The boundaries between consumer and corporate technology are becoming ever more blurred, many employees now prefer to use the same laptop / tablet / phone for personal use as they do work. The pros and cons of this are a topic in its own right and Bring Your Own Device is clearly here to stay but one of the natural consequences of this are the employees' expectations of the systems available to them. In the consumer world they have a wide selection of apps to help them through their daily life – how did we ever cope without them? My kids this morning were asking how people used to wake themselves up in the morning without an alarm app – I had to explain the concept of the wind up alarm clock and the radioactive glowing dials!
Over the last 10 years many organisations have taken the step from moving away from locally installed desktop applications to browser based, this in most circumstances, was a significant step forwards reducing maintenance and support costs and introducing flexibility by making these systems available wherever the employee had an internet connection. This is however no longer sufficient. Employees are demanding systems be available on their devices and why not – the hardware, software and bandwidth exists now. It's also been proven in the consumer world.
In this blog I want to cover the software that is available to organisations wanting to develop enterprise apps and specifically in the cloud, where we call the software "services."
Azure Web Sites
Mobile applications can take several forms, native apps, hybrid apps and web applications. Native and Hybrid apps both run on the device, whereas Web Applications run on a web server. Azure websites are ideal for running web applications and will support most scenarios required by this type of enterprise app. This option really reduces the organisations reliance on internal infrastructure allowing developers to focus on the app features.
Azure web sites are effectively your IIS website in the cloud. It's the classic website hosting model and available in 4 flavours; Free, Shared, Basic and Standard. Free and Shared would typically be used for non-business critical systems and have reduced and uptimes guarantees. Basic and Standard are targeted at business, come with SLA's and scalability.
Azure Mobile Services
Azure mobile services are your mobiles apps backend. They essentially host your applications API, take care of authentication with many other platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Google and of course Azure Active Directory. They provide an infrastructure for push notifications via notification hubs. They also support automatic scaling which can be vital for apps with usage peaks and troughs.
Mobile Services come in 3 flavours Free, Basic and Standard. Again Basic and Standard are appropriate for business use.
Azure Notification Hubs
Notifications are a vital feature of any app, users like the interactivity of it, feel the app is working for them and allows organisations to broadcast at will. Azure notifications hubs provide the infrastructure for this. They provide notification services to broadcast to millions of users at once or a specific subset. The service is completely platform agnostic, allowing you to develop notifications for all the devices used by your employees. They support extreme scale allowing billions of notifications to be broadcast.
They are available in Free, Basic and Standard and again the basic and standard versions are suitable for business.
Many applications rely on tasks running at specific scheduled times. The scheduler service will invoke a web service request, call internal azure services including storage queues.
Scheduler is currently being rolled out with a free and standard version.
Many organisations are now deploying their intranets and business applications in Office 365. The content and data stored in Office 365 can act as the repository for enterprise apps. It provides a rich set of REST API’s and there is commitment from Microsoft for much more in the future.
The combination of most employees now owning the hardware, the services highlighted above and increasingly good web access on Wi-Fi and mobile networks means organisations have never been better placed to start introducing enterprise apps into the organisation.