How The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Innovated With Azure

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a world-renowned organisation within the movie industry known best for the annual Oscars awards ceremony. While the event always runs like a dream to the outsider, there have been several internal challenges. With much of its information on paper or in segregated on-premise databases, the company needed a fast, reliable and cost-effective way to grow. The Academy turned to Azure to help migrate its infrastructure to the cloud, streamline its IT development and better serve its members. With the help of Microsoft development tools within Azure, the Academy now provides an elegant, efficient and responsive online experience. 

What Challenges Was The Academy Facing? 

Founded in 1927, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the world’s leading movie-related organisation, with over 10,000 members working in film and cinema and a film arthouse of over 230,000 items. The Academy’s mission is to recognise and uphold excellence in the industry, inspire imaginations and connect people through the world of film. 

Until nine years ago, the process leading up to the Oscars was managed entirely offline. This included nominations, votes and the distribution of DVDs. While the Academy obviously had a website, its content was static, each business unit managed its own IT requirements and the vast amount of information existed on paper or in disparate desktop computer databases. To try to resolve the problem, on her appointment as Chief Information Officer, Bev Kite began to work to use technology as a strategic asset. She worked to centralise software development and IT infrastructure and launched a member portal. A lot was done within the first few years but the plan was then approved to create a new app for Academy members and to make all award categories available for streaming on major platforms. 

The problem with this next stage of the plan was that there was still an on-premises infrastructure to account for and speed and agility would be fundamental. With a few hundred virtual machines already in the mix and more being deployed with every project, there was a huge amount of work required to keep everything optimised. The team had reached the limit in terms of compute and data storage and physically managing the data was taking an increasing amount of time away from other tasks. The Academy needed to ensure it delivered an excellent online experience as it increased its online offering. The organisation needed limitless scalability, the ability to target multiple platforms and to migrate dozens of .NET Framework apps with SQL Server back ends. 

How Did Azure Deliver the Solution?

As an existing Microsoft shop, Azure was a natural pathway for the Academy to take. It offered the strongest managed offering for migrating their existing .NET and SQL server apps, a strong mobile development platform and DevOps tooling. There were two main stages to the solution:

  1. Migrating from on-premises to Azure – after defining their requirements, the team set up virtual networks on Azure, configured services within those networks, set up a virtual private network and granted the appropriate access rights. Once everything was set up on Azure, they moved the main SQL Server database into Azure SQL, then data access and API layers and, finally, the critical member portal, an ASP.NET web app. Within a year, 95% of legacy apps had been moved to Azure. 
  2. Prioritising mobile streaming capabilities – the team decided to continue developing Android and iOS apps and migrate the rest of its .NET applications to Azure. The team used Xamarin C# code for the TV app and Xamarin.Forms (now .NET Maui) for the iOS and Android apps. All three were powered using the same back-end services with up to 60% of shared code. 

The Academy’s .NET Framework applications now run in Azure App Service, which allows them to build, deploy and scale services in a fully managed environment. Data resides in Azure SQL and the team can take advantage of on-demand scalability, extensive monitoring and alerting and high availability. As such, they have eliminated downtime when making updates to the member portal and can be much more agile. 

Leading up to the 92nd Oscars in 2020, the Academy used Azure infrastructure to stream 850 movies to members across all 24 award categories. They also delivered a custom ticketing system, managing distribution and security for every guest at the event, all with Visual Studio and Azure. 

What Are The Benefits of Azure?

Azure was an obvious choice for the Academy and delivered some incredible advantages when it came to migrating legacy applications and delivering an excellent online experience:

  • Scalability – Azure delivers the capacity to grow usage while accommodating spikes in traffic such as awards season for the Academy.
  • Collaboration – the DevOps approach and tooling help development and infrastructure teams to collaborate more closely.
  • Agility – Visual Studio made it possible to deliver new streaming apps to members across different devices and platforms. 
  • Reliability – with a deep understanding of .NET and SQL Service, Microsoft, through Azure, offers a robust set of managed services for migrating legacy applications to the cloud. 
  • Simplicity – strongest managed offer for migrating .NET Framework and Microsoft SQL Server apps.
  • Automation – day to day database management functions are automated, reducing mundane tasks like patching and backups. 
  • Productivity – the entire application lifecycle is a lot smoother, from code to deployment and team members can focus on development instead of infrastructure.

Could Your Businesses Innovate With Azure?

The Academy migrated its legacy web applications and delivered new streaming applications quickly and cost-effectively. Azure helped them to quickly and effectively improve their software architecture, solve their infrastructure issues and modernise the skill sets of their IT team. The result is a rich, responsive online experience that enables the company to engage with its members more closely and uphold its values. 

If your business already works with .NET and SQL Server, Microsoft is an obvious choice to deliver a robust set of managed services and to migrate legacy applications to the cloud. What’s more, Azure delivers the ability to do everything, including ongoing software development through the cloud. With built-in scalability and high availability, your business is able to take more risks, become more agile and respond to customer needs. 

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About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

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