Two priorities are driving Microsoft PowerApps Portals product and licensing, manager explains

September 11 2019

When Microsoft revealed PowerApps Portals earlier this year, people responded by launching a thousand test portals in the first week to see for themselves. That's according to Dileep Singh, principal program manager lead at Microsoft who has been the public face of the product in the lead up to its official launch, which is planned for the October 2019 release wave of the Microsoft Power Platform.

Dileep Singh

And while interest is not in question, Microsoft's priorities about the future of Portals have remained an open topic of discussion. In a newly released podcast with Microsoft MVPs and portal experts Colin Vermander and Nick Doelman, Singh talked about both the product roadmap and the controversial licensing and pricing model, identifying the priorities that seem to be driving the team's approach for the launch.

Highest among those priorities appear to be simplicity – both in structuring the licensing and in delivering the portal building experience – as well as in aligning with Microsoft's larger sales strategy. Singh explained in the discussion how Microsoft arrived at some of the most consequential decisions. He also emphasized that the October 2019 release is just the beginning for the next phase of Portals.

Understanding the 'why' of Portals licensing

Though the podcast interview was recorded in July, Singh's guidance has remained accurate through to the episode's release. It follows the updated pricing guidance last week by Microsoft which revealed a three-tier pricing model that relies on pre-purchasing access for external authenticated (per session) and anonymous users (per pageview).

Aside from the actual pricing structure, which some experts have warned will make larger legacy portal implementations too expensive to continue hosting, Singh addressed Microsoft's insistence on making it a pre-pay model. He said:

We considered [billing based on consumption], but it boils down to our selling motion. Most of Power Platform or Portals deals you see are driven by Office 365 commerce. Most deals are done in advance for an EA or through CSP, so all those budgets are pre-defined rather than post-event.

And he added:

It is a SaaS service not PaaS … we don't want to go down that route because it will be harder to budget for.

When the hosts suggested offering customers the choice of pre- or post-consumption models, Singh did not rule out that it could change in the future.

He also offered other assurances that the change would not be as drastic as some fear. For example, exceeding the purchased allotment will not result in users being shut out of a portal. For existing portals customers, some will be "grandfathered in" (though he didn't elaborate) and there will be some time to prepare for the change after October 1, depending on customers' current agreements. New monitoring and measuring tools available to customers should make the pre-purchase experience manageable, he said.

To illustrate the comparable pricing, Singh pointed to a case of 2,000 external contacts, each with a login, and 500 unique sessions per month. That would cost $1,000 per month. Today, a customer would be paying $1,000 for dev and test portals, plus $500 for production. With the new structure, dev and test will be close to free, assuming they are used by authenticated internal users for testing who already have licenses.

Colin countered that, by his calculations, once an organization reaches certain thresholds like 10,000 external portal users logging in twice a year, it starts to become a lot more expensive, especially for orgs that have budgeted for today's levels. And this 30,000 user example from an MSDW reader casts doubt on whether they will be able to run their portal affordably in the future.

While Microsoft presumably has enough data on the thousands of existing portals on its cloud today – and using competitors' portal solutions – to draw conclusions about the impact of a new pricing model, we are likely to see more cost breakdowns for existing customers as the pricing details begin to reach the rest of the community.

Product roadmap hints: PowerShell, Design Studio, Javascript, and more

While owners of large legacy portals may be concerned, Singh's talking points on the future of PowerApps Portals appear to reveal Microsoft's priorities – smaller, more nimble, lower code, lightly used portals.

The early use cases for PowerApps Portals "are very simple stuff," Singh stated, noting examples like exposing a form to people to gather feedback. "Those were the things people struggled with before. Now it can be done easily. That is going to be our first wave that people will try to solve."

Microsoft also wants more people working in the new PowerApps Portals Design Studio for designing and structuring pages, as well as pro development scenarios. The older portal management app will remain and will handle advanced capabilities, Singh stated. The short time to market allows both to coexist, he said, letting people move away from the management app and enable as much as possible in Design Studio. Another administrative level is coming to Design Studio in the future for things like site settings, entity permission modeling, authentication, and setup. It will offer a more guided experience rather than the key-value pairs that administrators must track today.

PowerShell scripting is also coming to Portals.  Administrative actions like clearing the cache will eventually be available via scripting like what CDS provides today. That will start after the GA and will be updated in an ongoing basis.

CRUD operations via Javascript are still on the radar but got sidetracked due to launching the service. Singh said it is still very much on his wish list and is going to be important for enabling the PowerApp Control Framework for Portals.

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Prior to co-founding MSDynamicsWorld.com, Jason was a Principal Software Consultant at Parametric Technology Corporation (PTC), where he implemented solutions, trained customers, managed software development, and spent some time in the pre-sales engineering organization. He has also held consulting positions at CSC Consulting and Monitor Group.

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