Mastering modern integration: The power of Azure Integration Services

Published on 25 Jan 2024

Topics: The Microsoft World, Techy Stuff

In today's fast-evolving business landscape, the seamless integration of diverse software solutions has become the cornerstone of operational efficiency.

Gone are the days when businesses relied on monolithic software systems that did it all. Instead, they now opt for best-of-breed solutions to cater to various aspects of their operations. This paradigm shift has not only transformed the software landscape but also led to a change in the structure of businesses themselves. Many organisations now collaborate with external partners and service providers to fulfil different functions, from warehousing to financial services, each operating on their distinct software platforms. As a result, integrating a myriad of different software solutions, both internally and externally, has become the new normal.

Challenges in Traditional Integration

In the past, when integration projects were rare, they were approached as special, bespoke endeavours. These projects often relied on traditional integration methods, involving the packaging of data into files (e.g., CSV, XML) and transferring those files from one server location to another, often using FTP or similar technologies. While this approach served its purpose for many years, it came with a significant limitation – the lack of real-time visibility into the success of data transfers. This limitation is often the reason people perceive traditional integration solutions as unstable or untrustworthy. The sender's system typically had minimal visibility into whether the destination system received the data and processed it successfully, leading to challenges in error handling and reliability.

The Power of APIs

Fortunately, the solution to this problem has been with us in the Dynamics NAV and Dynamics 365 Business Central world since 2013 in the form of web services or Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). APIs, in essence, allow a system to call directly into Business Central and immediately extract or send data. The key advantage of APIs is their ability to provide real-time feedback, allowing the sending system to confirm whether the data transfer was successful or if errors occurred, what those errors are. This real-time interaction ensures data reliability and enhances the trustworthiness of integration. Moreover, the power of APIs extends to any modern web service/API-enabled solution, making them a cornerstone of contemporary integration efforts.

Azure Integration Services (AIS)

Azure Integration Services (AIS) emerged as a transformative solution in the ever-evolving world of integration. AIS is a comprehensive toolset provided by Microsoft's Azure platform. It streamlines integration processes, taking a giant leap forward by eliminating the need for bespoke code within platforms like Dynamics NAV or Business Central. Instead, it leverages standardised building blocks within Azure, ensuring that all integration projects, regardless of the software platform involved, operate consistently.

Logic Apps: Streamlining Integration

Logic Apps are at the heart of Azure Integration Services. They provide an intuitive and user-friendly approach to designing integration flows. With Logic Apps, you can connect to a system, collect data, apply logical steps (such as data conversion or filtering), and transmit the data to the destination system. All of this can be achieved through a graphical interface, where actions are simply dragged and dropped into a flowchart. Logic Apps shine when the goal is to pick up data from System A and efficiently deliver it to System B. Moreover, they can be configured to poll systems at specific intervals, making them perfect for recurring data transfers.

Service Bus: Reliable Data Handling

However, integration, particularly in a point-to-point setup, can be sensitive when dealing with connectivity issues between systems. This is where the Service Bus, another tool in the AIS toolkit, plays a pivotal role. Service Bus acts as a reliable message queuing system. Rather than sending data directly from System A to System B, Service Bus provides a safe haven for data during transit. If there are issues along the way, data remains secure within the Service Bus. It also allows for fine-tuned control of data flow rates. For instance, if your POS system generates transactions in real-time, but you want to avoid overwhelming your financial system during working hours, Service Bus can store the data from the POS system and transmit it in bulk during quiet periods.

API Management: Customised APIs and Security

API Management (APIM) is the third integral component of Azure Integration Services. It empowers you to define your own APIs, which is particularly useful when interfacing with legacy systems lacking modern APIs. With APIM, you can define custom APIs and employ other tools, such as Logic Apps, to convert the data into formats that legacy systems can accept. APIM's benefits extend to simplifying APIs presented to the external world. For example, you may have a single API in NAV/Business Central that handles both B2B and B2C orders. APIM allows you to create a simplified sales order API for B2C partners, shielding them from complexities they don't need to see.

Security is another critical aspect of APIM. When you expose APIs to third parties via the internet, it potentially opens the door to your system for anyone. APIM adds an extra layer of protection with its authentication mechanism, distinct from the underlying NAV/Business Central system. This mechanism enables precise control over who can access which APIs, safeguarding against unauthorised access and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks.

Furthermore, APIM assists developers by automatically generating developer-focused documentation, streamlining projects, reducing the need for extensive meetings and workshops.

Benefits of AIS in Integration

In summary, Azure Integration Services offer a modern Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) toolset that standardises integration between your systems and those of your partners. This standardisation ensures robust, reliable, and easily extendable integration processes. It provides monitoring and maintenance capabilities that reduce development time and streamline integration efforts.

Mastering modern integration is crucial for businesses in an interconnected world. The transformation from monolithic systems to diverse software solutions necessitates efficient integration strategies. Azure Integration Services (AIS) emerge as a game-changer, revolutionising the way businesses integrate systems and streamline their operations. Embrace AIS to ensure efficient, reliable, and future-proof integration, propelling your business to new heights of success.

Take the next step and explore the capabilities of Azure Integration Services (AIS). Consider how AIS can benefit your integration projects, improve data reliability, and enhance efficiency. For more information and resources, visit our Azure Integration Services page.

Written by
Paul Cartwright
Paul Cartwright

Paul is the Product Director at TNP. He started his NAV journey as an end user and moved to TNP to make NAV and Business Central dreams come true around a decade ago. He’s been instrumental in developing many of TNP’s nHanced products over the years and leads the dedicated team who write and manage them. When he’s not at work, Paul is in full ‘Dad’ mode – but if he can, he’ll sit down to support his trusty hometown football club, Wolves, who (correct at time of writing!) are giving him more hope than they ever have!