Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central is a cloud-based Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) application delivered with the Software as a Service (SaaS) model through Cloud Solution Provider (CSP) certified partners.
It is part of the Microsoft Dynamics 365 suite (the Microsoft proposition for a new generation of intelligent and integrated business applications) that includes in its portfolio Customer RelationshipManagement (CRM) and ERPsoftware.
In this chapter, we will cover the following topics:
- What Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central is, what functional areas it covers, and its prices
- A history of the Microsoft ERP offering evolution for small to medium-sized businesses, (SMB) in the cloud
- An overview of Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central architecture
- On-premises versus SaaS-based deployments
Here is some information regarding the ERP cloud-based version:
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central: This targets small to medium-sized businesses. The product has a solid and strong Microsoft Azure footprint. Its application and some core technologies come from a streamlined evolution of Microsoft Dynamics NAV. This has been a well-known market leader in the SMB ERP software segment for the last 30 years.
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Financials & Operations: This targets enterprise businesses. It represents the transformation equivalent of another historical Microsoft product: Microsoft Dynamics AX.
CRM cloud-based and specific ERP modules offer the following:
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Customer Service
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Field Service
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Project Automation
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Retail
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Talent
- Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Marketing
For each of these products, Microsoft providespartner and customer full official documentation at the following link: https://dynamics.microsoft.com/.
To subscribe to a fast setup of Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, start with the trial version; everyone around the world simply needs a suitable work email linked to an Office 365 subscription and a phone number. Just follow this link: https://trials.dynamics.com/Dynamics365/Signup/BusinessCentral.
While trials are open to everyone, when the trial period ends, the product needs to be purchased. Customer official licensing is assigned exclusively through Microsoft partners that are credited and certified by the CSP program.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central delivers out-of-the-box functionalities in modules with a fixed price per month, per user licence model. The SaaS version is quite simple, and there are basically two licence types of user choices, with different capabilities:
- ESSENTIALS (currently from $70 per month):
- Financial management
- Customer-relationship management
- Project management
- Supply-chain management
- Human-resource management
- Warehouse management
- PREMIUM (currently from $100 per month):
- All included in ESSENTIALS
- Service management
More details about licensing types and their benefits are described in the official Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central Licensing Guide: https://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=871590&clcid=0x409.
Once you get started with your trial or production version, you will be offered a productive, intuitive, and user-friendly web client interface:
Web client interface
- Microsoft Edge
- Internet Explorer 11 or higher
- Google Chrome 61.0 for Windows or higher
- Mozilla Firefox 55.0 for Windows or higher
- Safari 10.0 for macOS or higher
While the best experience is offered by the latest Microsoft technologies (Microsoft Edge), Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central can also be deployed to almost every device, such as tablets or phones, by downloading an app (technically known as a universal app) from the main marketplaces: Windows Store, Google Play, and Apple Store (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics365/business-central/install-mobile-app):
Different devices where Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central can be deployed
Currently, Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central is localized and released in the following countries:
- United States
- United Kingdom
- New Zealand
In the fall of 2018, it will also be localized and available in these countries:
Since the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central July 2018 update, it is also possible for partners to create their own localized versions, starting from the worldwide standard application base (called W1) and distributed as an app through the Microsoft Dynamics 365 marketplace called AppSource. For more informations, you can check the following link:
The first two countries being localized externally by partner through extension (the new programming model that we'll see in this book), available through AppSource, are the following ones:
- United Arab Emirates (UAE)
- South Africa
- South Korea
Here you can see an example of the South Korea localization:
Many more localized versions have been announced to be released as extensions (SaaSified) from the partner channel in fall 2018 update.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central is the evolved form of Microsoft Dynamics NAV (formerly known as Navision). This is a worldwide ERP market-leading product in the SMB segment.In this paragraph, we will explore the timeline of this product, focusing on its latest releases as well as its cloud journey:
- 1983: The native company (PC & C A/S) was founded in 1983. Navision ERP solution was released in 1987 and had an exponential technical evolution that culminated in the 1995 Microsoft Windows version release. This release consisted of a greatly improved platform.
- 2002: The astonishing evolution of Navision—both in terms of application module add-ons and technology enrichment - led Microsoft to finalize the acquisition of Navision and its channel in 2002. This was one of the most prolific technological marriages of the 21st century. Later, this converged as a unified business, offering a stack called Microsoft Dynamics.
- 2007: During this year, Navision changed its name to Microsoft Dynamics NAV.
During the on-premises ERP boom, Microsoft Dynamics offered a complete business suite. This was targeted at all needs and fully covered the requirements of enterprise (Microsoft Dynamics AX), SMB (Microsoft Dynamics NAV) ERP application, and CRM (Microsoft Dynamics CRM).
- October 2008: The Microsoft Dynamics NAV development team changed the old two-tier client–server technology in favor of a more scalable and performant three-tier technology. This change isolated main business logic, executed through a Windows Communication Framework (WCF) service called Microsoft Dynamics NAV Server, from a data tier to a client tier.
- November 2012: With Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013, the old C++ Classic Client was deprecated, relegating it to development purposes only. It completed its transformation into a fully memory managed stack based on a solid 64-bit WCF service that operated with both a WinForm based Windows Client and a brand new ASP.NET Web Client. This unleashed the potential of all native .NET Framework based Microsoft technologies and their versatile and flexible implementations and integrations.
- November 2013: The cloud journey of Microsoft Dynamics NAV reached its very first milestone with the release of Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013 R2. With the support of Infrastructure as a Service's (IaaS) deployment in Microsoft Azure Virtual Machines (VMs), Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013 R2 was equipped with an entire set of Windows PowerShell scripts called Microsoft Dynamics NAVProvisioning Tools. These tools were designed to completely manage the deployment, configuration and setup for Microsoft Dynamics NAV on Microsoft Azure.
Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2013 R2 was also referred to as the first version to support multitenancy, typically used in private or public hosting environments where a single WCF service could work on several data tenants bound to the same application.
Worldwide interest in all kinds of enterprises for cloud-based deployment led the Microsoft Dynamics stack to quickly evolve and embrace this type of deployment.
- November 2014: At this point, Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2015 supports the Microsoft Azure SQL database. This is an enhanced web client experience and a brand new universal app targeted at tablet devices, and downloadable from the most well-known marketplaces, including the Windows Store, Google Play, and the Apple store.
From that time, many customers dropped their local infrastructure in favor of a cloud-based one. Today, Microsoft Dynamics NAV partners use Microsoft Azure as the hosting environment for their own portfolios.
Microsoft recognized this as just the first (r)evolutionary step in the modernization and transformation of the cloud product.
This was the first version to implement event publishing and subscription as well as being able to isolate custom development into modules, leading to a zero footprint change in the standard base application code. The official release of this version was not only capable of isolating custom code changes, but it could also create seamless packages called extensions. These extensions were designed to improve the application experience at runtime. Extensions can be installed, published, unpublished, and uninstalled like any modern app you may have on your phone or any other connected device; the logic behind all of these factors is the same.
Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2016 was also a game-changing version in terms of deployment types.
Universal apps in marketplaces and stores were updated to support both tablet and phone devices, leading to a full immersive user experience in the most widely used devices in the world.
Microsoft Dynamics NAV can now be deployed in Windows OS-based PCs with a fully fledged windows client. It can also be accessed through a web browser as a web client, or even installed and used in tablets or phones as an app.
The cloud version of Microsoft Dynamics NAV was also a game-changer.
Microsoft Dynamics NAV was also offered as a Platform as a Service (PaaS) solution to its partners. The Microsoft Dynamics NAV PaaS offering was named Managed Service for Partners (MSfP). More information can be found here: https://mbs.microsoft.com/partnersource/global/sales-marketing/marketing-collateral/messaging-frameworks/NAVmanagedservice.
MSfP is accessed through a secure web portal based on Microsoft Dynamics NAV web client. Here, selected partners can develop their private Intellectual Property (IP) customizations on premises. When modifications are certified and committed, the database that contains the customizations is split into an application tier and a data tier. Furthermore, two different bacpacs (Microsoft Azure SQL backup) are uploaded into the MSfP portal, creating the main branch for that specific customer, also known as the main or first application version.
MSfP portal is equipped with several pages and actions that allow the user to create an entire cloud-based infrastructure deployment with both a web client and a windows client offering for end users:
Microsoft Dynamics NAV- Management Portal
With just a couple of clicks, an entire Microsoft Dynamics NAV infrastructure can be created from scratch. Users will then receive a (customizable) welcome email containing links for connecting to the Microsoft Dynamics NAV web client from any device. They will also be given a link to automatically download and install Microsoft Dynamics NAV windows client through ClickOnce-based technology.
Tenant databases are periodically moved to an upgraded application service from one that has a specific Microsoft Dynamics NAV platformCumulative Update(CU) applied. This typically happens around every three months.
At the moment, customers who started with Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2016 are now happily running Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2018 with the latest CU applied, both technically and at application level.
- April 2016: Here, Microsoft announced Project Madeira: the nickname for another branch of the Microsoft Dynamics NAV application. This was mainly intended to be used by accountants through web client access and sold directly or through CSP partners under the SaaS formula. The infrastructure was clearly an evolution of the PaaS structure, as the application starts its own metamorphosis and changes to accommodate a more simple and user-friendly experience.
Project Madeira only supported the essential and simplified basic financial part of the Microsoft Dynamics NAV application, completely excluding service and manufacturing features.
- November 2016: Project Madeira was officially renamed as Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Financials and GA in the United States and Canada only. At the same time, on-premise Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2017 was released.
- April 2017: Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Financials again changed its name to Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Financials and Operations: Business Edition. Together with United States and Canada, it wasalso localized and released in the United Kingdom.
- November 2017: In November 2017, the Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2018 on-premises version was released with hybrid development. This included the old legacy CSIDE development environment as well as a new language and modern development environment which was deployed through an extension for Visual Studio Code (
.vsix). This hybrid development intended to accelerate the transition from the current traditional customization paradigm into the modern extensibility concept. Creating an extension is currently the only development model for SaaS-based deployments.
- April 2018: Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central is GA in 14 countries. It was also presented as the evolution of the Microsoft Dynamics NAV software which was predicted to have a bright future in the cloud.
All Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Financials and Operations: Business Edition tenants are now moved to Business Central, and the term is officially archived and deprecated by Microsoft. Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central is the equivalent of a fully-fledged Microsoft Dynamics NAV web client application but it is distributed as a SaaS offering through CSP partners.
Furthermore, AppSource is now the marketplace where Independent Software Vendors (ISVs), Value Added Resellers (VARs) and credited partners submit certified app extensions that can be published and installed by partners and customers in order to enrich the application. AppSource is also the gathering point used to promote partner consultant services. More information can be found here: https://appsource.microsoft.com/en-us/marketplace/apps?page=1&product=dynamics-365-business-central.
- Fall 2018: The next appointment in this exciting cloud evolution is set to be November 2018. This will be the release of the Dynamics 365 Business Central enhanced fall update and also the release of the on-premise Dynamics 365 Business Central version. To find out more about the Fall 2018 update, please visit this address: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/business-applications-release-notes/October18/dynamics365-business-central/.
Multi tenancy is the key technology that makes Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central very flexible and scalable. Wrapped around multi tenancy, there are several of the latest Microsoft Azure-featured technologies that provide support for different logical software layers (tiers).
Since the Microsoft Corporation is committed to and focused on being the worldwide leader in cloud technologies, expect Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central to change and evolve quickly in its architecture design, as did its glorious predecessor Microsoft Dynamics NAV, in the coming decades. This continuous technological update of both platform and application could lead the product to fast and exponentially grow in the ERP SMB market, years after years.
As cloud technologies are by definition always up to date, what is discussed in this chapter might be evolved by the time you are reading it. However, with high degrees of chances, the logical concept of software layer isolation will remain unchanged and a pillar to build cloud services.
- Database Tier: Every single Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central customer tenant, production, or sandbox, is a single Microsoft Azure SQL database. Together with customer tenant databases, there are few application databases used to store application objects and system tables that are mounted on a Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central Server service. This service is used to share and serve several different tenant databases with the same application code base. Tenant databases are periodically dismounted from an outdated service, in terms of platform and application, and mounted to the latest one, with a close to zero downtime for end users and a transparent continuous upgrade and product evolution. Azure SQL Databases are managed and scaled using elastic pool. More informations here:https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/sql-database/sql-database-elastic-pool
- Service Tier: Also known as the Application Service tier, it is a set of Azure VM(s) where Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central Service and Web Server components are installed. Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central Service connects and handles process calls from customer tenant bounded to the same application base. Azure VMs are load balanced, to easily distribute horizontally the process execution load. Logically, the service tier is built-in as a Microsoft Azure Service Fabric Cluster where several Azure resources and features are combined for a fast, redundant, secure, and repeatable creation of application services. More information here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/service-fabric/service-fabric-overview. To give just a quick example of the feature used, the Azure Application Gateway is extensively adopted for endpoint monitoring and cluster load balancing. Each Microsoft Azure Fabric Cluster is equipped with all the resources and features needed to cope with scalability and high service availability. All technologies making of a cluster are always up to date. To give you another quick example, Azure VMs currently run the Microsoft Windows Server 2016, fully patched.
Both database and service tiers are constantly monitored to guarantee service health and availability. Collecting data and its further automated processing falls under the Telemetry term.
Telemetry is enabled at every level with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central. If an application service or database tier reports any kind of warning or error, this is quickly sent to service operation teams that quickly react to it and guarantee a class-A uptime service level agreement (SLA) to all users.
Telemetry applies to the infrastructure artifacts and to the application logic. The Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central service emits logs that traces activities, and telemetry is capable of catching application-driven errors that are submitted to the relevant application team. The application team corrects application issues that will be included in the latest application tenant spin ups, together with feature enhancements. This will guarantee a solid, robust, and smooth product evolution.
Telemetry emits terabytes of data in a few weeks, and it is constantly under automated or on-demand analysis, and its outcome is used to improve and strengthen both the platform and the application efficiently.
Data generation and analysis is performed with the highest possible level of security guaranteed by the Microsoft Corporation. To provide an example, only certified and elected Microsoft service engineers can access infrastructure modules, and this is done only through specific, certified secure administration workstations (SAW). More informations here: https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/mt186538.aspx.
All in all, Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central represents the best-in-class solution for ERP SaaS applications and the result of current and future profitable infrastructural investment made by the Microsoft Corporation in the SMB segment.
Both Microsoft Dynamics NAV and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central have roughly the same application base, hence share the very same feature capabilities. What changes in the equation, then, is the deployment type: on-premises versus SaaS.
The first question that an IT manager in this context faces is: should we go on premises or embrace the cloud? Normally, an ERP application is a core software part for a company, and this decision could drastically affect business processes at all levels and influence decision makers. It represents the vital heart of a company and it is crucial in guaranteeing its prosperous future. Let’s try to compare both types of product deployments to better understand the pros and cons and find a duly qualified answer to the question.
Microsoft Dynamics NAV requires consistent initial investments to purchase or rent, if hosted, the required redundant hardware and software to guarantee high availability and a smooth daily activity. Moreover, it needs experienced IT staff to manage the whole system deployment monolith.
Once the system is fully functional, it also needs to be maintained. From time to time, the entire hardware will need to be upgraded, and additional software will also need to be added.
Keep in mind that a Microsoft life cycle has typically an on-premises mainstream life cycle of five years. After that period, Microsoft products have an extra five years of limited support (out of mainstream), where it is not possible anymore to enable the escalation chain to the relevant development team and only security hotfixes are guaranteed. After five years, then, Microsoft warmly suggests that the partner and the customer upgrade to the latest version.
With Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, there is no initial deployment cost. With the pay-as-you-go offering philosophy, customers simply have to choose, according to their business needs, an essential and/or premium user experience, depending on the application modules they need.
There is no need to take care of any hardware maintenance: Microsoft guarantees the underlying software to run on the latest technologies and fully patched with a close to zero or no downtime at all, and with a class-A uptime SLA.
Companies that store data internally, on-premises, have complete control over it in terms of accessibility (read) and maintenance (insert, update, delete) rights. But great power comes with great responsibility. IT departments are responsible to guarantee the appropriate privacy and respect their own, local, and legal rules. In Europe, the recent General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) defines clearly how to rank and handle it. This is a cost for all companies that are requested today to implement, maintain and monitor those rules in all business processes.
The same applies to the hosting environment: if you are delivering a hosting service, then you have to update your business process and enpower your staff to cope with security and legally guarantee the security level requested, at least, by the current laws in your country. If you are the CEO, CFO, or IT manager of a company that uses outsourced hosting services for your ERP, then you have probably signed an SLA where your hosting provider guarantees the security of your own data. The cost of the service is higher according to the level of security.
There are no companies in the world that can guarantee the highest service SLA guaranteed by Microsoft Cloud security policies offered with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central. Being a cloud service (always up to date), it is already compliant with all the regulations of the countries where it is deployed, included in the GDPR. There is no extra cost to pay.
With Microsoft Dynamics NAV, performance is the responsibility of the implementor, unless the cause is to be found in the standard application. In this case, Microsoft needs to respond and provide a hotfix or guidance regarding how to resolve it.
As a partner or customer, you might make your own decision to choose whatever hardware resources you want, according to your budget. As a partner or customer, you might change whatever configuration parameter in your Microsoft SQL Server or Microsoft Dynamics NAV Server and/or decide to customize the application in its core to be tailored perfectly and tightly to your business needs and growth pace.
One of the biggest advantages of Microsoft Dynamics NAV, compared to all the other ERP products in the world: It is open to almost every kind of customization and uses an object-based language that’s pretty simple to learn and master.
But, with great power comes great responsibility.
If your hardware resource implementation and/or your configuration settings and/or custom application code changes bring the overall application to slow down, in terms of performance, compared to the baseline, then it is also your duty to investigate, troubleshoot, and mitigate the issue.
You break it, you fix it.
The Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, as all modern SaaS propositions, comes with a fully tested standard application targeted for the SMB load. So, what is the SMB load? There is no rule of thumb but just a raw and simple definition for the SMB territory, from a marketing perspective, which is described like a business application used by 1 up to 250 users.This broad marketing concept does not appropriately match with objective technical considerations. Most probably, the definition could or should potentially be changed in favor of a number of transactions, per unit of time. But also this measure, in some circumstances, could be not enough to let stakeholders decide what hardware to buy and which configuration to apply.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central comes equipped with a very high technology telemetry implemented at all software and hardware levels. The Microsoft operation service engineers could quickly determine whether there are performance issues, whether these are hardware or software based, whether these affect single or multiple tenants, and in a short time determine the root cause of these and mitigate them, at the required cloud speed.
If the root cause is not isolated but potentially applies to all tenants (for example, a missing database index or a suboptimal code), then this will be ported to the application or infrastructure and in the next iteration, also known as a tenant update, so that all the customers will clearly benefit from this.
On-premises installations require today highly specialized projects to design the current hardware infrastructure to cope with the contingent business process needs and the consequent data load and its periodicity or seasonality.
Since projects might start several months before they go live, and typically SMB companies are very flexible and adapt fast, at the moment production starts, the business conditions and the data transaction quality and quantity might have been changed. Then, the project stakeholders have to tweak and tune the infrastructure configuration by changing this at different levels: application (code changes), infrastructure (configurations), and hardware (add more resources). Scalability of resources is crucial for SMB ERP, and it requires time to implement the right strategy at the right time, and it is an ever-changing dynamic process.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central uses the full power of the Microsoft Azure cloud, and telemetry could detect all types of needs at once. Scalability and resource economy is in the nature of the SaaS-based solution.
With Microsoft Dynamics NAV architecture, partners and customers have complete control over infrastructure and application upgrades. They might decide when and what to apply, and how they want to apply it. It is trivial to say that the cost of upgrade, in terms of project analysis for staging and production, resource and time allocation, and so on is the upon partner and customer.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central allows partners and customers to focus on the application business process and their daily activities.
Hardware and software upgrades are continuous within a periodical cadence. Currently, featured application updates happen roughly every three months, but these dates are not set in stone; they fluctuate. Typically, this happens in a transparent way, with zero downtime for end users.
In the On-Premise Microsoft Dynamics NAV there is still Classic CSIDE Development Environment available to change the standard code, together with the Modern Development Environment that consists of an Extension (VSIX) for Visual Studio Code. Almost all the On Premises installation base for Microsoft Dynamics NAV is customized using Classic Development through CSIDE with more deeper and deeper changes in the standard application, depending on specific business needs.
The classic development comes with very high flexibility and gives partners and customers more freedom when it comes to an end product that deeply satisfies customer requirements and fits like a glove around the company IT core application and integrations.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central uses only the modern development paradigm through the creation of business extensions validated by Microsoft and uploaded in the AppSource marketplace. Modern development for SaaS-based solutions does not allow for the making of any core changes to the standard application, but simply extends it.
At the moment, there are still pretty a discrete number of restrictions and limitations when it comes to providing a SaaSified solution for Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, compared to the equivalent classic development.
Even as I write this, the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central development team is working to reduce the gap between the classic and modern development types and guarantees partner and independent software vendors (ISVs) a smooth and fast transition between the two, to let AppSource grow quickly in a number of available vertical solutions, add-ons, and localizations.
We will have a deep dive in customizations in a later chapter.
Another point in favor of on premises Microsoft Dynamics NAV is the capability to choose between windows or web client deployment. Windows client represents the evolution of the Navision Classic Client. Deployed for the first time in October 2008 as a role tailored client with Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009, it has been heavily refactored and enriched during the past 10 years.
Thanks to its great features, capability, tailored user experience, and productivity, it represents today the vast majority of the client type deployment for Microsoft Dynamics NAV installations.
Despite being a valid and lightweight deployment type, the web client still has its own feature and browser limitations. These are described here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics-nav/feature-limitations-of-the-microsoft-dynamics-nav-web-client.
Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central, today, can only be accessed through a web client using the most common web browsers or deployed as an app on phone or tablet devices.
Even while I write this, the Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central development team is working to reduce the feature limitations and gaps between the Windows and the web client and improve its productivity.
In the very first part of this chapter, we learned what Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central is, its offering target, and its proposed value.
In the second part of this chapter, we covered the main features of Microsoft Dynamics 365, and looked at its architecture.
We also compared on-premises and SaaSified deployments.
In Chapter 2, The New Extension Model, we'll see the new extension model for customizing and developing solutions with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central.