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Extending SaaS Platforms With Azure

There is a huge opportunity right now for business software developers to capitalize on the emerging "Software As A Service", or "Cloud" application leaders by building extensions and cooperating services. Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform provides an ideal platform for these types of complimentary solutions.

For example, Salesforce.com, Microsoft CRM Live and a slew of other CRM cloud services are only one class of cloud applications begging for add-on services. Each of these has strengths and weaknesses and most are targeted at the core use cases specific to their horizontal solution space. Software product developers working in complimentary horizontal spaces, like Marketing Automation, or in verticals like Manufacturing, Professional Services, etc. are well positioned to tap into these enormous customer bases and offer their solution extensions if they can host them in a cloud of their own and integrate effectively.

At Technoligence right now we are working on a project that will use Azure to extend a CRM Live solution with a custom quoting and proposal generation engine. It looks something like this:



Similarly, some of the work our partners are doing with Marketing Automation could be implemented like this:



Why Azure?

So why do I think Azure is the right cloud platform to build these businesses on, as opposed to something like a hosted datacenter or clouds like Amazon EC2 or Google App Engine? Here are a few main reasons:
  • Platform, Not Plumbing: Azure provides software developers a clean computing platform for implementing solutions without having to worry about the plumbing needed to get their solutions in place. The combination of Web Roles and Worker Roles provide a highly scalable container set for implementing workloads.
  • AppFabric As The Bridge: A huge advantage that Azure has, especially as a compliment to many of the SaaS solution clouds, is the ability to deeply integrate into customer on-premise computing infrastructure through what Microsoft calls the AppFabric. This service bus allows cloud applications and on-premise platforms to easily and securely connect and interact.
  • Codename "Dallas" Data Feeds: A very exciting component of the Azure platform that Microsoft is in the process of bringing online are the "Dallas" data APIs. Imagine having access to map, weather, traffic, AP news, financial data, etc. to draw on that a custom add-on solution can use to extend a core SaaS application. I think this is going to be a huge opportunity for complimentary services and mash-ups in the near future.
I’m compiling a list of add-on solutions that could be started today on SaaS platforms plus Azure. Let me know your ideas and I’ll write up a post listing the best.
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