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Microsoft Bundles 3 Separate Azure Services into Single Suite

Microsoft on Tuesday announced it was packaging three of its Azure services -- Azure Websites, Mobile Services and BizTalk Services -- into a single offering aimed at business decision makers and developers.

The Azure App Service, now available, is designed to be a fully managed product that enables developers easily build customer-facing apps. Microsoft is betting that providing those disparate services into a simplified package will bring more applications to the Azure Platform as a Service (PaaS).

"It brings those [three Azure services] together in a new unified experience," said Omar Khan, Microsoft's director of Azure engineering. "Developers are challenged with trying to connect all that data from these different systems into their apps. That's what app service helps with. It helps developers integrate data from on-premises and from popular cloud services into their Web and mobile apps. And App Service also has new capabilities around allowing businesses to automate their business processes more easily, allowing them to be more agile."

The service comprises four components, Khan explained:

  • Web Apps (previously Azure Websites): Online tools and templates that make it easy to build, deploy and scale apps that are customer-facing for employee productivity or for partners.
  • Mobile Apps: Services that enable the tailoring of Web and other apps to key mobile platforms, notably iOS, Android and (of course) Windows.
  • BizTalk Apps (also described as Logic Apps): Microsoft now has 50 connectors to popular SaaS and on-premises apps, including Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce.com, Oracle, SAP, Facebook, Twitter and others.
  • API Apps: These provide the services to expose APIs with the three app services so the other three app types -- Mobile Apps, Logic Apps and Web Apps -- can consume those APIs.

"API Apps allow you to take any existing API, whether it's an API in the cloud or an API on-premises, and project that into App Service adding some simple metadata," Khan said. "And in doing so, it exposes a slider format, which is a popular format for describing APIs, and thus allowing the other app types to consume those APIs. API Apps also let you then project your own custom APIs into App Service."

The service essentially provides a JSON file to provide your API and you can load that into Azure App Service using Microsoft's standard publishing mechanism. "We support Git, so it's basically uploading a JSON file via Git, and then App Service can basically make those APIs available in a reasonable form. And then you can use them within the regular apps within App Service," he added.

Asked how the service connects to on-premises applications and systems, Khan explained that the BizTalk connectors address that. 

"We have virtual networking in Azure that allows you to connect on-premises resources to the cloud," he said. "They also support hybrid connections, which is a BizTalk capability that allows you to do app-to-app connection across firewalls. So these API Apps and the Oracle connector or the SAP connector, among others, utilize those connectivity options in Azure to connect to the on-premises resources, and then there's a connector piece that you can run on-premises that connects to that API App."

More information about Azure App Service is available in this blog post by Bill Staples, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Azure app platform.

Also on Tuesday, Microsoft announced a new Azure program aimed at emerging developers. Now available, Azure for Student Developers is aimed at giving students free access to tools that teach how to build cloud-based mobile and Web apps using services such as Azure App Service and Azure Insights. The latter "gives students a 360-degree view across availability, performance and usage of ASP.NET services and mobile applications for Windows Phone, iOS and Android," wrote Steve Guggenheimer, corporate vice president of developer platform and evangelism at Microsoft, in a blog post announcing the offering.

"Student developers are growing up in a world that requires them to leverage cloud services to deliver cool and modern experiences," Guggenheimer noted. "Microsoft Azure is a great fit for students because of its speed and flexibility enabling the creation and development of Web sites and Web apps. This new offer for students, available today in 140 countries, gives young developers access to the latest technology, allowing them to develop in or deploy sites and apps to the cloud, at no cost and with no credit card required."

Guggenheimer noted that the free offering lets students access Microsoft's Visual Studio Online, in addition to Azure App Service and Azure Insights.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.