Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Hosting Dynamics NAV on Azure is one of the fastest ways to implement an ERP solution. Speed and cost are critical considerations for small businesses when deploying ERP, and hosting on Microsoft Azure caters to both of these factors.
Still, small businesses have unique requirements and rarely use ERP out of the box. For Dynamics NAV user companies, this raises the question “Can I host my Dynamics NAV solution on a Microsoft Azure infrastructure, all while retaining the ability to adjust NAV to our company needs, and without a huge price tag attached?”
Microsoft Azure: The public cloud
Microsoft Azure is a public cloud, and can host any software running on Microsoft Windows Server (though other OSs are also supported). As Dynamics NAV runs on Windows Server, in turn, any Dynamics NAV installation can be hosted on Azure.
When hosting Dynamics NAV on Azure, you can install modifications to NAV as if it were installed on an on-premise or local server in a single-tenant configuration. Therefore, Azure presents no limitation upon customizations.
Customization is also possible in a multitenant configuration, which is important to an ISV running its add-ons for multiple customers on a single environment setup. But customization in a multitenant configuration is limited to the scope of Extensions, the separate customization functionality introduced in Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2016. While Extensions limit the scope, in most cases multitenant configuration is coupled with a better price and an easier upgrade, which is important when running a solution on the public cloud.
Are your add-ons ready for the public cloud?
Microsoft Dynamics NAV as an ERP solution is commonly integrated with other software (e.g., Web shops and business intelligence tools). Companies exploring NAV must ensure that any add-ons or integrated solutions are ready for the public cloud, or for Azure specifically.
First, the software should be configurable as to where data is stored and how it may be accessed. In assisting ISVs to update/upgrade their applications for hosting on Azure, we’ve seen “hardcoded” applications that have a storage location (drive) or specific user account names to access data, which in most cases eliminates the possibility to use the public cloud.
Second, public cloud solutions should also have configurations to enable integrations to other applications and the option to configure different ports/addresses to access those external systems. Other applications running on the same infrastructure should remain unaffected by such changes. “Hardcoded” values used for integrations usually limit these solutions from being public-cloud ready.
Third and finally, a public cloud applications should have a thin client, similar to using a Web browser, otherwise it may require a remote desktop connection for acceptable performance. Such a pre-requisite significantly drives up the price of installation.
Not yet public-cloud ready?
What can you do if your software is not public cloud ready, but you’d still like to avoid a big investment by running Dynamics NAV on Azure?
If your software application can be integrated by using Web Services (SOAP or OData) with SSL enabled (using https), then it may be installed within a local network to access Dynamics NAV data though Web Services. SSL support is critical when accessing data through the public Internet, otherwise your data can be stolen.
If your software is not ready for the public cloud, there is still an option to use Microsoft Azure for hosting. In such a case, you may want to create a virtual private cloud for all infrastructure that will be hosted on Azure. A virtual private cloud within Microsoft Azure can call the infrastructure using a customer's specific Active Directory, designating and dedicating it to a single customer. This means that within the infrastructure all servers should support Dynamics NAV, which at least includes a private SQL Server (Azure SQL can be used as an option when supported), dedicated servers for the Dynamics NAV application, and an Active Directory server. Setting up a dedicated environment makes installation more expensive and usually not affordable for small companies.
Security in the public cloud
Of course, businesses using Dynamics NAV on Azure require a secure infrastructure. Both ISVs and customers need to know that their data will be as secure as it would be on a local, private server.
In truth, there are only two ways that data can be stolen:
- Access through software
Being one of the tech titans in the public cloud industry, Microsoft pays particularly close attention to security, which means the possibility of intrusion into your data is less likely than if your data is stored locally. I would say intrusion is nearly impossible.
It is true, Microsoft Azure is a public cloud and can be accessed through an Internet connection. However, any organization that is connected to the Internet is exposed to such a risk.
There is an option on Microsoft Azure to hide servers, which denies access directly through external IP, similar to running servers locally without allowing any access to or from the public Internet. Hence the biggest challenges for data security are:
- securing data while transferring from Azure to a local environment; and
- securing from servers/computers running within the same network
How Microsoft Azure minimizes security risks
Data transfer security is easily solved by using a security certificate, which can be enabled for your Dynamics NAV solution. The second part of “through software” security is no different on Azure than on a local network. Since there are no users’ computers running on the Azure infrastructure, there is no way to attach a USB or a DVD to a single server, which eliminates the most vulnerable software installations.
In specific cases, where there is a need to have a fully private network with access using a virtual private network (VPN) connection (or sitting locally in the office), a VPN connection to Microsoft Azure may be configured. This kind of setup should enable any kind of integrations between software running on Microsoft Azure and on the local network, and would enable the highest level of security within a public cloud infrastructure.
However, this infrastructure setup also bares the largest price tag, so maybe it is time to consider ways to leverage the true benefits of the real public cloud.
The case for the public cloud
To summarize, from almost 1,000 Microsoft Dynamics NAV installations we’ve supported during configuration on Microsoft Azure, we’ve proven that any type of NAV installation can be run on Microsoft Azure. If integrated software is selected correctly, it can fully leverage all the benefits of the public cloud, which provides a cost effective and secure ERP solution.
I have touched upon some of the risks and challenges of hosting an ERP, like Dynamics NAV, on the public cloud, but not all. In the following article, I will explore some more specific risks and challenges to hosting NAV on Azure, and how to eliminate them.
Better together: collaboration with 1ClickFactory
For sufficient NAV solution implementation on Microsoft Azure infrastructure, many companies prefer collaborating with a hosting provider as it enables them to respond more quickly to technology demands, adjust NAV to their company needs and avoid the associated risks and costs of building their own cloud infrastructure.
1ClickFactory is the hosting vendor with more than 400 NAV on Azure implementations and supported solutions with Microsoft Dynamics Partners. These have given us deep knowledge on both sides of the NAV on Azure equation, with both Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Dynamics NAV. We aid Partners by offering a Self-Provisioning for NAV on Azure service that is automated, quick and secure to implement and support any Microsoft Dynamics NAV solution, with any customizations, on Microsoft Azure at a fixed per-user-per month price.
Click here to find out more about the 1ClickFactory Self-Provisioning for NAV on Azure service or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.