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PaaS helps fight AIDS in Africa

VX Company used CloudBees PaaS to move patient tracking and monitoring software to the cloud, aiding NGOs treating AIDS in Africa. Jenkins was key.

The challenge of redeveloping a core application and moving it to the cloud paled in comparison to what VX Company hopes that app can accomplish -- give NGOs in Africa a way to monitor and track AIDS patients.

VX is a Netherlands-based IT services provider. Its Soweto application started as a desktop app that nearly 100 NGOs affiliated with the Soweto Care System used. Problems arose when some NGOs couldn't support the on-premises infrastructure needed to run the application, nor were they able to update it. Additionally, multiple versions across a variety of companies made it impossible for VX's support staff to keep up with its users.

Many users had infrastructure that was inflexible and data that was locally stored with little security, creating a high risk for theft or viruses.

"We needed an infrastructure that was more accessible and flexible to play with," said Bas van Oudenaarde, VX's technical manager.

It was clear to van Oudenaarde that moving to the cloud was the easiest way to gain that flexibility while minimizing maintenance and making updates easier. He also wanted to continue to use Jenkins for continuous integration, which was a deciding factor in his decision to use CloudBees for platform as a service (PaaS).

"I was excited to see [Jenkins in the cloud] was offered as a PaaS solution," van Oudenaarde said. "It was really easy to hook our solution into that and start thinking about how to create a nice test bed for the Soweto application."

Jenkins is a big draw for CloudBees adopters, according to vice president of international development Francois Dechery.

"I would say it's probably half of the paying customers [using Jenkins] and even probably more if you take into account our free trial accounts," Dechery said. "A lot of developers just open an account to see whether Jenkins as a Service can be useful for them."

We needed an infrastructure that was more accessible and flexible to play with.

Bas van Oudenaarde, technical manager, VX Company

VX's implementation process

VX began testing CloudBees in January 2011 before the formal implementation in June the same year. First, the company reconstructed the software using the CloudBees platform, then deployed it on Amazon, modified by CloudBees RUN@cloud service. The service included all the tools van Oudenaarde needed to test and deploy.

"One of the nice things of Cloudbees is they have an ecosystem, as they call it," he said. "They provided special plug-ins for our building process and testing like Sauce Labs. That ecosystem is very powerful."

Working with Jenkins in the cloud proved to be exactly what van Oudenaarde wanted. He called that aspect of the service the "main benefit."

Dechery praised VX's development knowledge, adding that having intelligent clients makes the implementation process a breeze for both sides.

"From our perspective, it was a classical process where the customer starts in small steps, then making it bigger and trying to deploy it on RUN and discovering the application becomes more mature," Dechery said. "They had the right skills from a development standpoint, they knew the technologies quite well. So from that perspective, it was a smooth transition for them."

Soweto application post-implementation

From a practical sense, van Oudenaarde feels relieved that his team no longer has to send installation manuals and instruction guides to users or send teams to different parts of Africa to help with basic IT problems. The move to CloudBees has allowed VX to reduce customer support time by nearly 90%.

"In those days, if a customer had some troubles with installing or the database, we needed to help. We were spending a lot of time with those issues," he said. "[Now] it's easier to configure, easier to install if they want to work with it. It saves us a lot of additional technical help to get the application up and running."

He's also pleased with what the cloud move has done as far as innovation. Developers looking to build off the core application can now spin off projects with ease with a few clicks.

The business side of VX has also received benefits, with operating expenses reduced by 30% since the introduction of CloudBees; some of that savings was on travel costs for technical teams.

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