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First look: Microsoft's Azure App Services sweeten cloud development

Martin Heller | April 2, 2015
Polished integration of Azure Websites, Mobile Services, and BizTalk Services is a big step forward for cloud-oriented developers.

To connect an Azure Web or Mobile App to an on-premise SQL Server database, you need to create a hybrid connection for it. This involves using BizTalk in the Azure cloud and installing a Hybrid Connection Manager onto the on-premise server. This may also involve creating a Virtual Network. All of that is fairly simple and well documented. Remember to consider the network latency and its effect on app performance when you set up such a connection.

Azure Mobile App Services

In my earlier review of Azure Mobile Services, I mentioned examining and building a starter To-do Azure Mobile Services app and back end. Mobile App Services have essentially the same starter app, only fewer back-end and client options are currently supported. The only back end is in C#/ASP.Net, and the only mobile platforms are Windows Phone, Objective-C/iOS, C#/Xamarin iOS, and C#/Xamarin Android (Figure 3). I didn't encounter any build problems, though I had to update my Visual Studio 2013 and Xamarin installations for the latest Azure support. I noticed some features that used to be beta add-ons, such as disconnected operation and offline sync for iOS, have gone GA (general availability).

(I had hoped to try debugging an Azure Node.js mobile back end with the latest Node.js Tools for Visual Studio, aka NTVS 1.0, but the exercise will have to wait.)

As part of Mobile App Services, Mobile Apps get new capabilities beyond what they had as Mobile Services, such as integration with on-premises (as discussed earlier in the context of SQL Server) and SaaS systems (via API Apps services and connectors). They also gain the use of staging slots (as mentioned above), WebJobs, better scaling options, and other less prominent features.

Connectors are prebuilt API App Services that present a Swagger 2.0/JSON/REST interface to Azure, have an Azure UI for configuration, and know how to use other services (Figure 4). REST is of course a service interface that is structured along the lines of HTTP and HTTPS; JSON is of course a human-readable JavaScript object. Swagger, possibly less familiar, is a specification for documenting REST APIs. Microsoft Azure uses Swagger documentation as a "plug" among API App Services and between API Apps and other App Services.

WebJobs are basically batch-processing services hosted in Azure as part of your Web App Services, and Mobile App Services include a Web App for the back end, under Mobile App Code. WebJobs can be scaled, backed up automatically, and all the other good stuff that applies to App Services. WebJobs run in a Windows NT-type environment in which GNU Bash, Node.js, NPM, Grunt, Bower, Git, Mercurial, PHP, and Python have been installed in addition to the Microsoft tools you would expect.


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