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A Point To Share A journey through Microsoft Commerce Server and other .NET platforms

One of the biggest questions I routinely get asked is how scalable Commerce Server is. Of course the text book answer is the product has been around for 10 years, powers some of the largest e-Commerce websites in the world, so it scales horizontally extremely well. One argument however though is what if you can't predict the growth of demand required of your Commerce Platform, or need the ability to scale up during busy seasons such as Christmas for a retail environment but are hesitant on maintaining the infrastructure on a year-round basis? The obvious answer is to utilise the many elasticated cloud infrastructure providers that are establishing themselves in the ever-growing market, the problem however is Commerce Server is still product which has a legacy tightly coupled dependency on Windows and IIS components.

Commerce Server 2009 codename "R2" however introduced to the concept of an n-tier deployment of Microsoft Commerce Server, meaning you are no longer tied to core objects API but instead have serializable Commerce Entity objects, and business logic allowing for Commerce Server to now be built into a WCF-based SOA architecture. Presentation layers no-longer now need to remain on the same physical machine as the application server, meaning you can now build the user experience into multiple-technologies and host them in multiple places – leveraging the transport benefits that a WCF service may bring, such as message queuing, security, and multiple end-points. All of this logic will still need to remain in your internal infrastructure, for two reasons. Firstly cloud based computing infrastructure does not support PCI security requirements, and secondly even though many of the legacy Commerce Server dependencies have been abstracted away within this version of the application, it is still not a fully supported to be deployed exclusively into the cloud.

If you do wish to benefit from the scalability of the cloud however, you can still achieve a great Commerce Server and Azure setup by utilising both the Azure App Fabric in terms of the service bus, and authentication services and Windows Azure to host any online presence you may require. The architecture would be something similar to this:

This setup would allow you to construct your Commerce Services as part of your on-site infrastructure. These services would contain all of the channels custom business logic, and provide the overall interface back into the underlying Commerce Server components. It would be recommended that services are constructed around the specific business domain of the application, which based on your business model would usually consist of separate services around Catalogue, Orders, Search, Profiles, and Marketing.

The App Fabric service bus is then used to abstract and aggregate further the services, making them available to the cloud and subsequently secured by App Fabrics authentication services. These services are now available for consumption by any client, using any supported technology – not just .NET. Thus meaning you are now able to construct apps for IPhone, integrate with Java based POS Devices, and any many other potential uses. This aggregation is useful, and forms the basis of the further strategy around diversifying and enhancing the e-Commerce experience, but also provides the foundation for the scalability we want to gain from utilising a cloud-based application platform.

The Windows Azure application platform is Microsoft solution to benefiting from the true economies of scale in terms of the elasticity of the cloud. Just before the launch of the Azure Platform – Domino's pizza actually managed to run their whole SuperBowl operation from the scalability of Windows Azure, and simply switching back to their traditional operation the next day with no residual infrastructure costs. The platform also natively can subscribe to services and messages exposed within the AppFabric service bus, making it an ideal solution to build and deploy a presentation layer which will need to support of scalable infrastructure – such as a high demand public facing e-Commerce portal, or a promotion element of a brand. Windows Azure has excellent support for ASP.NET, including its own caching providers meaning expensive operations such as catalogue queries can persist in memory on the application server, reducing the demand on internal infrastructure and prioritising it for more business critical operations such as receiving orders and processing payments.
Windows Azure also supports other languages too, meaning utilising this approach you can technically build a Commerce Server presentation layer in Java, PHP, or Ruby – or equally in ASP.NET or Silverlight without having to change any of the underlying business or Commerce Server implementation.

This SOA-style architecture is one of the primary differentiators for Commerce Server as a product in the e-Commerce market, and now with the introduction of a WCF capability in Commerce Server 2009/2009 R2 the opportunities for extensibility of the both the user experience, and integration into third parties, are drastically increased, all with no effect to the underlying channel logic. So if you are looking at deployment options for your e-Commerce application to help support demand in a cost effective way. I would highly recommend you consider looking at Windows Azure, and if you have any questions in-particular about this style of deployment, please feel free to get in touch!




Posted on Tuesday, March 9, 2010 11:42 AM Commerce Server | Back to top

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