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How to Move Distributed Excel Processing to Azure [Model Inc.]

Embrace your models with Azure Excel capabilities
Last updated: November 29, 2017

In various sectors there are organisations that have pushed Microsoft Excel to its limit.

Whereby, business-critical processes are running in an Excel compute ‘grid’, while in tandem with products like SharePoint Excel Services or “home grown” PC based grids.

However, despite the functionality that Excel brings, it’s fundamentally a desktop application and not a background processing engine. So using it as such is not without its issues.

With this in mind, we have defined a scalable Microsoft Azure based architecture to process Excel workbooks without the need for Excel or SharePoint. Our Azure Calculation Engine (ACE) enables organisations to focus on running their operations, and leave the Excel processing to Azure.

How to Achieve Excel Processing in Azure

1. The process begins by finding a way to calculate Excel workbooks through code. As such, this means one cannot use Excel itself.

2. Secondly, you have to define the necessary Azure architecture. However, this must use all of the relevant Azure PaaS and SaaS services that would allow for consistent scaling - even when the load is heavy.

In this context, we decided to use the Azure Service Bus Queue and Azure Worker Roles with the Queue-based load leveling pattern:

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Equally, we deployed a 3rd party component to handle the Excel processing, which across various performance and compatibility tests thus far has been very strong.

3. Lastly, our application adds a number of tasks to a queue.

Thereafter, auto scaling workers pull those tasks (task = calculating an Excel workbook) from the queue for processing. Then they process and write the output to the relevant storage location.

Making Azure Excel Processing a Reality

From a technical perspective, taking something theoretical to vast data quantities may seem like a flag on the moon moment.

In reality, we are delighted to say that all parts of the equation have come together to form a fantastic tool for those pushing Excel to its best. To see this for yourself, see how Telereal Trillium made the jump and the impacts it has had.

Overall, we hope that you can see the format and structure needed to make a scalable Azure Excel solution.

Topics: ACE, Azure, Excel

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