A Wish List for Improved Azure and Office 365 Integration

Microsoft has two winning assets with Office 365 and Azure. Both are growing at very high rates right now as organizations adopt cloud technologies.

Microsoft has a unique competitive advantage with the two platforms compared to Amazon or Google by integrating the two platforms together in more serious ways. One of the key reasons why third party integration will never be as successful is simply that the two networks are very close to each other which means very low latency between Office 365 and Azure. This should in theory create scenarios that mean very fast performance when fetching data, apps, or media between them.

There are already a few ways that you can integrate Azure and Office 365 together:

  • Developing SharePoint apps and hosting them on Azure
  • Creating custom workflows that can execute in response to SharePoint actions
  • Integration of single sign-on between Azure and Office 365
  • Integration with a SQL Azure database through Business Connectivity Services

Here is my wish list of potential integration points that seem like obvious integration wins but are not available today in Office 365. Some of these features exist on SharePoint 2013 on premise but are turned off in Office 365 – in other cases they don’t exist at all.

Integration of Azure and Office 365 seems like a huge potential differentiator and would encourage adoption on both platforms by enterprise customers.

Search integration between Azure Blob Storage and Office 365

Imagine having a massive document library of engineering drawings sitting in Windows Azure Blog Storage. Storing in Blob storage is very cheap so that has some appeal for those organizations with very large storage requirements. Alternatively, imagine having a video library being served to the internet stored in Azure.

Office 365 could, in the future, index this content as part of search and provide access to the content. Once part of the search index, we could harness search driven applications in Office 365 to build some really interesting catalogue views,

Integration of Azure Data Sources

In Power Query using Excel 2013, I can now create a power pivot model based on Azure Blog Storage, Azure SQL or Azure Table Storage. It works awesome on my laptop – however, currently Office 365 doesn’t support refreshes of external data sources.

This should be an easy win – the code to fetch the data is there in Power Query but it’s not available in Office 365.

Integration of NoSQL Data Sources into Office 365

Office 365 supports connecting to external line of business applications through WCF/SOAP based web services. It also allows for connection to a SQL Server Azure database.

However, the number of data sources in Azure is rapidly expanding to include noSQL datasources such as Hadoop, Hive, Table Storage, Blog Storage, etc. These are currently not supported.

Azure Backed High Performance Document Libraries

SharePoint 2013 has the concept of Remote Blog Storage which allows you to externalize blob storage outside the SharePoint content database. From an end user perspective, they just see a regular document library but the content is now stored somewhere else.

Metalogix has an RBS product that supports storing large files on Azure Blog Storage. However, Remote Blog Storage is currently not supported by Office 365.

This would be helpful in particular for files that are larger than 2 gigabytes, which is the current upper limit for a file upload in Office 365. It would also be helpful where there are existing repositories in Azure Blog Storage could now be surfaced and managed through Office 365.

Surfacing of Azure Monitoring in Office 365

Azure provides a really nice dashboard that allows you to monitor your infrastructure. Imagine if I could surface this dashboard in my IT department intranet running on Office 365. Imagine if I could surface a tailored version of the dashboard specific to a single department (e.g. the finance department wants to monitor their custom built finance application running on Azure).

Automate Cloud Provisioning Workflows

One of the ways we can use SharePoint workflows is for provisioning. For example, we can have a form where users might request to create a new site and have our workflow create that site in SharePoint automatically with the appropriate approvals.

Imagine we had a connector to Azure for provisioning in Office 365. Now, I could create a workflow where if you wanted a new VM, a new Azure database, a new Storage account, etc. you could have the business process workflow for approving that action running in SharePoint. On approval, the workflow would spin up the appropriate service in Azure.

Christopher Woodill

About ME

Enterprise technology leader for the past 15+ years…certified PMP, Six Sigma Black Belt and TOGAF Enterprise Architect. I collaborate with companies to help align their strategic objectives with concrete implementable technology strategies. I am Vice President, Enterprise Solutions for Klick Health.

Leave a Comment