There is still quite a number of countries that are lacking the cloud (SaaS) version of Dynamics 365 Business Central. However, if you do want to use cloud, you can get an option which will be very close to SaaS. It will also allow you to consolidate data from several differently localized and even customized databases, as well as (for some countries, e.g. Russia) solve the issue of personal data protection law – without any de-personalization plugins. This is now available with the April release of Dynamics 365 Business Central and Intelligent Edge.

Intelligent Edge is part of the Intelligent Cloud technology, created by Microsoft in order to have set of convenient tools for communication with end-point IoT devices that are, so to say, “on the edge” of the cloud. In this particular case this term is used for seamless integration routine to push data between two installations – SaaS version and on-premises version of Business Central, and has been created by its product team. I assume it is called Intelligent Edge as well in order to consider on-premises installation as kind of end-point IoT device on the edge of the cloud .

To put is short, Intelligent Edge for Dynamics 365 Business Central is a user-friendly tool based on Azure Data Fabric, which allow to replicate the data from on-prem solution to SaaS cloud solution. As there is no access for partners or customers to the database in the cloud installation, the release of Intelligent Edge opened the door to several practical scenarios, which were initially not planned by the product team.

At this moment, there are plenty of Azure services which can be integrated with both cloud SaaS version as well as with on-prem installations (and it does not matter whether on-prem is deployed in Azure datacenter or in some other local server). However it is not a secret that setting integration with various Azure services is a lot easier for SaaS solution, where many things are pre-defined out of the box already. To connect on-prem installation of Business Central to Azure services is possible but it requires more efforts from the user, and sometimes can be quite cumbersome task. So there has been always a demand for some easy solution of using Azure cloud services with on-prem installations, especially for those countries where the SaaS version is not available.

Released in the end of Y2018, Intelligent Edge for Dynamics 365 Business Central aimed to provide easier access to cloud services to users of on-prem installations. For that, users could setup the routine and push on-prem data to cloud version, and then benefit of using various Azure cloud services out-of-the-box.
So, when the tool was up and running, the constant replication of data from on-prem database to a cloud database was provided on SQL basis, using the means of Azure Data Fabric (the setup is made per company level). But, end users did not have any access to the inner part of the routine – they have to accept the fact that all their data (or almost all) will be pushed to the cloud as is. The cloud replica was considered as read-only solution, allowing just better access to the cloud Azure services. It was useless to enter manually any data in injected SaaS version as the changes would anyway be overwritten by the next integration data cycle in order to completely duplicate on-prem data. The on-prem database was the master data in this scenario, and everything what happened with on-prem data was replicated to the cloud.

This solution assumes there are absolutely no changes to the on-prem database made during the execution process. (With one small exception. While users work with on-prem SQL database, it sets up the cash according to the most used data in the database to make the performance optimal. Since running the Intelligent Edge requires reading the whole on-prem database in total, this action can drop existing optimal cash in on-prem SQL. It requires some time to reorganize the cash back to optimal state).

First users immediately appreciated the tool and started to use that as one-time migration tool to migrate the data from on-prem installation to cloud installation. As there has been no official migration tool for Dynamics 365 Business Central, provided by the vendor, Intelligent Edge occupied that empty space. Users were setting it up, making one-time replication of all data and then switching that off for continuing the use of cloud solution as the master data for their operations.

Big plus was that the solution was working for properly customized implementations. Once the customization has been done through extensions, if they were deployed both on-prem and in the cloud, the data of the extended database was replicated correctly.

However this first version had a number of critical limitations that lowered down the enthusiasm of the community. First of all, both on-prem and cloud database schemas should have been identical. If not, the replication failed with errors. Also, the oldest version should have been Dynamics NAV 2018 R2, olde versions were not supported in this scenario.

With April release of Dynamics 365 Business Central, Intelligent Edge got few important improvements. One of the major changes the product team did is that they allowed to have different database schemas in on-prem and cloud installations, and the replication did not break with error in this case. I particular, if the length of the fields in on-prem database was longer that the one in the cloud, then the data was truncated. If there were more fields in on-prem database, the extra ones were just ignored.

This was the door-opener to few more scenarios, and one of them is described below.

One of the foreign customers of Awara IT who opened a subsidiary in Russia, had a strong desire to use SaaS version of the system which was used in his head office. As no Russian SaaS version was available, Russian localized version of Dynamics 365 Business Central was deployed in local data-center, and all the local users enter the data there (thus following Russian data protection legislation). Using Intelligent Edge (with released difference in database schemas) it was integrated with corporate SaaS solution, where most of the needed G/L data was replicated to cloud. Financial controllers in the head office were happy to get the access to the data in their cloud solution, and they were ok to have it as read-only data. Apart from convenient reports and integration with Azure services, they were further doing standard consolidation already inside their cloud solution.

In the future, this architecture allows to include more local offices in other countries to the replication to the same cloud installation of the head office. Of course, the localization assumes that there are different extra fields in the G/L Entry, relate to localization requirements, and those are not replicated. However the needed common G/L Data is anyway replicated to the G/L Entry of the head office company, whether it is W1 version or some other localization. So the people in the head office can get full picture of what is going on in the subsidiary.

The question of license optimization of such setup is currently under discussion. On the one hand, there is Dual Right option which allows clients that have SaaS access to generate on-premises license for free. The open question is, whether it will be possible to generate such on-premises license that is different from the one used in SaaS localization. It is currently under discussion with licensing team.

If you want to learn in more details how to setup Intelligent Edge, check further posts here.