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Microsoft Simplifies Azure PaaS with Combined App Services

In a move aimed at making it more appealing for developers and business decision makers to use its cloud platform as a service (PaaS), Microsoft is bringing together its separate Azure app services into one complete offering.

Microsoft describes its new Azure App Service, now available, as a fully managed service which provides a simple way for developers to build apps that are customer facing. The new packaging effectively brings together three offerings that, until now, were disparate services -- Web sites, Mobile Services and Biztalk Services -- to easily integrate with SaaS and on-premises systems.

"It brings those together in new unified experiences," said Omar Khan, Microsoft's director of Azure engineering. "Developers are challenged with trying to connect all that data from these different systems into their apps. That's what App Service helps with. It helps developers integrate data from on-premises and from popular cloud services into their Web and mobile apps. And App Service also has new capabilities around allowing businesses to automate their business processes more easily, allowing them to be more agile."

Khan explained how the four offerings are coming together:

  • Web Apps: Online tools and templates that make it easy to build, deploy and scale apps that are customer facing, for employee productivity or partners.
  • Mobile Apps: Services that enable the tailoring of Web and other apps to key mobile platforms, notably iOS, Android and (of course) Windows.
  • BizTalk Apps: Also described as Logic Apps, Microsoft now has 50 connectors to popular SaaS and on-premises apps including Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle, SAP, Facebook, Twitter and others.
  • API Apps: These provide the services to expose APIs with the three App Services so the other three app types -- Mobile Apps, Logic Apps and Web Apps -- can consume those APIs.

"API Apps allow you to take any existing API, whether it's an API in the cloud or an API on-premises, and project that into App Service adding some simple metadata," Khan said. "And in doing so it exposes a slider format, which is a popular format for describing APIs, and thus allowing the other app types to consume those APIs. API Apps also let you then project your own custom APIs into App Service."

The service essentially provides a JSON file to provide your API and you can load that into app service using Microsoft's standard publishing mechanism. "We support Git, so it's basically uploading a JSON file via Git, and then App Service can basically make those APIs available in a reasonable form. And then you can use them within the regular apps within App Service," he added.

Asked how the service connects to on-premises applications and systems, Khan explained that the BizTalk connectors address that.  "We have virtual networking in Azure that allows you to connect on-premises resources to the cloud," he said. "They also support hybrid connections which is a BizTalk capability that allows you to do app-to-app connection across firewalls. So these API Apps and the Oracle connector or the SAP connector, among others, utilize those connectivity options in Azure to connect to the on-premises resources and then there's a connector piece that you can run on premises that connects to that API App."

Microsoft is betting that, by providing this simplified services together, these will bring more applications to the Azure PaaS cloud service. But Microsoft today is also targeting the emerging developers who'll ultimately decide what platforms to build their applications on. Microsoft is now offering Azure for student developers, in which they can get free usage to learn how to build cloud-based mobile and Web apps using services such as the aforementioned Azure Apps and Azure Insights, which "gives students a 360-degree view across availability, performance and usage of ASP.NET services and mobile applications for Windows Phone, iOS and Android," wrote Microsoft's Steve "Gugs" Guggenheimer, in a blog post announcing the offering.

"Student developers are growing up in a world that requires them to leverage cloud services to deliver cool and modern experiences," Guggenheimer noted. "Microsoft Azure is a great fit for students because of its speed and flexibility enabling the creation and development of Web sites and Web apps. This new offer for students, available today in 140 countries, gives young developers access to the latest technology, allowing them to develop in or deploy sites and apps to the cloud, at no cost and with no credit card required."

In addition to Azure Apps and Azure Insights, Guggenheimer noted that the free offering lets students use Microsoft's Visual Studio Online.


Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/24/2015 at 2:46 PM


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