Azure Every Day, Azure Data Week, and More Azure

As you likely know, I am a Principal Consultant at Pragmatic Works. This year we have been doing some great things with Azure for our customers. Beyond that we have produced a lot of content and have an event coming up that I want to talk about. So, one step at a time.

Azure Every Day

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We are producing daily videos covering a variety of Azure topics. They are typically 3-5 minutes long and you can read the content in the Pragmatic Works blog as well.

Check out the YouTube channel here if you want to see all the videos we have published so far. I am going to republish my Azure Every Day blogs and videos here as a lead up to the next exciting event.

Azure Data Week

Get ready for the only 100% virtual Azure Conference – October 8 – 12. Five days, 25 sessions, all on Azure. Join Pragmatic Works  as we launch this new conference. The cost is only $29 and you will have access to the sessions for year. Microsoft and Pragmatic Works will be speaking on topics such as Power BI, Azure Data Factory, Security in Azure, and Azure roadmaps.

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More Azure

So if you want to check out what we are doing in Azure, have a look at Pragmatic Works and our team. We are doing more events with Microsoft over the next few months including regional training sessions on SQL Managed Instances, Azure Data Bricks, and Azure migration strategy. Ping me directly or reach out to Pragmatic Works if you are interested in our events or joining our team.

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Azure Cognitive Services – Search APIs

Throughout this week’s Azure Every Day blog posts, I’ll focus on different APIs available with Azure Cognitive Services. With Azure Cognitive Services you can infuse your apps, websites and bots with intelligent algorithms to see, hear, speak, understand and interpret your user needs through natural methods of communication. You can easily add the power of machine learning and bring advanced intelligence into your product.

This first post will focus on Search APIs that are available with Microsoft Azure. By leveraging these, you can add Bing Search APIs to your apps and can comb billions of webpages, images, videos, and news with a single API call. Here are some core APIs that are easily available:

1. Bing Web Search API – This straightforward tool allows you to add web search capability into your applications and get enhanced search details from billions of web documents.

2. Bing Image API and Bing Video API – These search APIs let you specifically search for images and get comprehensive results.

3. Bing News Search API – With this you can search for news and get comprehensive results. This search API can be integrated into your app and limit a search for news articles that are relevant to a particular subject you want news about.

4. Bing Auto Suggest API – You can add the capabilities of high speed search results to your application, giving your app intelligent autosuggest options for searches.

5. Bing Entity Search API – This uses context provided by you in your application to enrich your experiences by identifying and augmenting entity information from the web. With this you can take advantage of your geographic location to enhance searches, such as ‘find coffee shops near me’.

6. Bing Custom Search API – Here you can define what you want to do in search and embed it in your apps. It’s an easy-to-use, ad-free, commercial-grade search tool that allows for a more custom search experience within your application.

These are the search API tools available to you within Azure Cognitive Services.

Azure Integration with Flow

Today I’m talking more about integration with Flow within Azure. Flow is focused around business power users who need to create workflows or other things that move the data within and around applications. One benefit is that it eliminates the need for having IT staff build these workflows.

Flow works seamlessly with SharePoint online and other Office 365 components, so things like integrating off an email or triggering a Planner ID for instance, are available right there in the flow. Another benefit with flow is it’s a visual UI, so if you’re a business user, it’s simple to interact with and use.

It’s a visual API so you simply drag and drop. You can do a connector or an activity, set up timers, triggers, etc. easily in the visual interface, then publish your flow. It will also send out a notification if your flow fails, allowing you to troubleshoot flow as you move along.

Join us at Azure Data Week in October 2018

There are templates available at http://flow.microsoft.com. I encourage you to take a look at these templates and view some basic operations and illustrations of things you can modify within flow.

An example to share is, we run a Power App against a SharePoint list. SharePoint doesn’t interact correctly with search in Power Apps, so I use flow to constantly update my search parameters around what’s going on in my Power Apps. It’s triggered whenever an item is updated or inserted into that list. When that happens from Power Apps, it will trigger the flow and the flow will then update the search criteria, allowing search to work correctly in Power Apps.

There are many different things you can do with Flow and it’s very simple to use. I encourage you to try out Flow as part of your Office 365 account. It also interacts with tools outside of Microsoft, like Twitter, MailChimp, Salesforce, and even Oracle, so you can have an Oracle database as part of the interaction.

Azure Integration Options and Overview

Today I’d like to talk about Azure integration services that you can leverage within the platform. Integration services allow data to interact with other applications or businesses and to move data around within the platform. I’d like to discuss what is currently available, where it might fit, as well as give you an overview of the capabilities of Azure integration.

Visual Integration Tools in Azure

Let’s start with the “business” or user friendly integration tools.

Flow

This workflow engine comes with Office 365. It’s a lightweight data integration engine that allows business users the ability to integrate between different types of applications. For example, you can use flow to integrate between SharePoint and drop data into email or use an email and drop data into Azure Storage. It’s set up to be simple to use and no custom coding is really allowed. Power users that are used to moving data around or have worked with SharePoint workflows will find this easy to transition to.

Logic Apps

Logic Apps is available in Azure as opposed to Office 365. It does allow you to go after the code and create within the context of Visual Studio. Its graphical interface is almost identical to flow, with almost the same capabilities, but we can expand on those capabilities. It also gives you more around security and things that make it more IT friendly.

Azure Data Week is coming soon – October 2018

Developer Integration Tools in Azure

The other integration services get a bit more sophisticated and require development, but they give you better options around source control and other areas:

Service Bus

This is about moving messages around; it’s a message broker service. It handles data from all kinds of sources, on and off premises, cloud based, mobile, etc. It’s a highly scalable, high volume service and one of the most mature services in the Azure platform.

Azure Data Factory

This integration tool does a lot of the same types of workloads as SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) or Informatica. With Azure Data Factory V2, you have the ability to take SSIS and put it in as an integration runtime and run SSIS packages in the context of Azure Data Factory, thus making its capability even greater.

This awesome V2 version has a lot of capabilities that are not available in V1 and it has much more control around it. It enhances our ability to integrate data and ETL type of functionality and workflow.

Event Grid

This tool manages events coming off different devices and applications and simplifies the whole process of anything event driven. So, if you’re tracking events off an app or an IoT and trying to figure out what you’re going to do with that data or how you’re going to manage it, the event grid simplifies that infrastructure for you.

Web Job and Functions

Web jobs are part of the app service, functions are not, they are serverless. The idea behind these is they allow you to basically distribute code and have the ability to do other interactions.

So, you have all these options available for integration. The key is to understand what makes the most sense for you and your business. Each gives the opportunity to leverage it in a certain space, some have more expandability than others and some require more coding.

What you need to do is find the right tool for the job. In some cases, you may need more of a toolbox scenario, where you put pieces together, so you can get the best of all of them. You need to determine the best way to integrate the apps you have, from everywhere your apps and users exist, across your enterprise.

Why Customers Are Looking At Azure

As a Principal Consultant with Pragmatic Works, I have many conversations with customers about moving to Azure. As a Consulting Sales Manager, Jon Reutinger, has these discussions every day. I sat with Jon to ask what he commonly hears from customers about why they are looking at Azure.

People want to move for various reasons. One reason is by implementing an Azure hybrid solution, they don’t have to commit right away to moving their entire environment. Getting part of their environment there is a great way to dip their toes in the water.

Another reason is from an applications standpoint. Some applications lend themselves much better to Azure as opposed to legacy applications that don’t play very well in the cloud. Scalability is another reason. Azure’s subscription model allows businesses to scale up or down. This lends itself well to a variety of industries, particularly in industries with seasonality such as finance and retail.

Check out Azure Data Week coming in October 2018

“How do I get started?” is the opener of many conversations and Azure’s hybrid approach offers a good starting point. We talk to customers about moving their data warehouses into the cloud, or disaster recovery. With disaster recovery in Azure you don’t have to maintain that infrastructure, so you can reduce infrastructure costs, as well as optimize your maintenance around your infrastructure.

ExpressRoute and VPNs in Azure

In this edition of Azure Every Day, I’d like to discuss networking and interacting between your data center and Azure. Two options you have are ExpressRoute and VPNs and I’d like to point out some reasons why you may choose one option over another or use a combination of both.

Let me start with a quick overview of what these components are and where they may fit strategically in your organization.

Overview of VPNs

First, let’s look at VPNs, which support a couple types of interaction and run over public internet. One VPN gateway is site to site integration, meaning you plug your data center into Azure on a VPN and have them trust each other. This is a common way to start out with Azure.

Or you can use a point to site gateway, which means you want to take your laptop and have it secured using a VPN into Azure and both these VPNs are supported across the platform. Which you choose depends on what makes sense for you. If you have a mobile workforce, you may need to do a lot of point to site work, for instance.

Overview of ExpressRoute

ExpressRoutes, unlike VPNs, run on dedicated private network fiber. To make ExpressRoute happen, you’ll need a connectivity partner (like AT&T or Verizon) to provide the private fiber connection between your assets and the Azure cloud. ExpressRoute is appealing from both a performance and security standpoint, but it’s not always something you can easily scale out due to cost implications and there’s more work involved.

Check out Azure Data Week coming in October 2018

Comparing ExpressRoute and VPN

Let’s look at some comparisons:

  • SLA – VPNs and ExpressRoute run 99.95% SLA in most cases.
  • Bandwidth – ExpressRoute offers a wide range of connectivity options as it ranges from 15 megabytes/second to 10 gigabytes/second. VPNs are more limited, ranging from 100 megabytes/second up to 1.25 gigabytes/second. But this is changing as Microsoft is constantly working to improve the capabilities of both.
  • Security – To keep your data secure, VPNs use IPSec and IKE protocols and are typically fine for doing anything you want to do. But if you have a requirement or security that says your data can’t be pushed over the public internet, you would need to go to an ExpressRoute.
  • Third Party Access – With ExpressRoute you can access some hosting organizations, like Rackspace, and take advantage of connections within their data centers.
  • Office 365 – ExpressRoute allows you to take advantage of using some co-locating capabilities to do ExpressRoute connectivity to Azure and it will also cover Office 365.

Bottom line is, because of the complexity and cost of all these scenarios, it’s common to leverage multiple types of connectivity to Azure based on your needs for your business. You need to keep in mind all factors, such as security, performance and SLA capabilities. VPNs can be turned on quickly, where using ExpressRoute will take a lot more work to implement.

Choose wisely to make the best, most cost-effective choice for your organization which meets your business requirements and needs.

Thoughts on data, business analytics, and the SQL Server community

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