Tuesday, January 15, 2019

PowerApps From A DevOps Perspective

In this post, I would like to talk about PowerApps from a DevOps perspective. When we think about DevOps we think about Source Control, Continuous Integration, Automation, Configuration Management etc. Let’s take a look into it.

No Source Control for PowerApps

When you are developing with PowerApps, there is no way to do Source Control. There are no source files. The only artifact you can version control is the .zip file that you can export. The application that you create/edit in the browser is continuously updated and whenever you feel like it is ready for publishing then you make that version of the application available to users in your organization. Lack of version control causes problems when you cannot track down which version of the application caused a particular bug. The only way to guarantee no bugs is by doing a thorough testing of the application.

Multiple Environments Beware

Creating a separate Dev, Test, UAT and Production environment is quite common for DevOps practices. In PowerApps, you can create separate environments in PowerApps but it comes with its own problems. For instance, in order to create and administer environments you need Plan 2 License in PowerApps. This is not a big deal since you can manage with one license. If you are creating application that uses On-Premises Data Gateway then only applications from the Default Environment can connect to the Gateway. Yeah! if you thought that was a bummer. Then you are right. Well all hope is not lost, if you really need it then you have to create a support ticket with Microsoft. Another limitation with multiple environments is that you cannot create as many environments as you like. Because you can only create two production environments. Another bummer. If you wanted Test, UAT and Production environment then you are toast. You will have to request another user license and then you would be able to create it. In PowerApps, having multiple environments creates more issues in my opinion from a DevOps perspective. It is not as seamless as one would come to expect from a traditional DevOps practice. If you are creating Model Driven apps only then it makes sense to create multiple environments. If you are creating only Canvas Driven apps then just create different apps with – DEV, TEST, UAT and PROD suffixes. Having multiple apps for different purposes creates it own issues as detailed below.

CI/CD Pipeline

In PowerApps, you don’t have to build your code. Any change you make to the application is live for you to test it. In that way it is very productive. To publish the application you just click on the publish button and it is live. But what if you screw an update, then you have an option of going back to a previous version of the application. The workflow of getting the application to end-users all the way to production is not seamless. Since we create different app for DEV,TEST,UAT we had to export and import every time we had to propagate a change to these apps. For one of the applications we built it was quite a lot of work every time we exported and imported into another application-dev/test/prod. For instance, we had to ensure that all the connections were pointing to environment specific connection strings, data going in accurately, perform manual checks, create a new flow every time.

Configuration Management

Well there is none. You cannot manage configuration of your PowerApps application in one place. For example, you can put app settings inside web.config file in a typical asp.net web application. In asp.net when you change environments then you can just update web.config. If you want to persist your app settings then it is better to put them inside a SQL table if you are utilizing On-Premises databases. In other words, store your app settings into an external persistent store.

Collaboration

It is very common to collaborate with brilliant team mates on different projects. If you are using any modern source control system then you can easily collaborate with Team members and work on features simultaneously. In PowerApps, only one developer can work on the application at given point of time. Good luck building your next ERP front end! One of the selling points of PowerApps is that it is very good for building quick small single purpose application that a single developer can churn out in days. But not good when you want to build a large application.

Since we are on the topic of collaboration let me add it here. If you developing application for an enterprise and think people are going to use it, then please don’t use your own personal account to develop the application. Because the user who creates the application becomes the owner of the application and guess what, you cannot change the owner of the application later on. If you are an ops guy then you want to have that ownership of the application. Please utilize a service account to develop PowerApps application.

That’s all I have for today and if you would like to share anything regarding PowerApps please let me know in the comment below.

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