Blue Monday: List Your SaaS On Azure AppSource

Last week was chock full of new Azure features of interest to developers.

List your cloud solution with Microsoft AppSource

Microsoft has launched AppSource, a searchable library of off-the-shelf Azure solutions. And it is seeking new listings from developers.

Software is vetted prior to listing. To get listed, you need to meet some basic criteria (PDF):

  • Your app must authenticate users via Azure Active Directory and federate identity, to allow organizational accounts to log in.
  • It has to be a line-of-business application that requires no customization.
  • You have to offer support and 99.9 percent uptime.
  • You must provide a free trial.

These seem like no-brainer and easy-to-implement requirements.

While AppSource isn’t a “store” in the vein of the Apple App Store or Google Play or the like — because the sale isn’t going through Microsoft, they’re just handling the introduction — it does seem to me that if you have an Azure-based SaaS line of business product for sale, you really, really need to be listed there.

Bing and Cortana services generally available

You can now leverage a handful of Bing API services, including Search, AutoSuggest and Spell Check, and pay for them through your Azure subscription.

While Bing search is making slow progress on catching up to Google, it still has a long way to go. You could argue a feature-rich API helps the cause. I’d agree with you to a point. But a strong part of Google’s appeal is search advertising, too; where Bing seems destined to lag.

However, Google did kill off its autocomplete API and never had an official spell check API, either, so those Bing offerings could prove useful.

In addition, Cognitive Services — of which these Bing APIs are part — includes a number of additional APIs, including natural language processors, facial recognition and a recommendation engine. Haven’t used them so I can’t speak to their efficacy; if you have, give me your thoughts on them in a comment, please and thank you.

SQL “stretch” and warehousing general availability

Generally available is the ability to “stretch” a SQL Server 2016 on-prem database to Azure. This is basically a means of putting some of your on-prem data into “cold” storage — aka Azure — but actually have it in a “warm” state, because the data is in the cloud.

As the Channel 9 demo, linked above, notes, this is a really convenient way to trim down your local DB’s assets without having to go through a rigmarole to be able to query that data. Plus, it costs less to store data in Azure SQL Database than on an on-prem server.

In kind-of related news, Azure SQL Data Warehouse is generally available. This is Microsoft’s cold-storage version of SQL Database and I really cannot see why anyone who has the option to use it wouldn’t, because it’s dirt cheap (well, dirt cheap by standalone SQL Server instance standards).

R gets a boost

The R language, which is widely used in big data, gets a helping hand from Azure:

A map of Azure regions from the Azure regions page, last updated on July 12. Note that the new US regions aren't points in this map.
A map of Azure regions from the Azure regions page, last updated on July 12. Note that the new US regions aren’t points in this map.

Two new US regions

Azure has opened a second West Coast region (US West 2) and a region in West Central US.

Microsoft isn’t saying where, specifically, these data centers are; but I am guessing that West Central US is its Cheyenne, Wyoming datacenter, and West US 2 is either Quincy, Washington or another Silicon Valley facility.

If you know for sure, please leave a comment.

Premium IoT, Service Bus tiers available

If you have lots and lots of IoT devices just jabbering away, Azure has added an S3 tier of service just for you.

This new service tier — 10 times the cost of the S2 service tier — allows for an astonishing 300 million messages per day, up from the 6 million messages max per day of the S2 tier.

Speaking for myself (and keep in mind, I’ve never built a huge IoT solution), I’d have to think that if you indeed need to collect 300 million messages a day, you might want to do that over several nodes; having that one huge bucket go out of service on you seems like it would be a real swift kick to the keyster. But then again, I suppose if you are collecting that much IoT data, you’ve built in some failover.

Also of note, Service Bus premium is generally available. The primary benefit of premium Service Bus is that it runs on resources dedicated to you, not to several subscriptions. That means better throughput.

It also means a higher price, but if you have a big microservices solution running out there, you definitely don’t want messages disappearing into the aether or your queue to turn a deaf ear.

As a bonus, message size is increased from 256K to 1 MB in the premium Service Bus tier.

Power BI Embedded is generally available … sort of

Power BI is Microsoft’s tool for putting a GUI around big data — charts, trend lines, etc. It’s especially useful for presenting live data trends; think “Google Analytics Right Now,” only way more fancy and way more granular, if you have the data.

Power BI Embedded is the Azure-backboned offering of Power BI, which Microsoft calls “generally available,” even though it’s only in 9 of 24 regions. Nonetheless, if you are doing IoT and need to make it fathomable to executives, marketers, trustees or other data dilettantes, Power BI is a fantastic tool, and using Azure to both collect that data and backbone its presentation makes a lot of sense.

Azure Active Directory login page for app authentication. The red highlight shows that without domain hints, I'm not told which account to use to log in; with domain hints, I would be told which account to use.
Azure Active Directory login page for app authentication. The red highlight shows that without domain hints, I’m not told which account to use to log in; with domain hints, I would be told which account to use.

Azure Active Directory PowerShell cmdlets and domain hints

Azure AD now supports domain hints. This is a way to simplify the process of authenticating your external app against a specific Active Directory instance.

For example, without domain hints, if someone hits your application for the first time, they will be asked to log in — but Microsoft will offer the opportunity to use either an organizational account or a Microsoft ID. Of course, logging in with a Microsoft ID won’t help (unless you’re federating that identity with your app / AD instance) and neither will logging in with the wrong organizational account, such as a client’s employee might think he should use. (Again, unless you are federating ID across AD domains.)

To fix that, you can specify the domain that a person should use when authenticating against your application, and Microsoft will prompt the user to use that domain.

In related news, Microsoft has released a new version of its Azure Active Directory PowerShell cmdlets. The primary reason, they say, is to get PowerShell and Graph API — the primary provider for HTTP-based interaction with AD — to more closely align.

Odds and ends

  • Australia East now has G series VMs.
  • ExpressRoute connectivity is available for Paris, Newport (Wales, UK), and Quebec City. ExpressRoute basically is a high-speed private connection to Azure, appropriate for solutions that require maximum data transit security.
  • There was a somewhat cryptic announcement about Cortana Intelligence Suite and Bing Predicts being put together to somehow do predictive analytics based on social media and web traffic. As Orwellian as the double-speak of “Cortana Intelligence Suite” proves, this served pretty much only to creep me out. If anyone has any idea what this service actually is, again, please leave a comment.

1 Comment

  1. Ed. note: This is re: The location of US West 2.

    I’ve built an Azure VM in the “WEST US 2” datacenter connected to an ExpressRoute circuit in Seattle, WA and see a 6ms ping whereas we see 20ms over the ER to “West US”
    So not in Silicon valley from what I can tell.

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