Azure Partner Community: how Dynamics CRM Online helps increase Azure adoption and usage


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by Prabhat Gupta
US Dynamics CRM Industry Architect

The Microsoft Azure Partner Community is led by National Partner Technology Strategists from the Microsoft US Partner Team. Partner Community activities include blog posts, discussions on Yammer, newsletters, and community calls.

This is part 2 in our Azure Partner Community blog series about adding Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online to your practice. Read part 1.

How Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online helps increase Microsoft Azure adoption and usage

Partners with a Microsoft Azure practice today are well positioned to expand their practice to include Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online as a part of an integrated application platform that allows them to rapidly build and deliver functional solutions that are secure and mobile.

CRM Online is built on top of the xRM development platform. This development platform is part of the license. The xRM and the Azure platforms are complementary to each other, and partners can use their capabilities to build and deploy line of business (LOB) applications quickly.

There are a number of advantages to building an application on top of Microsoft Dynamics CRM. The Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform comes with a number of in-the-box entities and applications that are immediately usable, such as helpdesk (or case management), service scheduling, activity tracking, e-commerce, marketing campaigns, and sales force automation.

These applications include external and/or internal “portals,” providing certain categories of users a constrained UI instead of direct access to the LOB app. These solutions often require data warehousing, integration to external systems, and certain advanced coding scenarios. All of these things run in Azure, and can utilize Azure features like Compute, Websites, Storage, and Database, among others.

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Key elements for the connection between CRM Online and Azure

Microsoft Azure Service Bus

In most implementations of CRM Online, it needs to integrate with third party services in a reliable manner. In such scenarios, Microsoft Azure Service Bus comes in handy, and relays the remote execution context between CRM Online and Microsoft Azure Service Bus solution listeners. This is helpful in cross platform integration scenarios. Using queues enables CRM Online to scale out more easily, and enable more resiliency.

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Service Bus is a multi-tenant cloud service, you can use one or more instances of four different communication mechanisms, each of which connects applications in a different way.

  1. Queues allow one-directional communication. Each queue acts as an intermediary (sometimes called a broker) that stores sent messages until they are received. Each message is received by a single recipient.
  2. Topics provide one-directional communication using subscriptions. A single topic can have multiple subscriptions. Like a queue, a topic acts as a broker, but each subscription can optionally use a filter to receive only messages that match specific criteria.
  3. Relays provide bi-directional communication. Unlike queues and topics, a relay doesn't store in-flight messages, as it's not a broker. Instead, it just passes them on to the destination application.
  4. Event Hubs provide event and telemetry ingress to the cloud at massive scale, with low latency and high reliability.

For more complex scenarios involving message transformations, orchestration, Business Rules, and adapters, Microsoft Azure BizTalk service can be used.

This integration of CRM with third party apps using Service Bus is a potential opportunity for Azure partners and developers, building connectors around CRM to create integrated solutions.

Microsoft Azure App Service (Web, Mobile, API, Logic apps)

Based on the business needs defining the solution, Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online can be customized with custom web apps hosted in iFrame containers or integrated with REST/SOAP web services. The custom web apps can be existing Azure apps or can be developed with Visual Studio Online utilizing development technologies such as WCF, REST, ASP.Net, Silverlight, etc. and deployed using Microsoft Azure App Service. App Service, as a fully managed platform for developers, brings in a rich set of capabilities to web, mobile, and integration scenarios, deployed quickly and on the cloud.

The screenshot below is an example of an external selling portal that is integrated within the CRM application using an iFrame (marked by the red box). The portal shows relevant product information based on account information.

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With Microsoft Azure Active Directory as the foundational identity management component, it provides a single identity for a user that works across CRM Online, Office 365, and custom applications you’ve built in Azure. This core strength of the platform makes it extremely quick to integrate applications and provide a seamless experience.

Pandora Jewelry LLC is a powerful example of this. Microsoft Dynamics CRM is integrated into both Pandora’s ERP system and its Microsoft Azure Retailer portal. Pandora’s Consumer Affairs, Customer Service, Marketing, Sales, and Visual Merchandising teams all have access to the system and can all share information, and franchisees can access the system via the portal. Learn more.

Azure Batch and scheduler

Batch computing is a common pattern for organizations that process, transform, and analyze large amounts of data, on a schedule or on demand. It includes end-of-cycle processing, such as a bank’s daily risk reporting, or a payroll that must be done on schedule. It also includes large-scale business, science, and engineering applications that typically need the tools and resources of a compute cluster or grid.

CRM Online does not provide batch jobs execution capabilities and scheduling. For large compute jobs and scheduling needed the Azure platform is the reliable, scalable, and agile solution. Lots of automated tasks—processing bills and payroll, calculating portfolio risk, searching for energy, predicting the weather—can be offloaded to this platform. At the core of Azure Batch is a high-scale job scheduling engine, available to you as a managed service. You can use the scheduler in your application to dispatch work.

Azure Batch works well with intrinsically parallel applications or workloads, which lend themselves to running as parallel tasks on multiple computers, such as the compute VMs managed by the batch service.

Short tasks—those requiring frequent user interaction and those which are graphically intensive—are the type that are best done interactively, and batch service would not be recommended. The compute in such cases (for example, long running commands) can be handled by other Azure services like Web Apps or Service Bus.

Microsoft Azure Storage

CRM Online customers get 5 GB of storage when they sign up, and increases based on the number of user licenses the instance consumes. Extra storage can be purchased for a reasonable monthly price. Considering expanding storage needs Azure storage can be utilized where storage is cheaper. ISV partners can design their solution to utilize the storage offered by Azure.

In many CRM implementations, we come across requirements where certain documents are required to be linked with records such as accounts, contacts, cases, or activities. For example: 

  • Insurance and Telco companies want to attach scanned copies of contracts, applications, health inspection reports, address/identity proof documents of their customers
  • Government agencies want to store job orders, inspection reports, citizen document copies, etc.

In cases where documents are large in size and volume, using the out of the box “Attachment” feature of Dynamics CRM is not practical or recommended, as it rapidly increases the CRM database size. A document management solution is preferred, and can be integrated with Dynamics CRM. In many cases, the document management solution comes as overhead, for these reasons: 

  • The need is to link documents with records, and nothing more
  • There is no workflow or search required
  • The customer has a large, upfront investment in DMS software as well as storage space
  • There is operational overhead in terms of backup and maintenance

Azure Blob Storage is an easy and economical option here. The merits of using blob storage in place of a document management solution include:

  • Storage focused only
  • Provides storage redundancy – no need for back up, disaster recovery in place
  • Secure access provided, and storage data can be encrypted
  • No upfront costs – it’s cost-effective, and pay-as-you-go  (see the pricing calculator)

Microsoft Azure Analytics (HDInsights, Machine Learning)

To get rich predictive analytics and insights using data, CRM Online can utilize the power of Azure Machine Learning, which offers a streamlined experience for users to formulate and host models and algorithms quickly. The models can be evaluated in conjunction with the CRM data and this seamless integration drives to a unique offering.

An example of an organization using Azure Machine Learning is retailer Pier 1 Imports, which wanted to better connect with customers using insights and data. The company took to the cloud to pilot a predictive analytics solution using Azure Machine Learning and Microsoft Power BI. Pier 1 Imports may soon be able to use data insights to predict which products customers will want in the future, create a dynamic website using predictive modeling, and develop more efficient and effective marketing campaigns.

The combination of CRM Online with Azure is a powerful way for Microsoft partners to provide customers with a solution to their business needs that aligns to how they work and that helps encourage cloud consumption. When partners move from a product discussion to an integrated solution discussion it is much easier highlight the value proposition and show that Microsoft-based solutions can address a wide array of business challenges.

Azure Partner Community - May 2015 tile

In the Microsoft Azure Partner Community blog series and call for May, we’ll help you learn more about CRM Online and understand why you should consider investing in adding it to your Azure practice.

Register for the May 21 community call.

Our next blog post in this series will talk about the steps toward starting your CRM Online practice.

Previous Azure Partner Community topics

Focus on Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online

Focus on Data Platforms and Big Data

Focus on Azure benefits for partners

Focus on Top Partner Topics

Focus on Office 365

Focus on Networking

Focus on Managing Virtual Machines

Focus on Migration to Azure

Comments (11)
  1. Anonymous says:

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  11. Anonymous says:

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