The New Azure Hybrid Connections

(This post was originally published on Mexia’s blog on 19th June 2017)

Microsoft recently announced that Azure BizTalk Services (MABS) is officially being retired. This was no great surprise, as those who actually used this service and its VETER pipelines to build integrations were well aware that the tooling was cumbersome, the DevOps story was terrible, scalability was severely limited, and the management capabilities left much to be desired. Logic Apps and the Enterprise Integration Pack already have already far surpassed the capabilities of MABS for cloud-based integration and B2B (EDI) scenarios. However, the one really useful feature of MABS was the free Hybrid Connections capability – free because this feature never made it out of preview mode.

Image result for hybrid connection images

Hybrid Connections allowed you to easily connect your Web App or Mobile service to an on-premises resource without making any changes to your corporate network, traversing NATS, routers, firewalls etc. with a purely codeless solution. In fact, you could literally “lift & shift” your existing on-prem website to Azure and not even have to alter the connection string to your database. Moreover, it worked at the transport layer so there was no dependency on WCF or .NET. I was so intrigued by the capabilities of this service that I authored a Pluralsight course on it, as well as creating a webcast and writing several blog posts.

With the obvious signs over the past year or so that MABS was on its way out, this had us wondering what would happen to Hybrid Connections? Other non-network related technologies like Service Bus Relay and the newer On-Premises Data Gateway certainly offer some viable alternatives, but nothing that permitted the same flexibility as Hybrid Connections. Fortunately, late last year we got our answer – the new Azure Relay.

A New Offering

imageAzure Relay became generally available on 27 March 2017, less than five months after the preview was announced. This service actually is comprised of two capabilities: the WCF Relay (which is the new name of the existing Service Bus Relay), and the new version of Hybrid Connections. This version of the latter is everything that the former version was, but much more:

  • It is no longer hosted in a sunsetted technology (lives in Azure Service Bus)
  • A published API means that the capability is no longer confined to Azure Web Apps and Mobile Services
  • Reliance on web sockets means it is truly a cross-platform solution

In my Pluralsight course and in my previous webcast, I proved how easy it was to enable a single Azure hosted web site to talk to two separate on-premises resources (a web service and a SQL Server database). That capability exists in the new Hybrid Connections and can be set up in exactly the same way; a convenient downloadable manager agent can be installed in seconds which will complete the listener setup and allow you to flow messages into your network. I was easily able to recreate the same demo scenario in my webcast with the new version.

But even more compelling was the experience at using the API to build a more flexible solution, for example connecting an Azure hosted VM to an on-premises resource. Here, the supplied samples on GitHub (conveniently for both .NET and Node) really prove the extensive capabilities of this service.

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