Monday, August 8, 2016

The Common Data Model - yet another back-end data store?

Recently integrated into the PowerApps preview (used to be called a beta, I believe?) is an option on the left navigation termed "Entities". Click on that and a new Common Data Model ("CDM") database will be created for you.

This is a new type of business database being offered by Microsoft for use in delivering business applications (see for an introduction to this initiative). Currently its purpose in the mix of cloud services is to act as a data store for apps built with PowerApps, Power BI and Flow. It comes pre-configured with commonly-used data types known as Entities, such as "customer" and "purchase order". These entities each contain sets of fields for relevant data. The PowerApps web studio lists all these entities, and offers a link to interact with each entity in Excel - this allows data in the entity to be viewed and updated. This pre-configuration, and the ability to manage these entities, effectively places the CDM one abstraction level above SQL Server.

Seems as though SharePoint is destined to become a second-class data store when it comes to PowerApps. But that's not such a Bad Thing really - SharePoint lists were never intended to be used to model and contain relational data. I like the idea that these new entities and the Common Data Model hide the management of columns, tables, views and stored procedures which are necessary when using SQL Server. The original announcement discusses the fact that the CDM is built upon Azure key capabilities, so scaling (and hopefully performance) are ensured out of the box.

Losing control over data access methods could be a cause for concern for developers, as could the potential for pre-configured data relationships which may not represent a company's view of the world. But the idea of allowing organizations to replace the mix of Excel spreadsheets, Access databases and other sundry data stores that often contain key business data & processes has got to be worth considering! It's going to be interesting to see whether this latest concept has legs....