Windows Azure Use Case: Hybrid Applications
This is one in a series of posts on when and where to use a distributed architecture design in your organization's computing needs. You can find the main post here: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/buckwoody/archive/2011/01/18/windows-azure-and-sql-azure-use-cases.aspx
Organizations see the need for computing infrastructures that they can “rent” or pay for only when they need them. They also understand the benefits of distributed computing, but do not want to create this infrastructure themselves. However, they may have considerations that prevent them from moving all of their current IT investment to a distributed environment:
- Private data (do not want to send or store sensitive data off-site)
- High dollar investment in current infrastructure
- Applications currently running well, but may need additional periodic capacity
- Current applications not designed in a stateless fashion
In these situations, a “hybrid” approach works best. In fact, with Windows Azure, a hybrid approach is an optimal way to implement distributed computing even when the stipulations above do not apply. Keeping a majority of the computing function in an organization local while exploring and expanding that footprint into Windows and SQL Azure is a good migration or expansion strategy.
A “hybrid” architecture merely means that part of a computing cycle is shared between two architectures. For instance, some level of computing might be done in a Windows Azure web-based application, while the data is stored locally at the organization.
There are multiple methods for implementing a hybrid architecture, in a spectrum from very little interaction from the local infrastructure to Windows or SQL Azure. The patterns fall into two broad schemas, and even these can be mixed.
1. Client-Centric Hybrid Patterns
In this pattern, programs are coded such that the client system sends queries or compute requests to multiple systems. The “client” in this case might be a web-based codeset actually stored on another system (which acts as a client, the user’s device serving as the presentation layer) or a compiled program. In either case, the code on the client requestor carries the burden of defining the layout of the requests.
While this pattern is often the easiest to code, it’s the most brittle. Any change in the architecture must be reflected on each client, but this can be mitigated by using a centralized system as the client such as in the web scenario.
2. System-Centric Hybrid Patterns
Another approach is to create a distributed architecture by turning on-site systems into “services” that can be called from Windows Azure using the service Bus or the Access Control Services (ACS) capabilities. Code calls from a series of in-process client application. In this pattern you move the “client” interface into the server application logic.
If you do not wish to change the application itself, you can “layer” the results of the code return using a product (such as Microsoft BizTalk) that exposes a Web Services Definition Language (WSDL) endpoint to Windows Azure using the Application Fabric. In effect, this is similar to creating a Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) environment, and has the advantage of de-coupling your computing architecture. If each system offers a “service” of the results of some software processing, the operating system or platform becomes immaterial, assuming it adheres to a service contract.
There are important considerations when you federate a system, whether to Windows or SQL Azure or any other distributed architecture. While these considerations are consistent with coding any application for distributed computing, they are especially important for a hybrid application.
Connection resiliency - Applications on-premise normally have low-latency and good connection properties, something you’re not always guaranteed in a distributed and hybrid application. Whether a centralized client or a distributed one, the code should be able to handle extended retry logic.
Authorization and Access - In a single authorization environment like a Active Directory domain, security is handled at a user-password level. In a distributed computing environment, you have more options. You can mitigate this with using The Windows Azure Application Fabric feature of ACS to make the Azure application aware of the App Fabric as an ADFS provider. However, a claims-based authentication structure is often a superior choice.
Consistency and Concurrency - When you have a Relational Database Management System (RDBMS), Consistency and Concurrency are part of the design. In a Service Architecture, you need to plan for sequential message handling and lifecycle.
How to Build a Hybrid On-Premise/In Cloud Application: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/ignitionshowcase/archive/2010/11/09/how-to-build-a-hybrid-on-premise-in-cloud-application.aspx
General Architecture guidance: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/buckwoody/archive/2010/12/21/windows-azure-learning-plan-architecture.aspx