SharePoint Online & Windows Azure: Building Hybrid Applications

Have been spending time here at TechEd EMEA and one of the topics I presented on this week was how you can built hybrid applications using SharePoint Online and Windows Azure. I think there’s an incredible amount of power here for building cloud apps; it represents a great cloud story and one that complements the O365 SAAS capabilities very well.

I’ve not seen a universally agreed-upon definition of hybrid, so in the talk we started by defining a hybrid application as follows:

  • SharePoint Online +  Data, Code, Logic elsewhere + Remote Clients/Devices

Within this frame, I then discussed four hybrid scenarios that enable you to connect to SharePoint Online (SPO) in some hybrid way. These scenarios were:

  1. Leveraging Windows Azure SQL Data Sync to synchronize on-premises SQL Server data with Azure SQL Database. With this mechanism, you can then sync your data from on-premises to the cloud and then consume using a WCF service and BCS within SPO, or wrap the data in a REST call and project to a device.
  2. Service-mediated applications, where you can connect cloud-to-cloud systems (in this case I used an example with Windows Azure Data Marketplace) or  on-premises-to-cloud systems (where I showed an on-premises LOB example to SPO example). Here, we discussed the WCF, REST, and Service Bus—endpoints and transport vehicles for data/messages.
  3. Cloud and Device apps, which is where you can take a RESTified service around your data and expose it to a device (in this case a WP7 app).
  4. Windows Azure SP Instance on the new Virtual Machine (IAAS) to show how you can pull on-premises data using the Service Bus and interact with PAAS applications built using WCF and Windows Azure and expose those in SP.

You can view the deck for the session below. (It’s not up now, but you should be able to view the session here on Channel 9 soon.)

The areas for discussion represented four patterns for discussion around how you can integrate cloud and on-premises systems to build some really interesting hybrid applications—and then leverage the collaborative power of SPO.

Some things we discussed during the session that are worth calling out here:

  • In many cases, when building hybrid cloud apps that integrate with SPO, you’ll be leveraging some type of ‘service.’ This could be WCF, REST, or Web API. Each has its own merits and challenges. If you’re like me and don’t like spending time debugging XML config files, then I would recommend you take a look at the new Web API option for building services. It uses the MVC method and you can use the Azure SDK to build Mobile apps as well as vanilla Web API apps.
  • I’ve seen some discussion on the JSONP method when issuing cross-domain calls for services. I would argue this is okay for endpoints/domains you trust; however, always take care when leveraging methods that are injecting script into your page—this allows for malicious code to be run. And given you’re executing code on the client, malicious code could be run that pooches your page—imagine a hack that attempts to use the SPCOM to do something malicious to your SPO instance. Setting header formatting in your service code can also be a chore.
  • Cross-origin resource sharing (CORS) is an area I’m looking into as a more browser-supported method of cross-domain calls. This enables you to specify or set a wildcard (“*”) flag and pass back to the browser to accept the cross-domain call.
  • JSON is increasingly being used in building web services, so ensure you’re up to speed with what jQuery has to offer. Lots of great plug-ins, plus you then have a leg up when looking at building apps through, say, jQuery for mobile.

All in all, there’s a ton of options available for you when building SPO apps, and I believe that MS has a great story here for building compelling cloud applications.

For more information and resources re the above, check out:



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