Where is Azure in the Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013 release?

Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013 launched in October without the promised Azure hosting. Will Azure be in Dynamics' future?

When Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013 was released by Microsoft on Oct. 1, it was rolled out without Azure hosting as expected.

Why didn't the software giant enable the public release of Dynamics NAV 2013 to run on Azure -- even though Azure hosting was included in the beta release -- and what does that mean for the other Microsoft Dynamics ERP packages?

"We were anticipating with that release -- there was talk of having the Azure solution available as well, but I don't know if it was ever promised for that date," said Marc DiGiorgio, vice president at JustFoodERP, which is powered by Microsoft Dynamics NAV. "I think we were all intending to see something mid-calendar-year 2013. I don't think they were ever that definite about having the Azure platform. I don't think anybody in the channel [was] expecting to see it in the October release of the product."

JustFoodERP was planning for a mid-2013 release date for Dynamics NAV 2013 to be hosted on Azure, DiGiorgio said. "It's really no big deal," he said. "We have been working with hosting partners for years now. We might even prefer to continue with hosting partners, frankly, because you get a bit more service. It's a bit more of a made-to-measure suit for our customers. You get a different hosting experience when you work with a hosting provider. It's probably going to be our continued approach anyway."

But Data Masons Software Inc., another Microsoft partner, was under the impression that Azure deployment would be available with the recently released Dynamics NAV 2013. "With a planned Q4 calendar year 2012 general availability date, and an expected May, 2012 beta release, NAV 2013 will be the first Dynamics ERP solution to be cloud-enabled for Windows Azure," according to a March 21 Data Masons blog post.

Azure compatibility a work in progress for Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013

For its part, Microsoft said it was committed to providing a great customer and partner experience running Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013 on Azure -- just not right now. "We decided to take some extra time to on-board the first live customers, fine-tune usage scenarios, and develop further guidance and next steps for our customers and partners," the Microsoft Dynamics ERP team said in an email.

Microsoft was committed to giving customers the choice of deploying their ERP solutions on-premises or in the cloud, the team said. "We just released Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013, which is available both on-premises and in the cloud via partner-hosted offerings," according to the email. "We will have additional information to share about cloud deployment scenarios for Microsoft Dynamics GP 2013 when that product launches in December 2012."

Apparently, though, the Microsoft India team didn't get the memo that Dynamics NAV was not offered as a hosted solution on Azure. "Microsoft today launched enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution, Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013, a comprehensive business management solution for small and midsize businesses," according to an Oct. 3 press release. "It is the first Microsoft Dynamics ERP solution for Windows Azure giving customers the choice to move to the cloud on their own terms."

Rob Helm, analyst at Directions on Microsoft, said he was expecting Dynamics NAV 2013 to be available on Azure by the end of 2012. "I think we all were," he said. "So, it's fallen out into the first quarter of 2013, which isn't a huge delay, given that the software has just come out. I think a key [issue] that the Dynamics group has discovered is performance. It's not that things perform badly on Azure necessarily, but that they perform differently. So, they may have had to take more time to [fine-tune] it."

For example, Helm said, some things that might have short delays -- like communicating with the database in an on-premises situation -- can have long delays on Windows Azure, which means an application just behaves differently. "I don't know for sure, but this is what they have seen on other apps running Azure," he said. "Azure is not Windows in the cloud. It's a different environment. It's superior in a lot of ways, but an app built for Windows needs to be re-tuned to run on Azure."

Azure hosting in Microsoft Dynamics ERP facing hurdles

Another potential issue might be that Dynamics NAV was written for a particular kind of IT environment, probably a small shop, and now it's being put into a cloud data center where major components could be many network hops away from each other, Helm said. "It's just in terms of how much time it takes for the various parts to communicate with each other, like the application to the database and so on," he said. "It seems like the big value that NAV on Azure can deliver is making it faster to bring up NAV to other partners. But to deliver on that promise, Microsoft also has to get the partners trained and resources in place [including] the tools and so on for implementing NAV on Azure."

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Although some industry observers thought part of the problem was that the Dynamics NAV architecture didn't support multi-tenancy, either in Azure or in a partner-hosted environment, others, like DiGiorgio and Helm, disagreed.

"My understanding with the Azure platform is that there is always going to be single tenancy, and in fact that would be the only way to go, in my perspective, for ERP anyway," DiGiorgio said. "They are going to use virtualization to get the multi-tenancy on the server. I think for ERP, especially with NAV, that's the preferred approach. It allows them to get the ample number of customers on one piece of hardware, and it preserves the security and the independence from another customer."

Helm agreed with DiGiorgio, saying he never saw multi-tenancy as an issue for Dynamics NAV. "My understanding was that Microsoft was intending Azure to be used by partners to set up individual instances of NAV for individual customers," he said. "I didn't get the impression that Microsoft was intending to build a multi-instance or multi-tenant application to run on Azure for NAV."

One Microsoft partner who asked not to be identified was a bit more pointed in his comments. "Microsoft is struggling with ERP and Azure -- technically," he said. "But I can't tell you why, and nobody over there can either. And there has been no communication to partners about the cost to run Azure. I think Microsoft is still trying to figure out what the cost is to partners like us. But if you ask anyone in the Azure team, they just button up and are as quiet as can be, and you can't get anything out of them."

The partner doesn't think the Azure team and the Dynamics ERP team are currently able to make Dynamics NAV and Dynamics GP work effectively on Azure. "I could be wrong and they could bust it out tomorrow, but nobody's talking over there, which always tells me that the [stuff] hit the fan and things haven't been figured out yet," he said. "At Convergence in March, [Microsoft] said it would run GP and NAV on Azure. [My response was:] 'What?' I had just recently talked to the development team, and they said there was no way GP was going to run on Azure. As far as I'm concerned, it was a marketing ploy; the product does not run on Azure."

The partner said Dynamics NAV, however, was further along in its ability to run on Azure than Dynamics GP. "Now NAV works slightly differently, so if there is a product that will come out on Azure first, it will be NAV, but [Microsoft] was saying it still has issues as of the NAV Directions conference," he said. "We're all baffled. And you can just tell when they don't know what they’re doing. You know when they have issues. I'm sure there are heads rolling over there right now. It's been one big [mess]."

Microsoft's plans for cloud future of Dynamics ERP

"We are committed to providing a great customer and partner experience running NAV and GP on Azure and as such, we decided to take the extra time needed to onboard the first live customers, fine-tune usage scenarios, and develop further guidance," the Dynamics ERP team said in an email.

Helm's opinion on this matter is that after Dynamics NAV shows up on Azure, Dynamics GP will follow sometime in 2013 -- but not so for Dynamics AX. "There probably will not be a cloud release of Dynamics AX in 2013," he said. "Overall for AX, I think Microsoft's goal is not to deliver all of AX in the cloud with its first cloud launch. Microsoft has talked about what is called the 'workloads strategy,' where it might deliver AX for a specific business process, then gradually build out what you can do with AX in the cloud."

"That doesn't rule out AX on Azure coming out before 2014, but that's not what I understand is being planned," Helms added.

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