When Microsoft announced one year ago that XRM would become CDS v2.0 (officially Common Data Service for Apps), there wasn’t yet any big system redesign implemented to make this a physical reality. Today we are much further down that road where CDS truly becomes a Service that has less and less to do with the familiar XRM databases that we’ve previously been working with. In this blog post I’ll explore the three data related dimensions that give us an indication of where CDS is heading as a part of the Microsoft Power Platform.
Dynamics 365 Storage Model Changes
As a part of the April 2019 release train, MS is changing the way how data storage is managed for both Dynamics 365 and PowerApps customers. It hasn’t been an official feature bullet on the release notes document, but that doesn’t mean its significance would be any less than what the shiny apps demonstrated in the April 2nd Virtual Launch event have.
A new version of licensing guides for Dynamics 365 and also for PowerApps and Flow (for the first time ever!) was released in April. This outlines the commercial impact of the new model to customers, which is probably what most of us will have first paid attention to. Yeah, whenever the pricing mechanism of a widely used MS cloud service changes, it will be a big deal. What makes it even trickier is that MS considers storage as a “subscription add-on” for which they don’t publicly disclose any per GB list prices. I’m not entirely sure this model is beneficial for their ambitions of turning Power Platform into an actual foundation for building third party and customer specific apps, but I guess the shadow of the old CRM and ERP world still looms above this world when it comes to licensing and pricing practices.
Let’s forget licensing for a moment and focus on the technical changes for Dynamics 365 online environments. All of the existing data that used to be stored in the Azure SQL relational database will in the future be divided into three specific storage types: database, file, log. This should have no immediate impact to customers, as the migration will be taken care of by MS. Their promise is that nothing should change in the way how users and developers work with data, since the APIs that govern access to this data will remain unaffected.
File data will be in Azure blob storage, as this is the most efficient way to handle miscellaneous documents, images and other “stuff” that may end up inside a typical Dynamics 365 system via features like email tracking that carries over the attachments. Why would you ever store this in a relational SQL database to begin with? Well, the simple reason is that the original on-prem architecture of XRM had no other secure place to put these items, so it was all lumped up there. Now when CDS is a native cloud service, there are much more options available.
Log data will be in Cosmos DB. This will probably offer a more suitable architecture for managing things like plugin trace logs, audit data and other items of similar nature. What should be noted is that Microsoft’s plans don’t just stop at this IT admin activities level. In a recent podcast by MVP Mark Smith, we heard the General Manager of Power Platform, Charles Lamanna, describe this storage type to be designed as the future place for other types of observational data, too. Charles referred to things like IoT device sensor data, which should give you an idea of how this again is data that is A) relevant to many CRM use cases and B) in no way optimal to be stored inside that relational XRM database.
One significant and very welcome change that is introduced as a part of this new model is that there will no longer be any license cost tied to the number of instances you have in the cloud. Previously you had to buy add-on licenses for acquiring production and non-production (sandbox) instances for developing, testing, training and in general managing your complex Dynamics 365 online environment. Once the new subscription terms kick in, you’ll have the ability to create as many instances as you like, provided that you have sufficient database capacity available. A major driver behind this change is surely the PowerApps side, in which the licensing terms already granted any user with PowerApps P2 license to create 2 CDS environments for their applications. (For more details, see my presentation on Demystifying Dynamics 365 & Power Platform licensing.)
In the short term, this storage model change should not result in much functional changes for the Dynamics 365 customers. Depending on when your current subscription renewal date is, the new terms will be applied either at that point in time or the renewal after that (if you choose to hold on to the old model for one more subscription period). Any new customer will likely be leveraging the new pricing model starting from April 2019.
It’s important to understand that the actual data storage technology change and the commercial terms that are applied are not tied to one another. Migration of your Dynamics 365 data to the new database/file/log model will probably take place much sooner than what you’ll see in your subscription fees. Refer to the admin documentation on Common Data Service storage capacity for details on how you’ll be able to analyze and manage your storage consumption in this new model.
Diving Into The Data Lake
When looked at purely from the storage license model changes for Dynamics 365 customers, the story would end here, with the three storage types. However, the bigger picture of how data is used as a part of the Customer Engagement systems that cover various digital touchpoints is much broader. Or should I say “bigger” as in Big Data? As much as I dislike the casual use of tech marketing hype terms like Big Data and Artificial Intelligence, there’s no escaping the fact that the familiar world of CRM systems founded on SQL databases is being disrupted by what machine learning models and big data systems can offer today.[Read more…]