Moving applications to the cloud: Part 3 – The recommended solution

We illustrated Idelma’s case study in the last article. This article continues from where we left off, looking at how a partner, Ovissia, would provide a recommended solution. Just as a reminder, Idelma had some specific requirements for migration including: cost-effectiveness, no functional changes for the user, and the proprietary CRM system stays on-premise.

Having analyzed the challenges Idelma faces and the requirements it mentioned, Ovissia’s presales architect Brandon gets back to Idelma with the answers. In fact, some of the migration techniques are referenced from the first post in this series.

Cloud Architecture

TicketOnline Cloud Architecture

Figure 1 – TicketOnline Cloud Architecture

Above is the recommended cloud architecture diagram when moving TicketOnline to the cloud. As can be seen from the figure, some portions of the system will remain similar to the on-premise architecture, while others shift towards the cloud-centric architecture.

Let’s take a look at each component in more detail.

1. Migrating a SQL Server 2005 database to SQL Azure

SQL Azure is cloud-based database service built on SQL Server technologies. In fact, at the moment,the most similar version of SQL Azure is SQL Server 2008.

There are several ways to migrate SQL Server to SQL Azure. One of the simplest ways is to use “Generate and Publish Scripts” wizard from SQL Server 2008 R2 / 2012 Management Studio.

Generate Scripts Wizard

Figure 2 – SQL Server Management Studio 2008 R2 (Generate Scripts Wizard)

Another option is to use third party tool such as SQL Azure Migration Wizard.

After the database has been successfully migrated to SQL Azure,connecting to it from the application is as straightforward as changing the connection string.

2. Relaying on-premise WCF Service using Windows Azure Service Bus

One of Idelma’s requirements states that the CRM web service must remain on-premise and also must be consumed securely. To satisfy this, Ovissia recommends using Windows Azure Service Bus which provides messaging and relay capability across multiple network hierarchies. With the relay capability and secured by Access Control Service, it enables the hybrid model scenario such that the TicketOnline web application is able to securely connect back to the on-premise CRM Service.

2.1 Converting ASMX to WCF

Despite its powerful capability, Service Bus requires WCF Service instead of asmx web service. Thus, the current asmx web service should be converted to WCF Service. MSDN library provides a walkthrough on migrating ASMX Web Service to WCF.

3. Converting to Web Role

Windows Azure Web Role is used to host web applications running on Windows Azure. Therefore, it is an ideal component to host the TicketOnline web application. Hosting on Windows Azure Web Role requires an ASP.NET web application, not an ASP.NET website. Please refer to this documentation for the difference between the two. The MSDN library also provides a detailed walkthrough on how to convert a web site to web application in Visual Studio.

When the website has been converted to a web application project, it is one step closer to the Web Role. In fact, there are only three differences between the two as can be seen on the following figures.

Web Role vs ASP.Net Web Application

Figure 3 – Differences between Web Role VS ASP.NET Web Application (Windows Azure Platform Training Kit – BuildingASPNETApps.pptx, slide 7)

4. Converting Windows Service Batch Job to Windows Azure Worker Role

Running Windows Service on Windows Azure can be pretty challenging. In fact, Windows Service is not available out-of-the-box on Windows Azure. The recommended approach is to convert the Windows Service to a Windows Azure Worker Role. You may refer to section 3 of the first article in this series for further explanation.

5. Conventional File System to Windows Azure Blob Storage

Idelma uses a conventional file server to store documents and images. When moving the application to Windows Azure, the ideal option is to store them in Windows Azure Storage, particularly Blob Storage. Not only is it cost-effective, but Windows Azure Storage also provides highly available and scalable storage services.

However, migrating from a conventional file system to Blob storage requires some effort:

  • First, the API – the way the application accesses Blob Storage. For a .NET application, Windows Azure provides a Storage Client Library for .NET which enables .NET developers to access Windows Azure Storage easily.
  • Second, migrating existing files – this can be done through explorer tools such as Cloud Xplorer or Cloud Storage Studio.

6. Configuration changes

Today, many applications (including TicketOnline) store settings such as application configuration and connection string in .config files (app.config / web.config). We know that the .config file is stored in an individual virtual machine (VM), but storing those settings in a .config file has a drawback. If you need to apply any changes to the settings, a re-deployment is required.

In the cloud, the recommended solution is to store the settings in an accessible and centralized medium such as a database. But if we just need to store the key-value pair setting, ServiceConfiguration.cscfg is actually a good choice. Changing settings in ServiceConfiguration.cscfg does not require a re-deployment and each VM will always get the latest updated settings.

There’s effort little bit of work to do when changing the setting from .config to ServiceConfiguration.cscfg. The following snippet shows the difference between the two.

string settingFromConfigFiles = ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["name"].ToString();
//getting setting from .config files

string settingFromAzureConfig = RoleEnvironment.GetConfigurationSettingValue("name").ToString();
//getting setting from ServiceConfiguration.cscfg

7. Sending Email on Windows Azure

The current architecture shows that email is sent through on-premise SMTP. If there is a requirement to continue using on-premise SMTP to send email, we could either propose to use a similar relay technique using Service Bus or use Windows Azure Connect to group cloud VMs and on-premise SMTP together.

Another option is to use a third-party SMTP provider. Recently, Microsoft has partnered withSendGrid to provide a special offer to Windows Azure subscribers for 25,000 free emails per month. This serves as a value-added service by Windows Azure without any extra charges.

8. Logging on the Cloud

Currently, TicketOnline stores the logs in a database. Although this works well with a SQL Azure database, it may not be the most cost-effective option as SQL Azure chargesapproximately $ 10 per GB per month. Over the time, the log will grow more and more, and might result in high running costs for the customer.

Remember, a workable solution is not enough; the solution should be cost-effective as well.

Windows Azure Storage is another option to store diagnostic data and logs. In fact, Windows Azure Diagnostic makes Windows Azure Storage the best option to store logs and diagnostic information. More details on Windows Azure Diagnostic can be found in section 4 of the first article in this series.

Conclusion

To conclude, this article provides a recommended solution to answer the challenges that Idelma face. You can see the difference between the on-premise and cloud architecture. This article also explains various components of the proposed solution.

Of course, this is not the only available solution as there may be other variations. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and there are always trade-offs among solutions. Finally, I hope this series on Moving Applications to the Cloud brings you some insight, especially for those who are considering moving applications to the cloud.

This post was also published at A Cloud Place blog.

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