Volume 33 Number 1
Going to Graph
By Michael Desmond | January 2018
It’s been a challenge since forever: How do you unlock the data created in and captured by productivity applications such as Word, Excel, Outlook, SharePoint and OneNote? And just as important, how do you link up and imbue that data with context, so it can be intelligently interpreted, leveraged and consumed?
It’s a question that Microsoft has spent years working to answer, in the form of Microsoft Graph. Graph is a family of rich, consistent REST APIs that provides vital connective tissue between applications, Azure cloud infrastructure, and IT resources and data stores. In our Connect(); special issue last year, Microsoft Principal Program Manager Yina Arenas explored the Graph APIs in her article, “Microsoft Graph: Gateway to Data and Intelligence” (msdn.com/magazine/mt790189). There, she described Graph as “the unified gateway for developers to access all the data, intelligence and APIs housed in Microsoft’s intelligent cloud, including Exchange, SharePoint, Azure Active Directory, OneDrive, Outlook, OneNote, Planner, Excel and more.”
She went on to describe how the intelligent Graph engine uses machine learning to provide calculated insights and rich relationships. But the most important thing is that this capability is accessed via a single REST API endpoint, vastly simplifying developer interaction across all of Microsoft’s APIs by bringing them together, as Arenas wrote, “in a single URI namespace with a single authentication story.”
A year later, Microsoft continues to refine, improve and extend its Graph APIs. In this issue of MSDN Magazine, Mike Ammerlaan writes “Build the API to Your Organization with Microsoft Graph and Azure Functions,” in which he describes how the new Azure Functions Binding Extensions can be used to automate common tasks and processes. In the article, Ammerlaan walks through using Binding Extensions to pull together disparate sets of data in one piece of code using a single authentication token. He shows how the extensions can be used to access and prepare files stored in Microsoft OneDrive, and then perform voice recognition via Microsoft Cognitive Services.
As director of product marketing on the Microsoft Office Ecosystem team, Ammerlaan says the Graph APIs are the result of a years-long effort that demanded a strategic rethink across teams at Microsoft.
“Building Microsoft Graph required coordinating API designs and consistency across a dozen teams (and growing) at Microsoft, allowing for quick evolution while building a more universal and consistent API.”
For organizations looking to migrate to Graph, Ammerlaan suggests a measured approach. He notes that many existing product-specific APIs like SharePoint REST continue to be actively updated. So while Graph APIs are conceptually similar to existing product APIs, the decision to shift to Graph depends on a lot of factors.
“For new projects, I think developers should strongly consider evaluating Microsoft Graph and seeing what facets of it may apply to new projects,” says Ammerlaan. “The breadth of tools, SDKs, and documentation make Microsoft Graph the best way to access Microsoft data and insights. I’m convinced every enterprise application could benefit from Microsoft Graph to be at its most effective.”
Over time, Ammerlaan says, the benefits of adopting Microsoft Graph compound with investments into the APIs. As he writes in the article: “The more APIs you can bring together and connect, the more useful by far the net set of products you build could be—greater than the sum of its parts.”
Michael Desmond is the Editor-in-Chief of MSDN Magazine.