Workflow Investments


We’ve been making significant investments in Workflow since the release of .NET 4, and now that we’re starting to wrap up some of these investments, I thought it would be worthwhile to provide a summary.

The work falls into 3 major areas:

  1. Improvements in Windows Workflow Foundation in .NET 4.5 and Visual Studio 2012, which has just reached RTM!
  2. Enhancements for running Windows Workflow Foundation in Azure
  3. Support for the new workflow capabilities in SharePoint 2013 and the next version of Office 365

A brief overview of each:

WF 4.5

This has been a very customer-focused release mapping directly to the feedback we got from customers using WF in .NET 4.  We made investments across the runtime, activities and the designer.   I’ve blogged about this work previously, but here’s a quick recap.

 

 

You can watch this recent TechEd presentation to see these features in action.  .NET 4.5 is an in-place upgrade to .NET 4, so when you install .NET 4.5, your existing apps keep working and you get access to all these new features!

One thing that I’m not covering in this post is AppFabric Server.  I’m planning a follow-up post regarding the workflow capabilities in AppFabric.

WF in Azure

Generally, what you do with WF on Windows Server today will also work in Windows Azure.  However, there have been a few challenges along the way:

  1. Initially, Azure roles did not have some of the WF-related machine.config entries that you would typically see on Windows Server.  This required you to do more config work, particularly for running WCF Workflow Services.  These issues have been addressed with updates to the Guest OS images in Azure.
  2. As shipped in .NET 4, the WF stored procedures for the SQL persistence store used some features from SQL Server which are not supported in Windows Azure SQL Database (formerly referred to as SQL Azure).  To address these issues, we updated the runtime and stored procedures in .NET 4 Platform Update 1, which is now part of the Azure Guest OS images.  These capabilities are also now rolled into .NET 4.5.
  3. Due to differences in how the host name is determined on Azure web roles, there has been an issue with hosting WCF Workflow Services in IIS in Web roles. We have made a fix for this in .NET 4.5, which will be available to you when Windows Server 2012 is available in Azure.

For more information on using WF in Azure roles today, you can watch this TechEd presentation.

Workflow Manager and SharePoint Workflows

Another key investment we’re making in this release wave is in support of SharePoint 2013 Workflows. SharePoint 2013 Workflows are now built on WF 4.5 and run in our hosting environment, as opposed to within SharePoint itself.  To provide a high scale, multi-tenant environment for workflows on-premises and in Azure, we have developed the “Workflow Manager”.  I’ll be following up with a post on Workflow Manager, but until then, you can read more about SharePoint 2013 Workflows here.

 

Hopefully, it’s clear the team’s been pretty busy delivering new workflow features and responding to your feedback!  We’ve landed the .NET 4.5 and Visual Studio 2012 work, but we’re still busy landing the SharePoint Workflow release.  We’ve also started planning for our next wave of releases.  There are a lot of new features and scenarios we’d love to go after, and we’d would welcome your continued feedback and priorities on our UserVoice site.

Comments (9)

  1. Henrik Dahl says:

    When will the blog post on running AppFabric Server on Windows 8 show up? Without that I guess we're many who're stuck with Windows 7 or need to give up using Workflow Foundation.

  2. Henrik, validation of the AppFabric workflow and caching features against Windows Server 2012 is still underway.  The goal is to have this done by the Server GA.  I'll post an update as soon as the testing has been completed.

  3. Henrik Dahl says:

    Jurgen, it sounds fine! Can we have confidence, that this new AppFabric for Windows Server will also install on Windows 8 as the current 1.1 do and 1.0 did for Windows 7?

  4. Yes, we're planning to support installation on Windows 8 for development.

  5. Henrik Dahl says:

    Thank you for your quick response. This sounds perfect!

  6. Olly A says:

    Are there some known problems with the Toolbox in VS 2012 RTM?  I find that my activities often don't appear, whereas they do if I go back to VS 2010.  Also, the System.Workflow Components tab in the Choose Items… dialog is broken.  Again, works fine in VS 2010.  (I've tried repairing, disabling add-ons, etc.)

  7. Aim M says:

    Olly A, thanks for reporting the issue. We have not see the issue that you have reported above before. Do you mind sending the info on the installation steps to reproduce the behaviour to us (piyaman at microsoft.com) ? That way we can try to find to see what's causing the issue. Thanks very much!

  8. We currently have a large application that uses the 3.5 state machine activity as the main workflow of the application.  We have investigated using .net 4.5 and the new state machine but we have found that there is no way to simply set the state in a 4.5 state machine.  We believe it is extremely impractical to set up a complete and separate set of transitions between all of the states in order to facilitate the same ability as the previous SetState activity did in 3.5.  We would like to understand how many complex workflow applications your designers have written (i.e. their experience base practically and theoretically) in order to come to the conclusion that the world at large does not need this facility.  We have been writing state machines for over 30 years and this type of facility is always needed along with a rules engine of some kind to be able to efficiently employ a state machine where it is necessary.

  9. SP says:

    We  are currently evaluating hosting options for on-prem .net 4.5 workflows. Based on my quick research on MSDN, Windows Server AppFabric sounds like a viable option. Appreciate if you could share your thoughts on that.

    Also, There seems to be not a whole lot of community activities / posts on WIN Server AppFabric. Makes me wonder why?

    Thanks,

    SP