Enterprise Microsoft Dynamics consultants and developers should sit up and pay attention to Microsoft Graph, a briefing

If you are involved in business software then Microsoft Graph is a really big deal, so sit up and pay attention! Graph is quickly becoming the all pervasive API for access/control of the Microsoft cloud products and services. This is going to encompass Azure AD, Excel, Outlook, OneDrive, OneNote, SharePoint sites/lists, Planner, machine learning, business intelligence, Dynamics ERP products, cognitive services, users, Insights, Microsoft Teams and lots more, as they are added. I have noticed Microsoft Graph being mentioned more and more, so thought it about time I briefed other technologists working in or on behalf of enterprises about its importance.


What is Microsoft Graph?

Microsoft Graph Gateway

Microsoft Graph is the API of APIs, a key enabler of next generation computing with machine learning, BI and more. It is a single consistent API endpoint that provides access to a candy store of Microsoft cloud technology. It is a robust, well designed and strictly curated API, that is encompassing access to all the progressive Microsoft applications and services in the cloud. New services and applications are being rapidly added to Microsoft Graph all the time. Both end users and independent software vendors (ISV) have a need to integrate with the new fleet of cloud products and Graph can be thought of as a menu of services and products from which you may peruse, pick and choose from. From these selections, innovative solutions to your or your customers’ business needs can be devised. Microsoft Graph is your entry point to this world. Perhaps now you can start to see how important it is to keep an eye on Microsoft Graph as it matures and evolves.

Graph is one of those cases of the sum of the whole being greater than the individual parts. Graph enables consumers of the API to segue contextually and effortlessly between related data in the Graph, examine the Microsoft Graph graphic below to get the idea.

microsoft graph showing relationships between data


Some highlights of Microsoft Graph  include:

  • Office 365 Groups
  • BI Reporting
  • OneDrive
  • File storage
  • Excel and office
  • Sharepoint sites
  • Microsoft Teams
  • Insights
  • Outlook
  • People (users)
  • Dynamics products (e.g. Dynamics endpoints (NAV) coming soon…)

Design

Access to the API is kept simple with straightforward (REST) HTTP endpoints with easy to process, familiar JSON responses, this makes it easy for different devices and platforms to consume services utilizing the API. To ensure traversal of the Graph is made easy, product teams implementing the Microsoft Graph for their product are required to; abide by strict naming conventions, versioning rules, philosophy and data typing. The result provides the consistency and quality required to enable effortless consumption of information from different facets of the Graph for single purposes.

In a session that I recently attended, the Dynamics NAV team were describing the experience of getting the NAV ERP product onto the Graph. It sounded like the Graph team expect a high standard from those wanting to be a part of it. For example there are performance targets to meet, responses to API calls within 20ms, that can be a challenge in ERP scale, breaking changes on the API between versions are certainly a no, no too!. Lets face it, the Graph team are in a position to call the shots, as a product is not a first class player on the Microsoft Platform if it is not on the Graph. Thus in the new era, for those at Microsoft, long term future of your particular product may depend on engaging with Microsoft Graph.


Leave and resume

Not only is the aim for Microsoft Graph to be central to the cloud services and products, indeed it looks like with Project Rome, this Graph also is to be central to windows operating system too. It becomes the technology used to hold state for the operating system to allow hand off between devices and instances of windows as users move between them. Thus allowing users to pick up on another devices where they left off on a previous device, no matter what the operation you were performing. It will also be the glue allows the devices to communicate instructions between each other, thus for example it could provide instructions from your laptop to your Xbox games console, binding disparate devices together. Applying these concepts to business this becomes very powerful with lots of potential. Think of typical workflows through a business and the movement of individuals in that business, but with Microsoft Graph coordinating the the information flows and performing operations on them. Talking of workflow, Microsoft Flow can be extended with the Microsoft Graph (see references). Multi-device experiences are now easily in reach of us all!


Microsoft Graph and the Enterprise

So as a end user or Microsoft Dynamics partner you may start to see how important it is to have an understanding of the Microsoft Graph! It is the key to the engine, enables integration and interaction with the Microsoft services. Business intelligence driven from cognitive services or machine learning will take on more business decision making as it matures. It will commonplace and essential due to companies striving to differentiate themselves or seeking competitive advantage, so the Graph will be critical in delivering those experiences and services to the business. ISVs will also need to develop competencies with integrating the Microsoft Graph, it will be key to developing new generation business solutions. We may see Dynamics NAV shortly becoming another part of the graph that may make it discoverable to more companies by them stumbling into using ERP while using the Graph. The distinction between products and services are bound to blur over time, leaving less distinctly defined products. It certainly brings us yet another step nearer to a world where CRM/ERP/Office/BI/Cognitive Services/Machine Learning/Office products/IoT blur together into one another now becoming a platform offering. I still see the need for “consultants” or “specialists” that can help companies navigate and translate best use of the open ended possibilities they will then be faced with into business solutions. There will also be spaces for the ISV to address verticals by adding thier own value and in other cases punch out of the graph into the “real world”. This is going to be a new shape of enterprise software solutions, keep up with the changes!


If you are a developer or interested in integrating with Graph please read on…

Extending Microsoft Graph

The Graph may also be extended by developers or technical minded users via extensions, with their own application data adding custom properties to Microsoft Graph resources without requiring an external data store. Examples are storing user profile information in the graph by extending the user resource.

  • open extensions: A good way for developers to get started.
  • Schema extensions: A more versatile mechanism for developers who care about storing typed data, making their schema discoverable and shareable, being able to filter, and in the future, being able to perform input data validation and authorization.

So it can be seen how consuming the Graph API is easy, compared to integrating with all those product APIs individually and dealing with trying to tie them together yourself. 


Getting Started

The excellent Graph developer site is here https://developer.microsoft.com/en-us/graph

It contains a wealth of information to get you started, such as samples and the explorer tool, the Graph explorer is an “in browser” tool for exploring the API.

Microsoft Graph Explorer

There are samples and SDKs available there too for different languages to get you running quickly along with plenty of documentation sections.

Microsoft Graph Samples and SDK


Note:

Graph formerly known as the Office 365 Unified API.


Reference material:

Microsoft Graph APIs: The Glue That's Starting to Stick

Build Intelligence with Microsoft Graph

Add custom data to resources using extensions

Extend Microsoft Flow with the Microsoft Graph


If you found this helpful or interesting then please comment as it helps motivate me to write more!

Visualise regular expressions with “REGEXPER”

I have just been shown this is a really cool tool (thanks Pete). Enter a regular expression into the box at the top and it will generate a visual flow diagram of what the regular expression is doing. I think this the presentation is spot on. 

The site is at https://regexper.com/

Shown below, I picked a random regular expression from the regular expression library, http://regexlib.com/ and then pasted it into the tool to see what it looked like.

Regular expression shown as a flow visual

I can see the application of this too, for quickly orientating yourself around what a regular expression written a long time ago, the intent now lost, was doing or perhaps a new one like this that has been picked up from the internet.

I can see that the tool could also be useful for finding those silly mistakes when developing expressions and finding they don’t quite do what you expected, as it will provide another view on the problem.

 

 

 

Kill hung IIS windows FTP sessions

During some integration development some FTP sessions got created with keep alive on them, but how to remove them?

List active FTP sessions in IIS

Sounds simple, but was not so easy. The live sessions are listed in IIS under the ftp site in question. Select the site in IIS and then under FTP section, there should be a FTP Current Sessions. Double click will open a window with the current sessions in it.

FtpSessions

It is possible to disconnect the sessions by right clicking them, you can restart the whole ftp site and yet the sessions will keep bouncing back, if they were set to keep alive when created.

How do we kill an active session?

To kill them Google comes up with lots of solutions for Linux and recommends the download of many different tools to do the job. Personally I don’t like installing tools on my production server, so I dug deeper, there had to be a way to do this using commands, I found there is!

List the connections using netstat

To view the sessions, open command prompt and issue the command:

netstat

netstat –ao

This will list all the sessions, look for the sessions that are of concern, the originator IP address will give them away. At the far right will be the process id for those sessions (PID). Note this for the sessions that need to go.

In our example the process on my server was PID 1672.

Kill the session using taskkill

Now we need to kill the FTP PID in windows. Use this command to do that:

pidKill

taskkill /PID 1672 /F /T

Where the command switches are F= Force and T=Terminate and 1672 is the process ID on your server that you obtained earlier from the netstat command.

Check back in the FTP sessions window and the sessions should be gone forever.

I hope this was useful to you, do comment if it was!

Visual Studio menu font size stuck after presenter mode

Presenter mode in visual studio (accessed via the quick launch at top right), allows VS to switch into a larger font layout, ideal for LCD projector presentations.

Presenter Mode Visual Studio

Whilst I had this mode on I had a crash in visual studio and had messed with other settings One of these meant that when I switched presenter mode off, it was no longer taking the font size of the Visual Studio menus back down to normal. Although for a couple of days I lived with the large fonts, I finally looked at it today. Get yourself to the following Visual Studio

Tools>>Options>>Environment>>Fonts and Colors *US spelling

or type fonts into the quick launch, quick launch is really helpful for these kind of things…

Quick Launch - To Find Fonts and Colors

Now in the options window use the drop down to to select Environment, followed by clicking the “Use Defaults” button. When the overall window is “OKed”, then Visual Studio will return to normal, this same procedure can also be used to correct any of the other options in the drop down box.

Font Settings set Environment & click Use Defaults

After doing this, presenter mode on/off works again as expected.

More about presenter mode

.NET Power Tip 6: Presenting in Visual Studio (Presentation Mode & ToolBox Snippets)

6 Quick Tips for Presenting Code in Visual Studio