On Tuesday, Microsoft announced the deployment of a new, Azure-based platform for applications designed to handle business transactions on mobile devices – apps that can be both designed and deployed in the cloud, by non-professional developers. Azure App Service will be a Web apps platform for the BPM market.
As the business world moves away from the monolithic client/server model to a cloud infrastructure based on microservices, the transactional system upon which the world’s financial structure is based, must move with it.
The brains of the world are relocating. Now it’s time to move its cardiovascular system.
Moving the Talk Away from BizTalk
Since the turn of the century, Microsoft’s BizTalk Server has been the connection between EDI – the protocol for the transactional systems of the 1970s – and the client/server systems upon which all of finance now relies. It’s Microsoft’s platform for building applications around business transactions.
Tuesday, Microsoft announced the first phase of a new strategy to transition this platform off of the client/server model and into the realm of modern, mobile apps. It’s deploying a system for building mobile applications on its Azure cloud, and I mean that literally: not a system for deploying apps created on Visual Studio, but of building apps inside the cloud and running them there.
In and of itself, that’s not new. But with Azure App Service, mobile apps will have connectivity to databases both in the cloud and on-premise. And they will utilize an EDI platform that will enable these apps to replace BizTalk Services apps.
“App Service provides a new experience for automating business process, allowing organizations to be more agile,” said Omar Khan, App Service’s product manager, in an interview with The New Stack. “It brings together three services in Azure today – Azure Web Sites, Azure Mobile Services, and Azure BizTalk Services – into a new, unified development experience.”
The Logic App
Khan described a new class of Web app – new for Microsoft, that is – which appears intended to take the place of BizTalk Server apps. Not known for its genius at naming things (e.g., “Metro” apps, “Silverlight,” “Bob”), Microsoft has dubbed this new class “logic apps.”
Never mind the dull name for a moment. It’s an attempt to make clear that the kind of business logic created for BPM systems, relying upon EDI, is being incorporated into a new development environment which is itself hosted in the Azure cloud. Development teams can use this environment to draw flowcharts that describe business processes.
In the background, App Service will compile these workflows into discrete functions, which can then be integrated into new mobile apps. This way, instead of utilizing complex content management systems for managing EDI documents (one example being Skylark EDI for Joomla), financial services companies and retailers could create simpler apps instead.
App Service, Khan told us, will be able to adapt its applications to run on the devices that happen to be using them at the time. Presently, “customer experience platforms” are built as Web sites, and designed for access through Web browsers, not apps. Under App Service, a “logic app” could be accessible through a URL, as well as through an iOS app, an Android app, or a Windows “Universal” app (again with the naming).
It’s the way a cloud platform should work: You give it the instructions you want for running your business, and the server finds a way to adapt those instructions to the devices your customers use, whatever those happen to be.
“Logic apps allow you to easily automate a business process using a visual design experience,” said Khan. He shared a less EDI-centric, modern-day example: Suppose a company is interested in tracking analyzing customer sentiment through Twitter feeds. Perhaps a tweet that scores overwhelmingly positive should be repeated on the company’s Facebook page. Or if someone’s tweet scores negative, a ticket should be created for that customer automatically, and perhaps shared with the various business partners who share that common customer.
“You can use logic apps to visually design a long-running business process for that,” he said. “It can monitor Twitter using our Twitter API app. That logic app can then analyze the sentiment of the posting made about your product. Then depending on whether the sentiment is positive or negative, the logic app can then decide to take that data and put it into Facebook or into Zendesk.”
Khan said Microsoft will not be phasing out BizTalk Server or the services based on BizTalk, because it has an obligation to support customers still using it, and who plan to continue to do so. The company has no public timetable for when such support will end. But as Microsoft has adopted new applications platforms in the past (for example, WinRT), it has sustained the old platforms on life support (e.g., Silverlight) for as long as is reasonable.
App Server is but one option for moving business logic off of centralized platforms, such as the class this publication you’re reading is based upon, and onto distributed applications. It may not necessarily be successful at this goal, which is a formidable one, but one thing is certain: Simply because Microsoft is adopting this approach, others will too.
So businesses like yours will have far more opportunities to free themselves from monolithic applications.