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Windows Azure Recipe: Software as a Service (SaaS)

The ability to quickly setup, deliver, and iterate on new products is key to capturing market and mind share

The cloud was tailor built for aspiring companies to create innovative internet based applications and solutions. Whether you’re a garage startup with very little capital or a Fortune 1000 company, the ability to quickly setup, deliver, and iterate on new products is key to capturing market and mind share. And if you can capture that share and go viral, having resiliency and infinite scale at your finger tips is great peace of mind.

Drivers

  • Cost avoidance
  • Time to market
  • Scalability

Solution

Here’s a sketch of how a basic Software as a Service solution might be built out:

image

Ingredients

  • Web Role – this hosts the core web application. Each web role will host an instance of the software and as the user base grows, additional roles can be spun up to meet demand.
  • Access Control – this service is essential to managing user identity. It’s backed by a full blown implementation of Active Directory and allows the definition and management of users, groups, and roles. A pre-built ASP.NET membership provider is included in the training kit to leverage this capability but it’s also flexible enough to be combined with external Identity providers including Windows LiveID, Google, Yahoo!, and Facebook. The provider model provides extensibility to hook into other industry specific identity providers as well.
  • Databases – nearly every modern SaaS application is backed by a relational database for its core operational data. If the solution is sold to organizations, there’s a good chance multi-tenancy will be needed. An emerging best practice for SaaS applications is to stand up separate SQL Azure database instances for each tenant’s proprietary data to ensure isolation from other tenants.
  • Worker Role – this is the best place to handle autonomous background processing such as data aggregation, billing through external services, and other specialized tasks that can be performed asynchronously. Placing these tasks in a worker role frees the web roles to focus completely on user interaction and data input and provides finer grained control over the system’s scalability and throughput.
  • Caching (optional) – as a web site traffic grows caching can be leveraged to keep frequently used read-only, user specific, and application resource data in a high-speed distributed in-memory for faster response times and ultimately higher scalability without spinning up more web and worker roles. It includes a token based security model that works alongside the Access Control service.
  • Blobs (optional) – depending on the nature of the software, users may be creating or uploading large volumes of heterogeneous data such as documents or rich media. Blob storage provides a scalable, resilient way to store terabytes of user data. The storage facilities can also integrate with the Access Control service to ensure users’ data is delivered securely.

Training & Examples

These links point to online Windows Azure training labs and examples where you can learn more about the individual ingredients described above. (Note: The entire Windows Azure Training Kit can also be downloaded for offline use.)

Windows Azure (16 labs)

Windows Azure is an internet-scale cloud computing and services platform hosted in Microsoft data centers, which provides an operating system and a set of developer services which can be used individually or together. It gives developers the choice to build web applications; applications running on connected devices, PCs, or servers; or hybrid solutions offering the best of both worlds. New or enhanced applications can be built using existing skills with the Visual Studio development environment and the .NET Framework. With its standards-based and interoperable approach, the services platform supports multiple internet protocols, including HTTP, REST, SOAP, and plain XML

SQL Azure (7 labs)

Microsoft SQL Azure delivers on the Microsoft Data Platform vision of extending the SQL Server capabilities to the cloud as web-based services, enabling you to store structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data.

Windows Azure Services (9 labs)

As applications collaborate across organizational boundaries, ensuring secure transactions across disparate security domains is crucial but difficult to implement. Windows Azure Services provides hosted authentication and access control using powerful, secure, standards-based infrastructure.

image Developing Applications for the Cloud, 2nd Edition (eBook)
This book demonstrates how you can create from scratch a multi-tenant, Software as a Service (SaaS) application to run in the cloud using the latest versions of the Windows Azure Platform and tools. The book is intended for any architect, developer, or information technology (IT) professional who designs, builds, or operates applications and services that run on or interact with the cloud.
image Fabrikam Shipping (SaaS reference application)

This is a full end to end sample scenario which demonstrates how to use the Windows Azure platform for exposing an application as a service. We developed this demo just as you would: we had an existing on-premises sample, Fabrikam Shipping, and we wanted to see what it would take to transform it in a full subscription based solution. The demo you find here is the result of that investigation

See my Windows Azure Resource Guide for more guidance on how to get started, including more links web portals, training kits, samples, and blogs related to Windows Azure.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Clint Edmonson

Clint Edmonson is an Architect Evangelist for Microsoft focused on Windows Azure and Cloud Computing. He has been developing software with Microsoft technologies for the last 20 years, working on everything from custom shrink-wrapped software at small startups to enterprise architecture and methodology adoption at fortune 500 companies. He spends his days helping companies understand Microsoft’s latest developer cloud offerings and developing strategic roadmaps for their adoption. He lives in St. Louis, Missouri and is the host of www.notsotrivial.net. You can follow Clint on twitter at @clinted.

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