations and recommendations to configure the solution.
What is Azure Blob Service?
Use Cases: “Azure Blob storage is Microsoft’s object storage solution for the cloud. Blob storage is optimized for storing massive amounts of unstructured data. Unstructured data is data that doesn’t adhere to a particular data model or definition, such as text or binary data.”
“Blob storage is designed for:
- Serving images or documents directly to a browser.
- Storing files for distributed access.
- Streaming video and audio
- Writing to log files
- Storing data for backup and restore, disaster recovery and archiving
- Storing data for analysis by an on-premises or Azure hosted services.”
To learn more about Azure Blob and other Microsoft products, click here.
Why was Azure Blob Service Selected?
Design alternatives: AWS
The Project Details
In this section, we will detail the specifics of what may occur during your organization’s cloud transformation journey.
AOT was responsible for several improvements and optimizations including analysis of the existing systems at BC Housing including the portals that have been integrated to the legacy document management solutions using APIs. The team at AOT was able to analyze the existing Document Management System at BC Housing, and able to identify the data stored along with its consumers. AOT also understood the pain points of the current system and the desire of BC Housing to explore a cloud based solution using Azure Blob Storage, abstracted by APIs implemented in their choice of tech stack.
Interface Design and Implementation:
The interface design had to consider backward compatibility of the existing system and the requirements of Azure Blob Storage to arrive at interfaces that were simple, clean, intuitive and compatible with the existing system. The first cut of interface design and development was via SOAP/http as standard web service, but the ultimate goal was to support both SOAP and REST APIs for various clients this document management system. The implementation of these interfaces and abstraction to Azure Blob Storage was in Oracle SOA Suite 12c, using Oracle BPEL, Oracle Mediator and various JCA adapters. An EJB based utility was implemented to address a few shortcomings of the Oracle BPEL –> Azure Blob Storage REST API integration for a few edge cases.
Document upload, download, metadata GETs and PUTs and other operations flowed through a SOAP API implemented by Oracle and Mediator, deployed in Weblogic 12c. The client’s document was converted into Base64Binary and then passed on to a Stateless EJB for routing into Azure Blob Storage. Among other things, the header creation, encryption, dispatch and receipt of files, folders and metadata was performed by the BPEL component.
This work required us to analyze and evaluate the Blob Service REST API and its compatibility with the existing security infrastructure at BC Housing;
We determined a best practice methodology for the development approach and then developed the associated web services and APIs to use the Blob service.
Azure Blob Storage and the legacy system handle security differently, so while there was an adjustment to be made, the end goal was to replicate the security and access mechanisms as much as possible to preserve backward compatibility. Azure security, encryption and custom access rules provided in the requirements encompassed the security of files and folders in Azure Blob Storage.
Azure Blob Storage REST APIs were analysed in detail to understand which APIs could be used to support backward compatibility of the existing system. As a first, .NET Https calls were used to test the identified APIs as well as to understand the authorization keys required to access the APIs. Once successfully tested, the APIs were utilized in the ORACLE BPEL application.
The pilot project was successful. We enabled BC Housing to leverage Azure Blob Services for all their upcoming document management needs. This saved the organization money, as well as increased the functionality of the system. This was a pilot project that we finished within the specified time frame within the allocated budget.
A working prototype Proof of Concept to showcase Azure Blob Storage’s capabilities to store and retrieve files and folders on demand in a secure manner was demonstrated. The API led approach resulted in abstraction, transparency and preservation of compatibility from their initial document management system to Azure Blob Storage. The project was finished on time, on budget and within quality parameters.
Currently, we are working with BC Housing on other projects.