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How We Manage Development - Architecture

Feb 28, 2013
Filed under: #daxmusings #bizapps

With all the posts about TFS and details on builds etc, I thought it was time to take a step back and explain how we manage development in general. What infrastructure do we have, how does this whole TFS business work in reality?! Let me take you through it.

First, let’s talk about our architecture. We currently have two Hyper-V servers. These host a development server per client. These development servers contain almost everything on them except AX database, we use a physical SQL server for that. So the development servers contain AOS, SSRS/SSAS, SharePoint/EP, Help Server and IIS/AIF (where needed). Each development server is tied to a specific project in TFS for that client. In addition to the main AOS that is used to develop in (yes we still do the “multiple developers - one AOS” scenario), there is a secondary AOS on each machine that is exclusively used for the builds. Typically developers do not have access to this AOS or at least never go in (in fact the AOS is usually shut off when it’s not building, to save resources on the virtual machine).

There are several advantages to having a virtual development server per client:

  • Each server can have whichever version of AX kernel we need (potentially different versions of SQL etc)
  • If clients wish to perform upgrades we can do that without potentially interfering with any other environments
  • Any necessary third-party software can be installed without potentially interfering with any other environments
  • The virtual servers can be shut down or archived when no development is being done

I’m sure there is more, but those are the obvious ones.

Traditionally, VARs perform the customer development on a development server at the customer site. We used to do this as well (back in the good ol’ days). There are several drawbacks to that:

  • Obviously it requires an extra environment that, if the client is not doing their own development, may solely be for the consultant-developers. With AX 2012 resource requirements per AOS server have skyrocketed and some clients may not have the resources or budget to support another environment.
  • We need source control. This is the 21st century, developing a business-critical application like AX without some form of source control is irresponsible. MorphX source control can be easily used (although it has limited capabilities), but any other source control software (that integrates with AX) requires another license of sorts, in case of TFS you also need a SQL database, etc. Especially for clients not engaging in development efforts, this is a cost solely to support the consultant-developers.
  • Segregation of code and responsibilities between VAR and clients that do their own development. Developing in multiple layers is the way to do that. But working with multiple developers in multiple layers (or multiple models) with version control enabled is a nightmare.
  • No easy adding of more resources (=developers) for development at critical times, since remote developers need remote access, user accounts, VPNs, etc. Definitely doable, but not practical.

As with most things development in the Dynamics AX world, any new customer has no issue with this and finds it logical and accepts the workflow of remote development, deploying through builds, etc. It is always customers that have implemented AX the traditional way (customers upgrading, etc) that have a hard time changing. It is interesting how this conflicts with a lot of VARs switching to off-shore development, essentially the ultimate remote development scenario. At our AX practice within Sikich we only use internal developers that work out of our Denver office. (Want to join us in Denver?)

We don’t have all of our clients up on this model, but all new clients are definitely setup this way. As of this writing, we have 11 AX2009 client environments and 9 AX2012 client environments running on our Hyper-Vs and tied into and managed by TFS.

With that out of the way, we’ll look at our TFS setup in the next post.


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