Microsoft Dynamics in Azure | Should you move your NAV instance to the cloud?

By Rob Jolliffe | March 2, 2021
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Microsoft Dynamics NAV has a long history as an ERP system and is used by over 100,000 companies world wide. Since the release of version 2013 of Dynamics NAV, it has also been designed to run in the cloud. In fact, Sabre has been helping customers run Dynamics NAV in Azure since 2014. Today businesses are thinking hard about changing their ERP system to support remote workers. The benefits of moving to a cloud model are fairly easy to understand, especially in 2021.

5 Reasons to run Dynamics NAV in Azure

I wrote an article for Sabre's sister company, Microage Kitchener on the cost benefits of an IT Cloud Migration. That article isn't specifically about ERP, so let’s look at the same 5 reasons but from a Dynamics NAV in Azure point of view.

  1. Scalability:
    Dynamics NAV can be costly to move to new servers. Being on Azure allows you to resize servers as your system needs grow. Using either Azure SQL or a cloud SQL infrastructure server for your databases gives you great choice. The Microsoft Dynamics in Azure environment can be adjusted dynamically to handle your growing needs.
  2. Affordability:
    Azure is definitely affordable when you use the data center model that we use at Sabre. The MicroAge article talks about this from the general IT point of view, but Sabre's taken this a step further with our own SQL Back end and multi-tenant NAV servers. Our NAV hosting is affordable and fully managed by our team.
  3. Accessibility:
    As I say in the other article, Azure is up 24/7. Microsoft engineers and technicians monitor the hardware infrastructure in real time. If a hard drive is starting to fail, your server is moved to a new set of drives automatically. You can always access it.  When your distributed team needs access, there's virtually no chance it will be down.
  4. Setup Ease:
    Sabre are experts with Dynamics NAV, and we are particularly good with customers who need flexibility in the hosting. We handle the setup and ongoing maintenance of our customers' Azure servers when they choose us to run Dynamics NAV in Azure.
  5. Choice:
    Azure offers the choice to run your NAV in the Azure SQL back end, or on a stand along SQL Server. Sabre can migrate even older versions of Dynamics NAV to the cloud for you. You can save money by running on a server with other tenants, or get your own dedicated server.

Dynamics NAV as a Cloud ERP

I have argued that just running an ERP in the cloud does not make it a cloud ERP. That is totally true.

But Dynamics NAV is a cloud ERP, at least the newer versions of it. Starting in about version 2016, Microsoft added phone, tablet and web clients to Dynamics NAV. From version 2013 (but much improved in 2013R2) NAV published a robust web services model (sometimes called a Service Oriented Architecture). These are features that make NAV a cloud architected ERP.

The ability to subscribe to an ERP system is not what makes it cloud. Neither does the vendor hosting it. Cloud ERP offers features that traditional ERP does not, and NAV has most of the trappings of a true cloud system. The one big thing that it lacks is the Appsource store.

This allows a business that runs Dynamics NAV in Azure to benefit from those cloud software features. Is it as complete as Business Central? Of course not. Business Central is basically NAV taken to the next level of cloud capabilities.

Microsoft Dynamics in Azure Cloud

Running Microsoft Dynamics in Azure vs Upgrading to Business Central

Microsoft Dynamics NAV is an integrated business management ERP software that has been owned by Microsoft since 2001. Sabre regularly deploys it on the Microsoft Azure Infrastructure as a hosted NAV offering. Most of our customers are ones to whom we sold their Dynamics NAV system. Some are customers who came to us because they were looking for a better solution and their existing partner could not offer it.

When we speak to new customers, the big question is "should I not just upgrade to Business Central to get to the cloud?" The answer is that it depends. There are a few things that customers should be aware of when considering upgrading their Dynamics NAV system to Business Central and immediately going into the cloud.

Remember that all Microsoft cloud hosting is really Microsoft Dynamics in Azure.

  1. Noisy Neighbors:
    There is a commonly known issue that occurs in all cloud software, commonly referred to as noisy neighbors. These are other tenants on your shared environment in the cloud that will drag you down.
  2. Customization Compatibility:
    A lot of Dynamics NAV businesses have a lot of custom code, and use some ISV solutions that might not be compatible with Business Central in the cloud. In addition, in some cases we need access to the SQL Database for integrations - and there is no access to the SQL Database with Business Central in the Microsoft Cloud.
  3. Upgrade Control:
    A lot of NAV customers want to control their own upgrade cycle, and with Business Central you really have no choice. BC is upgraded when Microsoft decides to do it. You can delay it, but not indefinitely. If you want to freeze your version to prevent undesired changes to the system, you need to run Dynamics NAV in Azure (or on your own hardware).

Let's look at these one by one.

Noisy Neighbors

Some businesses need to run Dynamics NAV in Azure because the Business Central cloud just can't support their needs. Business Central in the cloud is meant for companies with generally low transaction volume. Big companies that need more resources and power than Business Central cloud can offer are stuck. As yet there is no private tenant option, so until it is made available, Microsoft Dynamics in Azure is the only choice.

Small businesses that are running Business Central in the cloud generally don't put a lot of demands on the system. They use the software intermittently, and in general a small slow down because a neighboring tenant is running a big report doesn't impact them. If you are a larger customer, with a fairly substantial amount of data entry - this can be a big problem. You can find your system being badly impacted by these users. Microsoft allows Business Central to be run "on-premise" specifically to let customers get away from these users.

Running Dynamics NAV in Azure will really help with this. It will give you the ability to scale up and down as you need. You have a lot more fine-tuned control over the resources allocated, and can adjust if performance needs to be adjusted.

Customization Compatabilty

A lot of businesses have built really customized features into their Dynamics NAV system. They have also integrated ISV products that might not support Business Central.

Even more critical are those customers with integrations into the SQL Database. This is a huge problem for many businesses. The 3rd party products they integrate with are critical for the business. If you don't have access to the underlying database, you can't run those products. Having Dynamics NAV in Azure can really help with this. In Azure, the SQL Database is still accessible. In fact, it can be made available over a VPN or VLAN so that you an have on-premise systems that still access it.

When you have a situation where older versions of C/AL code or .NET programming needs to be used, you really have no choice if you want to be in the cloud. You need to run Dynamics NAV in Azure in those cases.

Upgrade Control

Last but not least, we come to the issue of upgrades.

  • One of the huge advantages of running Business Central cloud is that Microsoft upgrades it every six months.
  • One of the huge disadvantages of running Business Central in the cloud is that Microsoft upgrades it every six months.

This may seem a little funny, but it is a serious issue. Running Dynamics NAV in Azure eliminates this problem, as the upgrades are controlled by Sabre and you. Some customers need or want to run older versions of NAV or Business Central. We have every version of NAV hosted in our Cloud infrastructure from 2015 to Business Central 14.

So long as customers want to keep Dynamics NAV in Azure, we will help them do so.

Conclusion

There are good reasons to host Dynamics NAV in Azure, whether that's older versions like 2015 to 2018, or newer Business Central versions. Some customers need to do this because the Business Central system doesn't offer private tenants and dedicated resources. Some customers because they need older versions or direct access to SQL to use addons and integrations. Some customers need their Dynamics NAV in Azure to prevent the constant changes of unpredictable upgrades.

We have been working with customers' Dynamics NAV databases in our Sabre Dynamics Azure datacenter for over 7 years. If you are interested in our help upgrading your systems to Business Central or you need help hosting an older Dynamics NAV in Azure, give us a call at: (519) 585-7524 x.45 or contact our team, we're excited to talk with you!

Rob Jolliffe

Robert has been an ERP consultant in the Manufacturing space for over 25 years, starting immediately after graduating University of Toronto Engineering. In addition to a deep knowledge of Manufacturing (including teaching MRP at the Supply Chain program at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada) Robert holds a Microsoft Systems Engineer designation and is much less of an expert in Networking and IT infrastructure than he thinks, but is still pretty good. He also has applied his engineering skills to learning programming, and is warned frequently by the professional developers who work for him that he is pretty good, but don't write any code for customers without letting them check it.

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