Two complementary MicrosoftFlow podcasts in March, and Two Plateaus of MicrosoftFlow

Two complementary MicrosoftFlow podcasts in March, and Two Plateaus of MicrosoftFlow

John, you just recommended people learn Expressions and you cheered when Jon says Expressions is going away?!  Why are you so inconsistent?!

I finished listening to two parallel podcasts and there's some great contrasts between them that I wanted to point out, and write them down.

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Betting on 2018 - level up our Serverless in Azure

A recent conversation got me thinking about making some predictions for 2018.  This isn't so much a "ha look I'm right in 2019" post.  This is more about internalizing and verbalize my choices and I think there's value is sharing all this thinking.

So here it is, all of it: notes, wishlist, observations, what other people are doing, what we should be doing.  All in one overview blog post.  Happy 2018.




Bet on Serverless

You can't look sideways without seeing "Serverless" it's a silly term, but I need to start with a definition by Serverless experts on "Serverless"

  • Use a compute service to execute code on demand
  • Write single-purpose stateless functions
  • Design push-based event-driven pipelines
  • Create thicker front-ends
  • Embrace third-party services

I started on this path in 2016 and I can't look back.  Being able to run your code, anytime in the cloud is a life changing experience for many of us - it abstracts the operations part of hosting code in the cloud, and lets us get back quickly into code.

Applications for this technique are far and wide.  From simple services to augment the endless front-end applications we were building in 2016, to finally having a great way to handle remote events or permission escalation.  And look beyond to the bot-framework.  A little blog post I wrote in 2016 about Serverless site provisioning is now officially best practice in SharePoint's Site Design - I'm a little glad it was useful :-)  At times it feels like I just hack and cobble things together and behold, wow people do like this.

So, what's next?


Serverless Orchestration

Invest into Serverless orchestration.  Azure Functions are not the right place to do our orchestration.  Yes, Durable Functions will help this a lot.  But the product we should be looking at is Azure Logic Apps / Microsoft Flow.

As far as I'm concerned - these are the same products, the differences boils down to:

Logic Apps

  • UX, with JSON editor is targetted for developers
  • Consumption based pricing - per actions used, perfect for multiple small requests 
    • So we end up compressing multiple actions into unreadable mess to save costs
  • Integration Services (biztalk scenarios)
  • Better for multi-tenant solutions.

Microsoft Flow

  • UX tries really hard to remain Power User friendly and hide JSON complexity
  • Per Flow execution pricing, with free buckets per tier
    • So we end up putting way too many steps inside a single Flow to save costs
  • Premium connectors as part of higher tier plans
  • Free licenses as part of Office 365 / Dynamic 365 plans making this cheaper for single-tenant solutions.

What can you do with Logic Apps/Flow?

  • Leverage connectors - (remember Embrace third-party services is a Serverless principle), these are hundreds of connectors implemented by the various product teams themselves directly.  So they know what they are doing* (most of the time)
  • You can do delay and wait easily in Flow
  • You can do loops easily in Flow (in Functions it's tricky without potentially hitting timeout).
  • You can do for-each loops in Flow and easily turn it into parallel execution (fan-out) with fan-in just part of the package
  • You can define repeat/retry policies with gradual fall back in Flow
  • You can define follow next token in Flow HTTP Request for REST paging
  • You can handle fallback behaviour as a scoped set, so if any actions fail you can orchestrate that
  • You can include human workflows with human approvals and send nice templated emails with attachments from Flow
  • Function shouldn't do more than one thing.  Use Flow to chain them.


Serverless API end points

As we build out a constellation (I stole this word from of functions.  We need to clean up all the microservices APIs with a unified API front.  There are two products for this:

Azure Functions Proxy

  • Simpler - can transform query/post messages

Azure API Management Service

  • More extensive - can transform REST to XML
  • Better Open API definitions


Serverless Websites / thicker Front-Ends

A serverless website is basically a CDN plus FaaS.  You don't scale Azure VM or even Azure WebJobs.  Build your entire website with your favourite JavaScript library (I like and recommend Angular - but you should use what your team uses), then bundle with Webpack into a couple of minified JS file for CDN.

Do your compute in the client.  And do your server compute with Azure Functions.

I'll even add here that a low-code solution such as PowerApps is extremely good at getting a proof of concept up and running quickly.  PowerApps supports offline capabilities and will happily call your Serverless APIs via a Swagger/OpenAPI file and treats them all as first class functions.


As part of the Azure services upgrade email (what a peculiar way to announce new features), the upgrade to the latest Windows Server means that Azure Functions, as part of Azure App Services, will gain ability to work with HTTP/2.

It means - we can get our entire HTTP website in one HTTP Get request, with our Function (or possibly our LogicApp/Flow) sending multiple resources in one response.


Serverless Database

Let me first define what is a Serverless Database.  Essentially, you have a database in the cloud. 

  • You want to pay for storage.
  • You want to pay for compute.  On consumption based plans
  • Pay nothing if it's not doing anything, automatically scale as necessary
  • The problem we are trying to fix is simple.  We want to start an application, pick a database, and have it scale with us.  We don't want to put SQL Azure on the cheapest free VM and have it run like crap.

This is an area where Azure is somewhat lacking.  My choices are:

  • Azure Storage Table
  • SharePoint Lists (only because I'm a Office 365 person and I've got office 365 tenants everywhere I look)


I predict boldly that Azure will bring out a Serverless CosmosDB solution in 2018 and it will be what everyone in the Microsoft ecosystem uses from there onwards.

Otherwise, look towards the competition:

  • Google Cloud Platform has Firebase - event driven, consumption based database, linked to Google Cloud Functions
  • Amazone Web Services has Aurora Serverless - in late 2017, AWS announced they've separated Aurora's cost model down to Compute and Storage.


Serverless Event Aggregator

The Azure Event Grid is a very interesting service.  I see the possibility that we'll see a unified way to manage all events in a system.

This is best explained with a parallel analogy.  In browser applications, we catch and handle events in the DOM all the time.

In the beginning, we do:


This has all sorts of problems - how do you route.  How do you de-allocate.  How do you attach new events as new resources come online.  A few years later, we end up with this:

$(global).on("click", ".filter", func)

We attach events via one top level resource, ALL our event handlers are attached there.  And then we let events bubble to the root, apply the filter, then call the handler.

The Azure Event Grid has the potential to be this solution.  In 2019, if we are attaching event handling directly to a resource or a container, then we have stuffed up.  We should attach all our events to Event Grid, then filter within the event grid, and only then invoke the functions that fits the filter.


I'm hopeful if we can map Microsoft Graph events into the Azure Event Grid - then we'd have something super magical.


Serverless Visualization

I want to end on this one because I don't have a great solution, but I think we need a great solution.


As we built out our constellation of functions and orchestration, there's a need to visualize that design so we can both review the designs, and specifically see where the bottle necks are.

If a set of microservices are buggy, this would be a place to pintpoint this and switch the Functions back to the previous deployment slots.

With Azure Insights - we can get detailed logging for Functions and Flow/LogicApps, so perhaps this is something that needs to be layered on top of the logging.




Office 365 Groups management as a service - Flow, Functions and MSGraph

Because Office 365 Groups is a key component of group membership in Office 365, there will always be an evolving story on how to manage it, extend it, report on it and automate it.

Microsoft will continue to add more complex features to Azure AD Premium.  And this will be an enterprise grade solution to many customers that wants these features.  But there is a lot of room for partners to build Groups Management solutions.  

Ultimately, we have realized this: Our client's organization has unique rules, and there's a need to customize, fortunately, we have all the tools at our disposal, and they are not hard to do.

Group Management Life Cycle

This is a post in a series about Office 365 Groups management life cycle.  This is the first post - we will discuss the history Office 365 Groups creation.

Office 365 Groups Creation

There have been many blog posts about how we can automate Groups creation.  So this discussion is about understanding the underlying pieces, and how we must see these pieces as the building blocks to solve all your future problems.

Timeline of availability of O365 Groups creation methods



  • MS Graph API for group creation available
  • PnP Sample Solution - Vesa demo'ed in late 2016 with bots and Azure App Service
  • Azure Function enabled very simple hosting of small code


    Connect-PnPMicrosoftGraph (PR by Mikael Svenson Feb 2017)
    New-PnPUnifiedGroup (available October 2016)

One Flow Connector to rule them all

I only know this: Everything we know got simplified

So here we are.  At the end of the first blog post on Groups Management - we need to understand the trend:

First, we have API
Then we have PowerShell, we have AzureFunctions for code or HTTP Request in Flow
Eventually we have a Flow Connector

We must see this pattern.  Everything we want to build is in one of these stages.

When we understand these pieces - there's nothing we can't build, for practically free.  The question isn't "No, this is too hard" or even "This should be free or out of box".

The question we should all be asking is "Where do I find a piece that fits here, right now" because I have a crazy customization need.

In 2017, everything got abstracted and simplified.  This trend will continue into the future - there will be more Flow Connectors.  Azure Functions will get more upgrades - durable functions are absolutely amazing.  MS Graph will get more API endpoints.  Life will be even more amazing.

Future of this series

I am not alone in what we are building for our customers - many consultants, partners and ISVs have already moved on to more complex issues:

  • Creation - Complex approval chains for Groups creation
  • Creation - Which products to enable on Groups creation
  • Creation - Post-Groups creation SharePoint site templating
  • Maintain - Scheduled Groups compliance audit reporting 
  • Maintain - Owner leaving organization scenario
  • Maintain - Members changed roles scenario
  • Closure - Expiration policies
  • Closure - Group archiving and closure

There are a lot of solutions to solve.  I want to cover more of Office 365 Groups life cycle management, with Flow and Functions, all on top of what MS Graph gives us already.

If you are interested in this topic or have shared some of the ideas you are working on - please share them with me and I would be happy to link to your work.

I'm speaking about Serverless Flow and Azure Functions at Collab365 Free Online Conference


Have you heard about the virtual Collab365 Global Conference 2017 that’s streaming online November 1st – 2nd?

Join me and 120 other speakers from around the world who will be bringing you the very latest content around SharePoint, Office 365, Flow, PowerApps, Azure, OneDrive for Business and of course the increasingly popular Microsoft Teams. The event is produced by the Collab365 Community and is entirely free to attend.

Places are limited to 5000 so be quick and register now.

During the conference I'd love you to watch my session which is called : 

'Serverless with Microsoft Flow and Azure Functions'

Level up your mastery of Microsoft Flow. Switch to Azure Functions only when you need to. No doubt there will be many sessions on Microsoft Flow, introducing you to its wonderful merits and rough edges. This session is for the advanced users - we will see what Microsoft Flow really is, and bend it to our will.

If you join me, you will learn:

  • Master JSON in a Flow
  • Combining Azure Functions with Flow
  • Failure Recovery, in a Flow
  • How to handle Binary in a Flow
  • How to write HTML and generate PDF in Flow


  • Azure Functions
  • Microsoft Flow

Audience :

  • Developer
  • Power User

Time :

  • Thursday, November 2 2017 10:00 AM (UTC)
  • Thursday, November 2 2017 09:00 PM (ADST)

How to attend :

  1. Register here.
  2. At the time listed above go here to watch my session. (you can also add me to your own personal planner from the agenda.
  3. Enjoy the demos and ask me questions, I'll put the templates up for download after the session.

Serverless connect-the-dots: MP3 to WAV via ffmpeg.exe in AzureFunctions, for PowerApps and Flow

There's no good title to this post, there's just too many pieces we are connecting.  

So, a problem was in my todo list for a while - I'll try to describe the problem quickly, and get into the solution.

  • PowerApps Microphone control records MP3 files
  • Cognitive Speech to Text wants to turn WAV files into JSON
  • Even with Flow, we can't convert the audio file formats. 
  • We need an Azure Function to gluethis one step
  • After a bit of research, it looks like FFMPEG, a popular free utility can be used to do the conversion

Azure Functions and FFMPEG

So my initial thought is that well, I'll just run this utility exe file through PowerShell.  But then I remembered that PowerShell don't handle binary input and output that well.  A quick search nets me several implementations in C# one of them catches my eye: 

Jordan Knight is one of our Australian DX Microsoftie - so of course I start with his code

It actually was really quick to get going, but because Jordan's code is triggered from blob storage - the Azure Functions binding for blob storage has waiting time that I want to shrink, so I rewrite the input and output bindings to turn the whole conversion function into an input/output HTTP request.

#r "Microsoft.WindowsAzure.Storage"

using Microsoft.WindowsAzure.Storage.Blob;
using System.Diagnostics;
using System.IO;
using System.Net;
using System.Net.Http.Headers;

public static HttpResponseMessage Run(Stream req, TraceWriter log)

    var temp = Path.GetTempFileName() + ".mp3";
    var tempOut = Path.GetTempFileName() + ".wav";
    var tempPath = Path.Combine(Path.GetTempPath(), Guid.NewGuid().ToString());


    using (var ms = new MemoryStream())
        File.WriteAllBytes(temp, ms.ToArray());

    var bs = File.ReadAllBytes(temp);
    log.Info($"Renc Length: {bs.Length}");

    var psi = new ProcessStartInfo();
    psi.FileName = @"D:\home\site\wwwroot\mp3-to-wave\ffmpeg.exe";
    psi.Arguments = $"-i \"{temp}\" \"{tempOut}\"";
    psi.RedirectStandardOutput = true;
    psi.RedirectStandardError = true;
    psi.UseShellExecute = false;
    log.Info($"Args: {psi.Arguments}");
    var process = Process.Start(psi);

    var bytes = File.ReadAllBytes(tempOut);
    log.Info($"Renc Length: {bytes.Length}");

    var response = new HttpResponseMessage(HttpStatusCode.OK);
    response.Content = new StreamContent(new MemoryStream(bytes));
    response.Content.Headers.ContentType = new MediaTypeHeaderValue("audio/wav");

    Directory.Delete(tempPath, true);    

    return response;
Trick: You can upload ffmpeg.exe and run them inside an Azure Function

  "bindings": [
      "type": "httpTrigger",
      "name": "req",
      "authLevel": "function",
      "methods": [
      "direction": "in"
      "type": "http",
      "name": "$return",
      "direction": "out"
  "disabled": false

Azure Functions Custom Binding

Ling Toh (of Azure Functions) reached out and tells me I can try the new Azure Functions custom bindings for Cognitive Services directly.  But I wanted to try this with Flow.  I need to come back to custom bindings in the future.

Set up Cognitive Services - Speech

In Azure Portal, create Cognitive Services for Speech

Need to copy one of the Keys for later


Take the binary Multipart Body send to this Flow and send that to the Azure Function


Take the binary returned from the Function and send that to Bing Speech API

Flow returns the result from Speech to text which I force into a JSON


Try it:


Need this for PowerApps to call Flow
I despise Swagger so much I don't even want to talk about it (the Swagger file takes 4 hours the most problematic part of the whole exercise)

  "swagger": "2.0",
  "info": {
    "description": "speech to text",
    "version": "1.0.0",
    "title": "speech-api"
  "host": "",
  "basePath": "/workflows",
  "schemes": [
  "paths": {
    "/xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx/triggers/manual/paths/invoke": {
      "post": {
        "summary": "speech to text",
        "description": "speech to text",
        "operationId": "Speech-to-text",
        "consumes": [
        "parameters": [
            "name": "api-version",
            "in": "query",
            "default": "2016-06-01",
            "required": true,
            "type": "string",
            "x-ms-visibility": "internal"
            "name": "sp",
            "in": "query",
            "default": "/triggers/manual/run",
            "required": true,
            "type": "string",
            "x-ms-visibility": "internal"
            "name": "sv",
            "in": "query",
            "default": "1.0",
            "required": true,
            "type": "string",
            "x-ms-visibility": "internal"
            "name": "sig",
            "in": "query",
            "default": "4h5rHrIm1VyQhwFYtbTDSM_EtcHLyWC2OMLqPkZ31tc",
            "required": true,
            "type": "string",
            "x-ms-visibility": "internal"
            "name": "file",
            "in": "formData",
            "description": "file to upload",
            "required": true,
            "type": "file"
        "produces": [
          "application/json; charset=utf-8"
        "responses": {
          "200": {
            "description": "OK",
            "schema": {
              "description": "",
              "type": "object",
              "properties": {
                "RecognitionStatus": {
                  "type": "string"
                "DisplayText": {
                  "type": "string"
                "Offset": {
                  "type": "number"
                "Duration": {
                  "type": "number"
              "required": [

Power Apps



I expect a few outcomes from this blog post.

  1. ffmpeg.exe is very powerful and can convert multiple audio and video datatypes.  I'm pretty certain we will be using it a lot more for many purposes.
  2. Cognitive Speech API doesn't have a Flow action yet.  I'm sure we will see it soon.
  3. PowerApps or Flow may need a native way of converting audio file formats.  Until such an action is available, we will need to rely on ffmpeg within an Azure Function
  4. The problem of converting MP3 to WAV was raised by Paul Culmsee - the rest of the blog post is just to connect the dots and make sure it works.  I was also blocked on an error on the output of my original swagger file, which I fixed only after Paul sent me a working Swagger file he used for another service - thank you!