Microsoft Azure App Service woos business developers

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Credit: meneame communicacions, sl via Flickr

By merging new and existing Azure offerings, App Service creates a single space for developing business apps with multiple facets: Web, mobile, and API

Microsoft's latest addition to Azure, App Service, is all business.

It's partly a rebranding of existing Azure services and partly all-new offerings, all ganged together to woo enterprise developers with a one-stop shop for building Web and mobile apps for business.

Three of Microsoft's existing services -- Microsoft Azure Websites, Mobile Services, and Biztalk Services -- are being pulled together under App Service's roof to provide "a single service with a common app hosting, runtime, and extensibility model," says Microsoft. But the company is also trying to juice the appeal of the newly unified package to those not yet invested in the existing offerings by making it generically developer-friendly.

Microsoft Azure App Service API Microsoft Azure App Service

App Service's API Apps collection contains connectors to a great many existing enterprise back ends and social media services; users can also roll their own APIs and distribute them.

App Service provides tooling for constructing four kinds of apps: conventional Web apps, mobile apps, back-end business logic integration, and APIs. Products for all four services can be interrelated and deployed together with common tools.

Web Apps is a rebranded version of Azure's existing Azure Websites service, designed for rapid development with commonly used Web frameworks, as well as support for business features like AD integration, data retention, and audition.

Logic Apps appear to be the real heart of App Service -- a replacement for the existing Biztalk Services that provides a back-end framework for the automation of business processes used by the other parts of App Service.

Omar Khan, partner director of program management for Microsoft Azure, pointed out in a phone call that Logic Apps let you "automate tasks that connect other systems together. You may want a long-running task that your back end may not handle, but connects to your app back end in some way."

He gave an example of hosting an employee app in App Service, in addition to a long-running back-end function as a Logic App that scans Twitter for sentiment analysis about your product. "You could take that Twitter data, put it in a Salesforce record, maybe a Zendesk-type customer case tool, or send a push notification directly to your [mobile] app notifying your employee about something that happened on Twitter that they need to be aware of." Connectors for both local and remote services are included.

Likewise, apps created with Mobile Apps aren't isolated components, but work as a direct extension of business logic created elsewhere in App Service. Thus, they can be connected to business products like Oracle, SAP, or Office 365. SDKs are included for working with Xamarin and Cordova for cross-platform deployment.

API Apps falls in line with the growing demand for API-building tool sets, as APIs themselves become a source of monetization. As with the other services, the same set of back-end connectors is available, and developers can work with a gallery of existing APIs as well as create and promote their own.

App Service is wooing developers at least as heavily as businesses. Developers can write code in a gamut of common languages -- not only .Net, but also Node.js, PHP, Python, and Java -- and can make use of both dev and ops tools they're already comfortable with (Visual Studio, GitHub, and so on)

Khan also noted that rolling multiple services together is meant to work as a complement to modern, mobile- and Web-centric developer thinking. "Developers are trying to build an app in the cloud, and they don't necessarily think of a mobile app and a Web app as two different apps," he said. "They think of it as two different experiences for the same app."

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