How Microsoft Azure Puts the Personal in Consumer Engagement
Author: Aaron Merkin, Chief Technology Officer
Here at Aclara, we have been delivering an industry-leading consumer engagement solution from our own data centers for over a decade. However, the industry has evolved and we knew we had to evolve with it. We understood that a highly secure, highly scalable infrastructure is a critical underpinning of any solution we offer to our utility customers. That’s why when we set out to build our next generation Aclara Adaptive Consumer Engagement (Aclara ACE®) platform, we selected the Microsoft Azure cloud platform.
Through Aclara ACE applications built using Microsoft Azure, you can offer personalized and actionable information to their customers that:
- Heightens awareness of energy costs and relates them directly to personal behaviors
- Promotes energy and water efficiency measures that are easy to adapt
- Simplifies participation in utility cost-and-energy savings programs
- Increases customer satisfaction scores.
Specifically, Microsoft Azure helps Aclara push data-rich, personalized insights to your customers so that they can better understand their monthly bills as well as usage patterns. Aclara ACE doesn’t require users to delve deeply into your website to find the information they need. The solution uses Azure services to bring that information to users on mobile devices as well as computers.
Plus, as utilities migrate from advanced meter reading (AMR) technologies to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), the volume and types of data processed have dramatically increased. For example, an AMR system may provide for daily or hourly reads of only total energy consumed. An AMI system may provide a much richer dataset, including, for example, five-minute interval data in the form of voltage, frequency, energy consumption, minimums, and maximums. We’ve architected our Aclara ACE solution so it can handle this massive increase in scale and complexity.
Utilities also require dynamic solutions capable of adapting with them as their needs change. Leveraging Platform as a Service (PaaS) functionality from Azure enables us to rapidly develop, deploy, and scale new functionalities to meet our customers’ changing needs.
Security is our top priority
Our utility customers have unique security challenges. The dual concerns of protecting end-customer data and the safe and secure operation of critical infrastructure make cybersecurity our paramount concern. This requires solutions that have been designed from the bottom up to be highly secure.
ACE and Azure work together to deliver a highly secure solution through the protection of data at rest, data in flight, and a robust set of security controls. Examples include:
- The use of SSL to secure network traffic to the ACE portal
- Real-time monitoring of traffic to protect against known malicious hosts attacking the website
- Virus scanning and configuration management of the underlying infrastructure to protect against malware
- Minimizing the access rights of personnel by applying the principles of least privilege
- Ensuring the coordination of multiple personnel are required to make destructive changes through the separation of duties
For more information on cybersecurity in Azure, please visit: Superior security with cloud infrastructure
Big data offers big rewards
- In order to address the scaling and dynamic needs of our customers, ACE utilizes big data technologies in conjunction with PaaS services. The core business logic of ACE is deployed using PaaS services such as Cloud Services and Service Fabric. This enables dynamic scaling to match the surges and swells of end users to the website.
- To handle uneven patterns of AMI data being delivered to ACE from AMI networks, queuing technologies such as Azure Queues and Event Hub are used. These expand and shrink elastically to absorb transferred AMI data until it can be processed by the ACE platform. This helps reduce the complexity of integration with customers’ other systems.
- The core of our data management platform is Apache Cassandra, a proven industry standard distributed database. This provides us to process billions of AMI records in a highly performant manner, speeding insights to end users.
Through our partnership with Microsoft and leveraging the Azure platform, we have delivered the scalable and secure consumer engagement solution our customers demand.