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Leveraging Integration Services in a next generation cloud architecture

This blog will discuss the principal Azure Integration services and where they might fit in a “next generation” architecture. So let’s begin and demonstrate a working example using fictitious “Company X”.

Company X have recently migrated their web workload from their co-located private VMWare environment to Azure and are already reaping the benefits of scale, reliability and “total cost of ownership” through automation and a comprehensive CI/CD pipeline, ensuring non production environments are only “up” when required.

Company X’s application stack is a standard n-tier web application. The stack includes a scalable web and application tier, a SQL datastore, a key-value datastore and is integrated into their SAP ERP. The application also exposes a REST API via a secured HTTPS endpoint. This is consumed from their mobility applications.

Azure Integration Services: Diagram 1

Their user base is growing and there is a clear need for deeper integration into Salesforce and Office 365 to better facilitate their contact support team. Additionally, the following are key principles of their recently released digital strategy:

  • Expose new digital channels to allow suppliers, partners and customers to consume value-add services and data
  • Free data up to move between legacy, custom and SaaS platforms consistently, securely and reliably
  • Provide a single customer view for our contact centre
  • Have a solid architecture from which to innovate rapidly based on market demand

Having researched some of the options available in Azure, Company X’s next generation architecture is illustrated as follows:

Azure Integration Services: Diagram 2

Specifically their architecture is leveraging the following Azure services:

  • Enterprise Service Bus
  • BizTalk Server
  • Logic Apps
  • API Manager

In order to:

  • Remove point to point integration and thus system dependencies, decoupling services wherever possible
  • Securely expose legacy LOB (Line of Business) data sources and services
  • Facilitate the flow of data between systems
  • Enable external digital channels

This architecture enables Company X to achieve its strategic goals providing a solid highly available environment in which to release innovative features across the organisation and out to its customers. The following is a brief explanation of, and a justification for, the various architectural components.

Azure Service Bus

All messages are logically routed through the Service Bus providing a highly available fully managed messaging fabric to support Company X’s integration requirements.

Specifically the Service Bus:

  • Forms the central core of their updated architecture and allows messages to be reliably routed between systems
  • Facilitates message interchange across a Hybrid and/or Multi-Cloud architecture
  • Supports Queue and publish/subscribe-based messaging paradigms
  • Is designed for synchronous and asynchronous messaging flows
  • Supports REST, AMQP and WS*

Routing messages through the Bus also allows Company X to leverage a multi-modal approach to development across the organisation. Ensuring systems are decoupled, reduces the impact on regression testing, giving Company X freedom to innovate whilst mitigating any repercussions on critical “line of business” systems.

BizTalk Server

BizTalk Server provides the integration backbone into SAP. Messages to and from BizTalk are routed through the Service Bus. However BizTalk explicitly integrates the message bus to SAP. BizTalk has been selected for the following reasons:

  • Battle hardened, tried and tested enterprise grade integration platform
  • Supports business process management, data transformation and workflows
  • Is transaction (TX) aware
  • Will allow for real-time querying of SAP data

Azure Logic Apps

Facilitating integration between Company X’s subscribed SaaS applications is a key requirement. As such an agile flexible intuitive framework is required to integrate their subscription apps and build out data flows between them and into their internal architecture via the Service Bus. Azure Logic apps – essentially an iPaaS (integration as a service platform) – is the natural choice as it:

  • Has myriad pre-defined connectors for a variety of commercial and open source services and data sources
  • Easily configurable workflows using an intuitive GUI-based workflow editor
  • Integration into Azure Functions
  • Has a variety of predefined workflow templates for common connector integration scenarios
  • Is extensible, providing a logical framework to build out custom connectors and complex integration scenarios

As both Office 365 and Salesforce are supported through predefined connectors, Company X are able to build out their integration requirements very quickly with minimal coding.

API Manager

The ability to expose data and services out to external customers was pre-requisite in complying with the digital strategy. To that end, the decision was made to use Azure API Manager as it facilitates:

  • Rapid creation of API gateways to back-end services including easy import of existing Swagger and WADL-based API definitions
  • API publishing and discoverability through either an API publishing Portal or programmatically via a flexible API
  • Support for backwards compatibility through versioning
  • Implicit scaling to meet demand
  • Configuration of one or more authorisation servers supporting protocols such as OAUTH or OpenID
  • Allows API endpoints to be Whitelisted through IP filtering
  • Rich analytics
  • Industry standard support for API authentication using:
    • API Keys
    • Azure Active Directory
    • Mutual Certificates
  • Configuration of one or more authorisation servers supporting protocols such as OAUTH or OpenID
  • Allows API endpoints to be Whitelisted through IP filtering
  • Rich analytics

There are numerous benefits to proxying RESTful API calls through the API manager, these are just a few of them.

Hopefully this article has given you a glimpse into the Azure integration landscape, illustrating what’s available from the platform. There is nothing precluding Company X from rolling their own integration solution. Indeed, Azure will happily support any commercial and/or open source integration platform. However, in this scenario the native Azure services were considered the logical choice as they are fully managed, highly available and will implicitly scale to meet demand. They’re also charged based on usage negating the potential need for costly licenses with the caveat that costs will increase significantly based on scale. In summary Company X’s next generation architecture will enable them to confidently execute on their digital strategy providing innovative products, features and services across their value-chain.

Part 3 in our Microsoft Azure Innovations blog series.

By | 2017-04-20T01:25:42+00:00 December 8th, 2016|Technical Blog|