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Thursday, May 06, 2010

Dynamics AX, Windows Server AppFabric and Private Clouds

Convergence 2010 covered a lot of topics, from the functional to the technical, and spanning all Dynamics ERP brands.

One of the hot topics that was talked about was Cloud Computing. I talked about this year, early on being the year, and later the decade of the Cloud. (2010, Year of the Cloud.)

Since that post, I have had varing topics and post covered about cloud computing with Microsoft, and most of these talks have been around the public cloud services, with Windows Azure, SQL Azure and the like.

While at Convergence, I talked with current customers, and others about what the cloud means. There was some great examples, already, about how the Cloud services are set to enable and achieve what people can't in their own data centers.

Still when talking to customers, they are still trying to see what does the cloud solve for me? Also what does it do for my Dynamics AX investment? How do I get there?

These again, are all focused on the cloud computing power delivered by Windows Azure. This post however, I want to spend a little time talking about private clouds, that are hosted internally within a company.

This brings us to Microsoft's focus on empowering this, because the bottomline Hybrid clouds will be the norm for a along time. And for a while, that means that private clouds, and internal, on-premise software and applications will still remain the major focus for companies for sometime.

In an interview with Mike Ehrenberg from Microsoft, who I also interview here.: Interview with Microsoft Distinguished Engineer - Mike Ehrenberg, was done by MSDynamicsWorld.com, 'In the Dynamics Future: Microsoft’s Mike Ehrenberg Discusses Progress on Master Data Management, Workflow, Upgrade Quality'

The interview done by MSDynamicsWorld talks about aspects I have covered, and been covering, with MDM, Upgrades, etc. But what I want you to focus on is the section about workflows, and WCF services, with the Windows Server AppFabric.

From the interview.:
"Workflow Foundation has always needed a home - a SharePoint server or IIS for example, that could run the application. AppFabric is "the evolution of an app server", in Ehrenberg's words, allowing the workflow processes to be offloaded to on-premise servers or to the cloud where AppFabric is integrated into the Windows Azure platform.

"It's a scale-out environment...more of a scale and performance story," Ehrenberg explained."

So Windows Server AppFabric is the application server that will host WF and WCF Services.

Why is this important for us to understand with Dynamics AX? With the concept of Private clouds?

The reason this is important is for Dynamics AX 6 and beyond. Windows Server AppFabric is currently in Beta2 refresh release, and is schedule to be RTM this summer.

Dynamics AX has AIF Services, and workflow ability, and even more in Dynamics AX 6. Just reference back to my recent post.: Dynamics AX 6, DotNet 4 and the WF Designer

Right now, in Dynamics AX 2009, .Net 3.5 is used. With this, when you create Services to consume within AX, or if you publish services from AX AIF as WCF end points for other LOB to consume, that is hosted in IIS.

This also means, a lot of config file editing, custom reporting on errors possibly, needs for states of workflow services, etc. it's all a real manual process.

However with AppFabric, all of that changes. With the introduction of AppFabric, we will start to see the ability to use PowerShell Commandlets (Cmdlets) to automate some of this manaual task. We will also be able to have insight into the services that are running, have much better control over WF Services states, be able to quickly move, start, stop and disable services, deal with version issues, etc. etc.

So instead of just having our AIF published services on some IIS box, or our custom WCF / WF Services that we developed and consume within AX just sitting on some IIS box, having to go through the different manual processing of deploying, moving, config files, etc. we will get a more automated ability, deeper insight, and faster develop and deploy cycles than can currently exists with .Net 3.5.

Now what does this mean for private clouds? Lets go back to Mike E's statement.:
"[AppFabric will allow] the workflow processes to be offloaded to on-premise servers or to the cloud where AppFabric is integrated into the Windows Azure platform."

Right now, Microsoft is still putting together all the different aspects of what a private cloud will exists and look like, but at the heart of enabling this will be Windows Server AppFabric.

So Windows Server AppFabric will also be at the heart of having the ability to offload services, depending on need, and through PowerShell (Very powerful stuff here!) and AppFrabic, offload and push services to the cloud, and back down to on-premise.

Giving us the true ability to have hyrbid clouds, and also private clouds. AppFabric will be the enabling peice that will allow true private clouds to start existing, where compsite applications can be created, monitored, provisioned, versioned, all of these things that we face today, and handle will manual moves, config files, manual processes, in a more controlled, faster, better, cheaper fashion.

So with Dynamics AX, AppFabric becomes and important peice for hosting AIF Services in the future, and also for consuming services that live in the AppFabric Server, which is part of IIS and enabling WPAS (Windows Process Activation Service). WPAS enables TCP, MSMQ, and other forms of service activation and messages to be enabled.

So private clouds with Dynamics AX being a part of that cloud offering for enterprises to create composite applications that span not just Dynamics AX, but also any of their other LOB applications. And with this private cloud approach, and abilities offered with AppFabric, .Net 4.0, and more private and hyrbid clouds will become easier and easier to create, form, monitor, publish, deploy, and beyond!

So can you see why AppFabric is important to understand? What it will enable? How it will help? Why it's important to a company invested or investing in Dynamics AX?

That's all for now, but I have a whole lot of topics to cover. I will leave you with the following MSDN resources, that will help you dive into Windows Server AppFabric, and also Windows Azure AppFabric. There is to much to cover in one post, just about AppFabric. Expect more post on this topic in the future!

MSDN: Windows Server AppFabric
MSDN: Microsoft Windows Azure platform AppFabric

See you next time!

"Visit the Dynamics AX Community Page today!"

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Anonymous Grospelier David said...

Hi Brandon,
In this post, you talk about hosting WF and WCF/AIF services outside of AX, probably in AppFabric Server.
At this time, AppFabric 1.1 is live and AX 2012 too, what is the situation now ? Can we host AX WF inside AppFabric Server and reuse the AppFabric hosting and monitoring capabilities ?

David Grospelier

8:51 AM  
Anonymous windows server said...

As a Dell employee I think your post is really intersting. I think windows servers are more powerful versions of their desktop operating system counterparts and are designed to more efficiently handle corporate networking, Internet/intranet hosting, databases, enterprise-scale messaging and similar functions.

8:48 AM  

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