By News Editor
For companies with a need to connect Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011
or CRM Online to other business applications, especially when the systems are a
mix of on-premise and cloud deployments, Azure
AppFabric has become a viable platform-as-a-service (PaaS) option for
developing custom integrations.
Just this week Microsoft
released Version 5.0.6 of the Microsoft Dynamics CRM SDK on MSDN library. According to Jim Glass on the Dynamics CRM
Blog announcement, "this release is primarily to update the tools and
documentation for the upcoming release of Windows Azure AppFabric Access
Control Services (ACS) 2.0," including an updated Plug-in Registration Tool to
work with Windows Azure AppFabric Access Control Services (ACS) 2.0."
But Azure AppFabric is a still a new option that is still only
in use by early adopters. What tools are
companies turning to today? For serious
integration challenges, most Dynamics CRM customers looking to bridge their cloud
and on-premise deployments still look to a more robust solution with the
benefits that a real software vendor can provide.
CRM using commercial software
Anyone considering a custom listener via Azure AppFabric
can't ignore the fact that the owner of such an application takes on their own
responsibilities when it comes to receiving, validating, logging, and otherwise
acting on the incoming notifications from Dynamics CRM. And that additional work is where many IT
managers may think twice about going with a custom integration - especially for
a more common integration scenario.
"It's just one piece of the puzzle," says Girish Raja, technical
evangelist for Dynamics CRM at Microsoft.
For example, when it comes to technical mechanisms for enabling Dynamics
CRM 2011 to receiv messages from external applications, the REST and SOAP endpoints
and BizTalk WCF adapter are key tools.
"From a partner's point of view, [connecting directly via Azure
AppFabric] often does not represent good time to value," says Betsy Bilhorn,
vice president of marketing and product management at Scribe Software, a Microsoft Dynamics partner
and maker of middleware solutions.
In many cases, even if the business application in question
is custom or unusual, it may still be a good candidate for a pre-built
integration solution if it uses one of the more common platforms or
databases - things like SQL Server, Oracle, web services
like REST and SOAP, or even Excel. In
that case, solutions like Scribe and others can provide the business rules, monitoring,
alerts, reporting, errors, throughput, processing, user interfaces, and so
forth. Not to mention the maintenance and management of code.
The prospect of a third party integration solution often
wins out, Bilhorn contends. "If I'm an
IT person I want a user interface where I do some transformations, focus on
what to do with the data at a business process level, and spend my time on that
and not on .NET code," she says. "With
AppFabric, the keyword is ‘build'".
Connecting with BizTalk
If your company already utilized BizTalk for its integration
needs, Dynamics CRM 2011 and CRM Online now work much more smoothly with it,
says Girish Raja, CRM technical evangelist at Microsoft. Now that BizTalk is standardized on WCF,
Dynamics CRM 2011 no longer needs a separate adapter like it did in CRM
4.0. "So for customers already using
BizTalk and want to include Dynamics CRM, system administrators can now connect
to CRM's BizTalk endpoint and you're good to go," he says.
As for real world testing, BizTalk solution architect, MVP,
Richard Seroter gave CRM 2011 integration with BizTalk 2010 mixed reviews on
review and additional
exploration of his ability to set up query and create operations for CRM
Seroter's posts are very detailed and worth reading for a
technical look at the integration.
Overall, Seroter liked the integration capabilities of Dynamics CRM 2011
overall for its REST and SOAP interfaces, but felt that the un-typed iused for
BizTalk integration to be a limitation. "[I]t
really handicaps BizTalk and other tools that can't leverage their SDK
components," he wrote . "I can't see that many people choosing to build these
functoid heavy maps just to create key/value pairs." Later when Seroter builds a working example
of pushing more complex data, he is successful but states that he wishes it
were simpler to work with fields that hold option sets or entity references.
Find a pre-built
In some cases, the integrated solution you need might be
available and ready to go. If you are
shopping for a customer service portal that hooks into Dynamics CRM, for
example, you might be in luck. The
Dynamics CRM Marketplace offers an Azure-hosted Customer
Portal solution developed by Microsoft that can create customer-facing
portals to handle things like service scheduling, event registration, case
management, and content management with Dynamics CRM managing the interactions
in the background.
It's a pre-built example of a public-facing solution that
can push customer data into Dynamics CRM 2011 or CRM Online. The ratings for the Customer Portal are mixed
on the marketplace, mostly focused on the robustness and the reviewer's success
in installing the solution. And like
many free add-ons, the level of support and success in getting it up and
running will vary.