Windows Azure
                                    Customer Solution Case Study

                                    3M ...
“We knew there                   Situation                            use for these predictive
processes. To become a viable
                                                        offering, the VAS application had
“SQL Azure is of                 Microsoft. Windows Azure is a     Graham. 3M relied on the
fabric helped us perform quick        recovery—crucial for protecting
                              iterations of code, al...
“We will be able to
                                                                    In addition, once the VAS
deploy m...
endeavors at 3M. “We have full-      having an analytical, science-
“3M VAS and                     time staff members who...
For More Information                                                                 centers. In addition, Windows
For mor...
Microsoft Windows Azure - 3M Launches Web Based Visual Attention in Manufacturing Case Study
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Microsoft Windows Azure - 3M Launches Web Based Visual Attention in Manufacturing Case Study


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Microsoft Windows Azure - 3M Launches Web Based Visual Attention in Manufacturing Case Study

  1. 1. Windows Azure Customer Solution Case Study 3M Launches Web-Based Visual Attention Service to Heighten Design Impact Overview “Windows Azure helps 3M customers take Country or Region: United States Industry: Manufacturing—High advantage of complex algorithms that tech and electronics encapsulate 30 years of research and get Customer Profile simple, powerful results from their With 75,000 employees and operations in more than 60 browser, almost instantly.” countries, 3M develops an extensive range of consumer and industrial products. Well- A recognized world leader in technology research known 3M brands include and development, 3M wanted to make its Scotch, Post-it, Thinsulate, and Scotch-Brite. decades of expertise in the workings of the human visual system available as a service to Business Situation 3M wanted to make its Visual customers. Using the Windows Azure™ platform, Attention Service (VAS) 3M created a Web-based application that gives available to customers as a Web-based application, with designers the ability to invoke complex algorithms high performance, scalability, to analyze the effectiveness of a design, based on and low infrastructure and management costs. how the human eye will respond. By hosting its application in Microsoft® data centers, 3M has Solution 3M used the Windows Azure™ made an innovative service available to a global platform to deliver the VAS audience, while minimizing its investment in solution to customers, taking advantage of Microsoft® data hardware infrastructure and ongoing center infrastructure and administration. The solution, which permitted service management to keep performance high and costs developers to evaluate frequent iterations of the low. application, helped the company speed time-to- Benefits market for its service and achieve higher quality • Easy, efficient deployment results, faster than in a traditional development • Lower costs, high scalability • Excellent customer solution environment.
  2. 2. “We knew there Situation use for these predictive From well-known brands such as algorithms. “We knew there was was a need to Post-it products, Thinsulate a need to make the process for insulation, and Nexcare first aid, designing things that people make the process to high-strength bonding tapes, interact with visually more for designing things industrial abrasives, and traffic science-based and iterative to safety systems, 3M products are bring about more effective that people interact ubiquitous around the world. results.” Founded in 1902, 3M is a with visually more science-based company and has Terry Collier, Marketing Manager science-based and developed thousands of at 3M, adds, “In our market innovative products for a broad research, we found that iterative to bring range of markets. The company designers spend a lot of time now operates in 60 countries and creating, honing, and optimizing about more its worldwide sales in 2008 were their images but they can be effective results.” more than U.S.$25 billion. challenged by the fact that they don’t ever truly know how Bill Smyth, Business Manager, 3M supports more than 40 people are seeing a design 3M different technology platforms before it’s completed.” 3M’s and has invested years of goal was to provide designers scientific research in developing with predictive measurements them. In fact, 7,000 of the about how their creations—from a company’s employees are logo design, to a Web site layout, dedicated solely to research. One to the placement of an electronic area of research that is used in screen in a hotel lobby—would be many 3M products—such as perceived by their audience. Also, reflective materials used in it was critical that this information roadway signage, emergency exit be immediately available. “We markings, and display and needed to be able to provide graphics technologies—is the designers with access to this understanding of how the human information directly from their visual system works. The computer desktop, multiple times company’s vision scientists, throughout the design process, working in its corporate research so they could alter their designs labs, study how the human brain in direct response to the processes visual information and analyses, rather than engaging in have developed complex lengthy focus group sessions that algorithms for predicting what a happen after a design reaches a person will notice in a visual near-final state of completion,” scene. says Collier. Bill Smyth, Business Manager at The company developed a 3M, says, “Our job, on the prototype of a Web-based business and marketing side, is to application, called the 3M Visual make the most of these Attention Service (VAS). The capabilities.” To this end, Smyth service makes it possible for and his colleagues identified a designers to test the
  3. 3. processes. To become a viable offering, the VAS application had to be available to customers in real time, be capable of processing images and returning near-immediate results, of scaling rapidly during peak design times, such as just prior to holiday advertising deadlines, and it had to carry a low up-front investment risk for 3M. “Especially in the current economic environment, we have to be very careful about how we invest our capital,” says Smyth. “We didn’t want to invest in costly data center infrastructure and capacity that, much of the time, would sit idle and unused.” Jim Graham, Technical Manager at 3M, adds, “We needed to be effectiveness of their content able to provide a high- using visual attention models, performance application to which are based on algorithms customers everywhere, without that predict the elements of a deploying data centers around scene that a viewer is likely to the world.” see and to remember. The prototype, a Web-based application that was hosted on Solution 3M data center servers, enabled 3M believed that the most users to upload photographs of a effective approach would be to physical environment or a graphic operate the VAS application from design to the VAS. The a “cloud computing” application’s processing engine environment, in which the solution then evaluated the image for its “The similarities “visual saliency” and returned a would be hosted and managed on the Internet and reside in an between Windows map of the image that indicated, external partner’s data centers. using markings such as those The company evaluated hosted Azure and our seen on a heat map, which areas infrastructure offerings from of the image were most likely to current attract a viewer’s attention. Microsoft and others, but, says Graham, “3M has for a long time development (Figure 1.) relied on Microsoft® tools and technologies to support the environment gave But 3M wanted the application to development of our technology.” work efficiently as part of its us a huge customers’ existing design For this reason, 3M chose the Windows Azure™ platform from advantage and made the decision
  4. 4. “SQL Azure is of Microsoft. Windows Azure is a Graham. 3M relied on the cloud services operating system Microsoft Visual Studio® 2008 great value to 3M that serves as the development, development system to produce service hosting, and service the VAS application, including because it takes management environment for the Microsoft Visual Studio Team the database Windows Azure platform. System 2008 Team Suite and Windows Azure provides Microsoft Visual Studio Team management developers with on-demand System 2008 Team Foundation compute and storage to host, Server. It also used Microsoft piece off our scale, and manage Web Expression Blend™ 3 design plate.” applications on the internet software and Microsoft SQL through Microsoft data centers. Server® 2008 data management Jim Graham, Technical software. “We saw that Windows Manager, 3M From its experience with the Azure would work well with our Community Technology Preview Visual Studio development (CTP) of Windows Azure, a environment. We also saw the Microsoft program for early opportunity to take advantage of adopters to experiment with a new technology platform that prerelease technology, would allow us to deploy in Graham’s team thought that the different countries, with rapid Figure 1. 3M VAS image map solution was a good fit for 3M. scaling capabilities and no up- indicating areas most likely “The similarities between front capital investment,” says to attract viewers’ Windows Azure and our current Graham. attention development environment gave us a huge advantage and made To prepare the VAS application the decision easy,” says for commercial release, 3M built a new user interface. The timing coincided with the CTP of Windows Azure, so Graham’s team developed the interface to Windows Azure specifications. “We developed the whole user experience, from the ground up, on Windows Azure,” says Graham. His team also used the Windows Azure development fabric, which it used to simulate the Windows Azure environment on local computers, making it easy to run and test the VAS application before deploying it. VAS incorporates a number of unmanaged, high-performance image-processing software libraries developed by 3M. “The Windows Azure development
  5. 5. fabric helped us perform quick recovery—crucial for protecting iterations of code, allowing us to customers’ data. “SQL Azure is overcome many of the hurdles of great value to 3M because it we might not have seen until we takes the database management had deployed to a more formal piece off our plate,” says staging or production Graham. environment,” explains Graham. The VAS interface, and the Web 3M uses Windows Azure data site where users go to access it, storage services to store image was developed using Microsoft files and analysis generated by ASP.NET 2.0, part of the the engine, and it uses the Queue Microsoft .NET Framework. service feature to provide users Graham’s team used the with high-performance and near- Microsoft Silverlight™ browser immediate response times even plug-in to build controls into the when the application is inundated application that enable users to with high traffic during peak load edit and modify images they times. submit to the VAS processing engine. The Silverlight-enabled “In short,” explains Graham, controls are embedded into the “With Access Control, we can ASP.NET application framework, create a pipeline from the creating a seamless experience ASP.NET-based interface, to the for users. “Users don’t have to Queue service, to the VAS engine Figure 2. Diagram of 3M VAS switch between different where the analysis is performed deployed on Windows interfaces to perform certain using the algorithms our Azure functions,” explains Graham. scientists have developed.” (Figure 2.) The VAS application relies on the Access Control Service feature of Currently, VAS helps customers Windows Azure to authenticate evaluate any number of graphical users to the system, providing or photographic images that they access to various components of choose to upload to the the service based on a user’s application. In future versions, 3M credentials. 3M used Microsoft plans to provide customers with SQL Azure, a cloud-based the ability to create entire relational database platform that databases of test images, is built on SQL Server enabling users to experiment technologies, to manage the with, for example, the content of images that users upload. SQL an advertisement in a variety of Azure also is used to deliver design scenes—or, conversely, a analytical results from the image number of different types of processing engine. SQL Azure, as advertising content in one part of the Windows Azure particular scene. 3M plans to platform, provides automated release a final version of the VAS management capabilities, application running on Windows including built-in data protection, Azure to customers by mid- self-healing, and disaster November 2009.
  6. 6. “We will be able to In addition, once the VAS deploy much faster Benefits application development is Using the Windows Azure complete and the service is made on the Microsoft platform, 3M developed a highly publicly available on Windows technology innovative Web-based service Azure, 3M will be able to quickly that can dramatically alter and release product updates and platform through improve the process for enhancements. “We will be able designing images and to deploy much faster on the Windows Azure environments that rely on how Microsoft technology platform than with any other the human visual system through Windows Azure than with responds. By using a cloud any other cloud solution we cloud solution we service, 3M experienced an evaluated,” says Graham. efficient deployment and lowered evaluated.” its infrastructure costs. The highly Lower Costs, High Scalability Jim Graham, Technical scalable Web-based service will With Windows Azure, 3M Manager, 3M make it possible for 3M capitalizes on a pay-as-you-use customers to optimize designs in pricing model to minimize hosting response to scientific analysis, costs and maximize profits. “With thereby helping to make the most Windows Azure, we get a highly of their marketing dollars. scalable environment, pay only for the resources we need, and Easy, Efficient Deployment relieve our IT staff of the systems The close connection between management and administration Windows Azure and the 3M Visual responsibilities of supporting a Studio development environment dynamic infrastructure,” says helped the company achieve a Graham. rapid deployment of the VAS application. “We were able to 3M found SQL Azure to be wrap our core technology into especially beneficial because it Windows Azure in less than eight can use it to offer the VAS weeks. It was very fast,” says application to a global audience, Graham. “The tools and without the expense of technologies we were already establishing and maintaining using, for instance forms regional data centers. Graham authentication, are fully supported explains, “With SQL Azure, we in Windows Azure. And, the can deploy internationally without Windows Azure development having to migrate customer data fabric provided a great simulation from one region to another, environment in which we could without having to replicate see our work in progress and databases, and without all of the incorporate feedback—early and service management we would often. We rapidly deployed otherwise have to engage in.” interim releases to stakeholders Graham compares the time and within the company. The Windows cost savings that result from the Azure development fabric has use of Windows Azure as a cloud been a significant time savings.” services platform to other
  7. 7. endeavors at 3M. “We have full- having an analytical, science- “3M VAS and time staff members who are based assessment of their solely dedicated to managing our designs. It takes it out of the ego Windows Azure hosted solutions. Were we to space of subjective evaluations will help our host the VAS application from colleagues or from their own ourselves, we would have to clients. We believe that with the customers spend increase our support staff.” Windows Azure–based solution, we can have a significant impact their marketing Excellent Customer Solution on the financial aspects of dollars more Most importantly, 3M used marketing-based design.” Windows Azure to deliver a new wisely.” technology that could change the Bill Smyth, Business Manager, design process paradigm, 3M especially in areas where success hinges on a viewer’s response to a scene. “Windows Azure helps 3M customers take advantage of complex algorithms that encapsulate 30 years of research and get simple, powerful results from their browser, almost instantly,” says Collier. Graham says, “We wanted to make it so simple for our users that they didn’t even have to step outside of the workflow they are used to. With the VAS application running on Windows Azure, users can open a Web browser and analyze any number of files, straight from their computer.” As VAS becomes an integral, natural element of the design process for 3M customers, the company expects to “significantly reduce the time and cost of design iterations— while improving the overall impact of the designs,” says Graham. “3M VAS and Windows Azure will help our customers spend their marketing dollars more wisely,” explains Smyth. “In our research, we found that customers value
  8. 8. For More Information centers. In addition, Windows For more information about Azure serves developers’ Microsoft products and connectivity needs through services, call the Microsoft the following services. Sales Information Center at 〉 The Service Bus connects (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call services and applications the Microsoft Canada across network Information Centre at (877) boundaries to help 568-2495. Customers in the developers build United States and Canada who distributed applications. are deaf or hard-of-hearing can 〉 The Access Control Service reach Microsoft text telephone provides federated, (TTY/TDD) services at (800) claims-based access 892-5234. Outside the 50 control for REST Web United States and Canada, services. please contact your local • Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft Microsoft subsidiary. To access SQL Azure offers the first information using the World cloud-based relational and Wide Web, go to: Windows Azure Platform self-managed database The Windows Azure platform service built on Microsoft SQL provides an excellent foundation Server 2008 technologies. For more information about the for expanding online product and To learn more about the Windows 3M Visual Attention Service, service offerings. The main Azure platform, visit: visit the VAS Web site at: components include: • Windows Azure. Windows Azure is the development, service Additional Resources: Download: Windows Azure hosting, and service Platform Training Kit management environment for View: Architecting and the Windows Azure platform. Developing for Windows Azure Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage Web applications on the Internet through Microsoft data Software and Services • Microsoft Visual Team System • Windows Azure Platform 2008 Team Suite • Windows Azure • Microsoft Expression • Access Control Service • Microsoft Expression Blend 3 • Microsoft SQL Azure • Technologies • Microsoft Server Product • Microsoft ASP.NET 2.0 Portfolio • Microsoft .NET Framework • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 • Microsoft Silverlight • Microsoft Visual Studio This case study is for informational • Microsoft Visual Studio Team purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN System 2008 Team THIS SUMMARY. Document published November 2009