Here at Catapult, we host or provide support to our customers who use the Microsoft Dynamics NAV product and often get inquiries from our customers on how Azure can help their business be more efficient.
I wanted to put together my top 5 favourite features within the Azure cloud that I think can – in a short period of time – benefit a Dynamics NAV customer and help extend and improve their existing processes.
1) Azure SQL Databases
For customers that transition away from being required to run any sort of SQL Server on premise simply for use with Dynamics NAV. Azure SQL Databases can be used to increase application performance and lower costs associated with operating a database server.
The real power of using Azure Cloud is when you are able to elastically scale the performance level of your database based on the time of day or number of users accessing your application. Cloud services charge based on the number of hours that service is available and online, the costs associated to which service you are using which in turn will save on your monthly hosting fees.
Now this really transforms your application performance from being reactive (the application is slow so you add resources), to proactive (pre-emptively adding resources when load increases).
One example is if overnight you know only 2 users may connect to your Dynamics NAV system, you can decrease your SQL database to a smaller tier, and in the morning scale it back to a much higher tier to deal with expected user load. The best part? Auto scaling of Azure SQL Database comes as a feature out of the box.
There are several documented methods for migrating your existing SQL database into Azure SQL Databases, please speak with us on which method is best suited to your organization.
2) Azure AD Domain Services
If you are hosting virtual machines in the Azure cloud, you have a couple of options to connect your member servers to a central Active Directory.
You could provision 1 or 2 virtual machines and promote them to become domain controllers.
The challenge then becomes – how do you keep your on-premise AD connected to your Azure domain controllers?
Microsoft Azure has a featured called “Azure AD Domain Services” which is a PaaS (Platform as a Service) offering that will automatically provision domain controllers running in a highly available configuration. This provide you with an Active Directory like you know and love, but hosted in Azure. If you require your on-premise users and groups synced to your Azure hosted AD, once you install and configure Azure AD Connect on premise it will automatically sync all of your on-premise users and groups into Azure AD then, into Azure AD Domain Services directory which gives admins and users a single identity across your on premise and cloud hosted servers.
Microsoft is fully responsible for keeping your Active Directory managed, secured and running in tip top shape, which, of course, allows you to focus on your company’s core business.
Azure charges based on how many objects you have in your directory. The lowest tier is for customers that have 25,000 or less objects. I highly recommend you investigate this feature on Azure if you are running more than a few domain member servers in Azure and need them to be joined to a central directory to enforce group or password polices.
PS. This is my personal favourite item out of the five I’ve listed here.
3) Microsoft Flow / Logic Apps
Rather than having to rely on custom code to solve an approval workflow, you can rely on Microsoft Flow. This feature provides you a graphical workspace which lets you drag and drop data connectors onto a canvas, which together will make up some sort of integration (and its about ~70 connectors available at the time of writing).
This opens up the potential to integrate with Slack with SharePoint, GoToWebinar, Mailchimp and more. Explore the template library here: https://flow.microsoft.com/en-us/templates/
Plus, Microsoft Flow pricing tiers are pretty great. If you don’t already subscribe to an Office 365 account you can purchase Microsoft Flow as a stand-alone product, but often Flow is included in many Office 365 Enterprise plans.
A few things to consider before leveraging Flow are:
• Flow’s run asynchronously so if you need this to happen in real time then Flow may not be the right platform for you, but if you can deal with a couple of minute delay in the workflow, it might be a great fit.
• For Flow to work, you must have Dynamics 365 Business Central or cloud-hosted solution
The next item I wanted to mention is a similar offering to Microsoft Flow is called “Azure Logic Apps” which lets you design workflows using Visual Studio. The advantage is that you have tighter control of logging and additional integration offerings not available in Flow.
4) Azure Automation
We often get a request they need some sort of scheduler running in their Azure tenant to do routine tasks, such as removing old SQL backups from their Azure blob storage on a scheduled basis, or send an alert to a Slack channel if a certain condition is true, and lastly, powering virtual machines off at night to save on host costs.
Microsoft has built a task scheduler into the Azure cloud named “Azure Automation”, which is simply a task scheduler that has some power features built into it.
All of the above could be automated using Azure Automation!
Microsoft Azure includes this feature in every Azure subscription for free with up to 500 minutes of usage, which bills for the duration that your automation takes to run, so efficient code is recommended.
5) Azure Backup/Site Recovery
Everyone can benefit from Azure Backup, even if you think your existing backup system is sufficient.
Azure Backup works in several different scenarios:
• If you have servers on-premise you can install the Azure backup agent on each of the virtual machines and stop a copy of their VM within a blob in the Azure cloud.
• You can also recover individual files from a VM in case something is accidently deleted or corrupted.
• If your virtual machine is inside Azure IaaS platform it gets even better, its possible to deploy Azure VM’s and automatically add them to your pre-defined retention plans as the time of VM creation. Based on your pre-defined rules, you can have automatic failover to the second set of VM’s in the other region or a manual failover if required.