Azure cloud support shock for Texas healthcare provider

Azure cloud support shock for Texas healthcare provider

Summary: When a large care provider decided to move to the cloud offering of its on-premise software provider, it received a nasty shock.


Creative Solutions in Healthcare (CSH) came up against a cloud service challenge few of us expect to face. CIO Shawn Wiora describes the company as a 'Microsoft shop', so it seemed a natural progression to use Microsoft Azure when trying a cloud solution.

We've all lived in the real world long enough to expect cross-platform issues to strike when using different providers — 'it's not us, it's them' is a common refrain in IT. But to be told Microsoft Azure didn't support Microsoft's own Exchange application, left Wiora's team, "befuddled and frustrated".

Creative Solutions in Healthcare CIO, Shawn Wiora

"We asked them for a case study and documentation indicating [self-managed] Exchange could be supported on Azure. They gave us neither, and wouldn't confirm that their Azure team would support a trouble ticket for Azure servers running Exchange," he said.

"Their words were 'while it is legally and technically feasible, Microsoft has chosen not to provide support for such a configuration at this time and has documented this.' We backed out of an agreement on Azure, costing us $30,000 in losses, delays, and increased risks."

The Fort Worth, Texas-based company owns and operates over 60 senior care and nursing home facilities and employs over 6,000 staff. Wiora knew cloud was the future when it came to developing, testing, and deploying projects on an as-needs basis, so since December 2013 CSH has been using VMware vCloud Hybrid Service for burst capabilities and extra capacity for testing and development.

According to Wiora, it's saved considerable capital expenditure as it lets he and his team spin projects up faster.

"We were an all-physical environment," he explained, "and when you go from physical to virtual you want to make sure you do it right."

The priority criteria in selecting the right provider, Wiora said, included reliability, time to get up and running, the provider, efficiencies to be derived from being in the cloud, backup capabilities, and support both during and following the transition.

Now, Wiora says he couldn't love cloud computing more.

"The ramp up was fast and the support was tremendous," he said. "We're highly regulated, with a number of state and federal regulations we have to adhere to. VMware met our requirements from a compliance point of view and acknowledged our security needs in the business agreement."

After the Microsoft issue, Wiora adds VMware's service team got CSH back on track quickly.

"We're looking at projects like mobility, compliance, additional security, and the ability to light up new applications very quickly, and a hybrid cloud has been a total game-changer for us," he said. "We can bring applications online and redeploy them at a third of what it used to cost."

Key to any successful cloud procurement, said Wiora, is to involve all stakeholders in a decision workflow. He's highly focused on having his team come to a consensus about which provider is the best, and arming them with the best information to make a decision means documenting everything to leave no stone unturned.

VMware's vCloud Hybrid Service (vCHS) has been what Wiora calls both a tool and culture match for his organisation.

"A good IT department feels good about the services they provide," he said. "vCHS helps us achieve that level of success."

Topic: Cloud

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  • Incompetent IT executives

    Exchange runs perfectly on Azure, but if you want email in the cloud the Office 365 platform provides that and so much more.

    These IT executives made a bad decision and are criticising Microsoft to cover their own backs. They get away with it, because certain tech journalists are always hungry for anti-Microsoft propaganda stories, and suspend journalistic scrutiny when reporting these stories. Why wasn't Microsoft contacted for comment to give their side of the story as is standard practice? This article has an agenda.

    The same types of IT exec are the ones in big companies wasting money on Office Professional licences when entry level editions of Office would be enough for at least 50% of staff, or buy iPads and Macbook Pros, and then complain that IT is too costly.
    • Microsoft has chosen not to provide support for such a configuration ...

      Microsoft's reply was a diplomatic one to avoid saying the CIO is an idiot.
    • Just an IT guy...and also responsible for risk management...

      Timacheson - Our issue was with the communications from Microsoft and the lack of any documentation, case studies or even a simple email indicating that indeed support would be provided if we self hosted exchange on Azure. As an "executive" ...and as with all my CIO / CTO peers...we are responsible for the company's IT strategy which involves something called, risk management. As a Microsoft house, we genuinely wanted to believe in Azure and we even went forward with a pilot. Would have been easy for someone in Redmond to say - Yes, we can support that... but unfortunately after a dozen or so phone calls - that documented support never came.

      You are correct in that Microsoft's position doesn't make any sense on multiple levels. The intel in some ways was mixed but I still didn't agree with moving forward without assurance of support. When we asked if this Exchange on Azure would be supported, we were redirected to explore 365! Positioning 365 over our own self hosted exchange was wrong and is where I have a problem. As with all CIOs ...I have to consider things that other IT members don't have to worry about.

      Further, the team felt that if we would be told/instructed as to what would be supported ...and under what terms support would be provided... then the flexibility to quickly do what we wanted on our own servers could be compromised in the future. VMware was totally cool with whatever apps we wanted to deploy - whether they were Microsoft or homegrown or other off the shelf stuff. So - its really simple, most Microsoft developers don't have to worry about stuff like that... CIOs ("executives") not only are concerned...but are responsible for the risks and future of their IT infrastructure.
      • Your CIO is an idiot

        Sorry, and I don't use that term very often but a person being paid the money a CIO is paid and does not understand the cloud enough to understand that you offload Exchange into MS's 365 is a idiot. Exchange is complex, why oh why would MS want to be on the hook for in nothing else blame and bad press for issues with your VDI Exchange mess?

        And tens of thousands of companies are running Exchange 365, why does this company think that somehow they are different? Defence, medical, education, etc run 365.

        Rann Xeroxx
    • This, a thousand times

      I can't imagine a scenario in which it makes sense to move to Azure, but run Exchange in virtual machines instead of offloading that service. The statements by the executives here are incongruent. Either there is a fundamental misperception about the technology, or the exec is not including all the real reasons for the stated desire.
  • Please know your facts.

    Please know your facts or at the least validate before writing incorrect articles. We are using Azure for quite sometime and we don't have the problems you mentioned. CTOs are excellent in talking and some are also excellent in covering their incompetence.
    • Seems that you've mis-read the story

      Mr. PT - congrats on getting Exchange to run on Azure. That was never a concern of ours - nor was it mentioned as a deal breaker in the above story by Drew Turney. As stated in the response above, a decision was based on the lack of documented support. In other words, if Exchange was having an issue (which - as a certified microsoft professional - I'm sure you know that happens from time-to-time), would Microsoft provide support under our support agreement. That question was asked many times...and each time it was not answered.

      Again, please read the story again and let me know if you have any questions about getting support in a documented way.
      • Because what your asking for stumped MS with its stupidity

        I'm sure they don't have documentation on how to run on prem Lync on a VDI in Azure either. What idiot would want to do that either?
        Rann Xeroxx
    • Technology vs Supportability

      This is not a question of technology it is a question of supportability. Microsoft technology works great, until it doesn't. The problem was not as much a matter of whether we could make it work, because we did. It was a matter of that 3:00 am call to Premier that would have went unanswered.
  • Seems puzzling

    Or, was it that MS told them that the SLA is to keep their cloud instance up and running only; the contents or what works inside the cloud instance would be the responsibility of the customer?
    • Mr. GoFor - Let's be specific

      We asked if we had an issue with Exchange on Azure - would we receive support under our existing EA.
    • Exchange on Azure

      The problem is not as much the instances themselves as it is the limited list of Microsoft products that are supported on them. We asked Microsoft to send us a list of their applications that were supported on their instances. At the time the KB article only had a very limited list of about 10 products. Exchange, Sharepoint, Dynamics CRM and GP, were not on the list. Basically of the technology we were using we were able to host SQL and AD and that was it.
  • MS seems to have a right hand/left hand problem:

    And this looks like just another iteration of it. For instance, Office 2013 + Windows 8. No live tiles for Outlook. They're forcing people to upgrade, then their own systems aren't working together.

    I was forced to buy a W8 laptop, still use on the desktop (much easier with 8.1). Metro (or whatever marketing name they're using for it now) has never made any sense with non-touch screen devices, but they're determined to create demand for a sub-par GUI.
  • Research

    For everyone that believes Exchange on Azure is supported I encourage you to call Microsoft and ask. I was the tech that worked this decision with Mr. Wiora. I initiated the call with Microsoft to start the Azure project on that call a Microsoft partner and employee told us, "Yeah sure that will be supported". After doing a TCO of Exchange on Azure vs. Office 365. we would have saved 2/3 of the cost. Then after we completed the 2 month trial and were very happy with our results, we had a followup call to finalize the EA and buy licenses. That is the point where Microsoft dropped the bombshell. They told us, "Where as Exchange on Azure may technically work, we will not support you in this venture, you will be on your own if you have a problem." I asked the specific question, "If I call Microsoft support and ask for Exchange support, you will actually tell me no?" The answer was, "unfortunately yes." So I asked, Microsoft the following, "If I use another cloud vendor would you support Exchange on there platform under SA License Mobility?" Microsoft responded yes!. If you are quick to blame the IT executive in this case, I encourage you to call Microsoft and ask them your self, or go for it deploy Exchange on Azure and wait for the time you need to open a support ticket!
    • Their responses demonstrate some serious issues

      Though I suppose it would not be surprising that they would rather everyone went to Exchange Online than run Exchange servers in Azure. Personally I'd run Exchange Online, as it means less server running from my point of view, but I can understand having the personnel that can support running an Exchange server and it could be significantly less cost with doing it yourself.

      Microsoft really should support Exchange on Azure, along with many of their other server offerings. They would have an easier time fixing issues with virtual occurrences of Exchange on Azure than on some third party VM.
  • Interesting....

    Both the article and the comments.
    • Classic case of:

      "It isn't happening to me, so it can't be happening" and then the obligatory "must be an idiot" remarks. I'm delighted to see the main players of this article actually post: very good to see, indeed!
  • Indeed Interesting...

    About the question "to cloud or not to cloud..." one mostly hears those that made the step to enter the cloud on seminars or conferences, but rarely hears the ones that came back from it, or decided not to make the step into the cloud for well specific reasons.
    It is interesting to read this story and indeed also the comments from the ones who lived the case themselves. Interesting to read that using a cloud PAAS instead of moving into the SAAS would save them 2/3 of the SAAS price. Same reasonings we have on remaining on premise rather than move into SAAS, which comes out more expensive in our case, even if incalculating hidden costs and intangeables...
    The push from Microsoft for getting customers on the SAAS model of office365 is strong and could explain their resistance to offer support for the same software on their Azure platform, but it sounds totally illogic when they would support Exchange on any other cloud PAAS platform...??
    Could it be that Microsoft sometimes doesn't know the right way anymore between all the different guidelines given for all the alternatives offered?...
    Mind you, also we have become a Microsoft house, where most of the decisions go direction Microsoft because of the integration and ecosystem of the whole Microsoft system.
    Philip De Bie
  • Money not worth saving

    Microsoft offers cloud hosted email as a service at a competitive cost that is fully supported. In an effort to reduce that cost further, you chose to build your own version with other Microsoft services, why should they support that scheme for less revenue?