When Satya Nadella announced Microsoft’s new Mobile-First, Cloud-First strategy, he drew a line in the sand with Microsoft employees and set the company on a new course. When Microsoft COO, Kevin Turner reiterated the message at the World Wide Partner Conference in July, he sent partners scrambling to get cloud certified, saying “Selling on-premises software was good for you and us for a long time but the future lies in the cloud and mobility, and Microsoft plans to go in that direction with our partner community intact.”
Customers have felt the shift as well as they ponder what solutions can be cloud based and how to integrate them without significant effort and cost. Some organizations look at Office 365 and feel insecure about moving to a multi-tenant environment. Many organizations have significant investments in on-premises applications and infrastructure so moving to the cloud will not be an easy process.
These critical business systems have kept the wheels of commerce running for some time and have been built up with many layers of complexity and integration. Strict compliance regulations prevent many companies from exposing data in a cloud environment. With these constraints and issues in mind Microsoft has created a number of hybrid options that allow companies to selectively migrate enterprise solutions or build new applications that use cloud services while maintaining an on-prem infrastructure.
Let’s look at the options.
What Hybrid Means
The concept of a hybrid solution is based on integrating on-prem application infrastructure with cloud based services and capabilities.
You have three options for deploying and managing enterprise solutions:
- You can stay on-prem with all of your infrastructure behind your corporate firewall
- You can have a mix of on-prem and cloud services with a secure connection between your back office systems and cloud solutions
- You can have all of your enterprise systems in the cloud
Companies can selectively choose which applications and services they want to migrate and which need to stay behind the firewall. For some organizations the advent of the cloud means they can expose information to third party companies without exposing any of their on-prem systems to external users.
Some organizations are looking at using the cloud as the presentation layer for internal business related data with secure access to data sources behind the firewall. This trend allows companies to stay compliant with industry regulations (secure, on-prem data) and still expose critical business data to employees or partners globally through a browser.
Build the Bridge to the Cloud
Microsoft has been building a comprehensive cloud strategy that spans the various types of cloud platforms. Amit Kumawat wrote a great article last year on the Microsoft Cloud Service Models and how they fit together so I won’t go into a great deal of detail on the various options.
Azure based Websites and Applications — Platform as a Service (PaaS)
The Azure platform has been available for several years. We can see a growing trend in developing web based applications that are deployed to Azure Web Sites using secure connections to back-end systems. Azure’s PaaS is well documented and has extensive integration capabilities for organizations that want to build custom Web Applications that scale across the globe.
Dynamics and Office 365 — Software as a Service (SaaS)
Enterprise application platforms like Exchange, Dynamics CRM and SharePoint have been deployed in the cloud for several years. After several iterations, these systems now offer a robust portfolio of capabilities for organizations to work with. Office 365 has been in the forefront of conversations lately as Microsoft integrates Exchange, Lync, SharePoint, Yammer and Office into an integrated SaaS solution.
Windows and SQL Server — Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
Microsoft Windows Server and SQL Server Database Server environments are available from an infrastructure perspective for organizations that want to build custom applications with the same server functionality as on-prem solutions. This is a well-developed and stable environment for organizations to offload custom solutions that removes the need to host and manage these servers in the corporate data center. This environment is similar to the infrastructure service that Amazon Web Services provides.
Microsoft released the Microsoft Power BI solution in February of this year. It provides a comprehensive BI capability previously missing from the Microsoft Cloud portfolio through a cloud based dashboarding environment that integrates Microsoft Excel with Office 365. Users can create Power BI solutions with Microsoft Excel visualizations that can be published to Office 365 environments for sharing and collaboration. Power BI dashboards can be published on-prem as well using SQL Server 2012/14. The on-prem solution provides a dashboard gallery that can be surfaced in SharePoint 2013, enabling self-service BI capabilities to the SharePoint 2013 platform.
What is fascinating about Power BI is the Gateway Server Microsoft provides. It can be deployed behind firewalls to allow organizations to securely connect to on-prem data sources that serve data to the cloud based Power BI solution. This provides an entirely new dimension to accessing on-prem data and exposing it to the cloud.
The diagram below is a great example of the Gateway Server concept and shows how the Power BI Gateway Server works:
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