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The Azure Bot Service: What You Need to Know

What is the Azure bot service?

Azure Bot Service is a cloud-based service that allows developers to build and connect intelligent bots for customer engagement. 

It offers bot hosting, natural language understanding, and text and speech capabilities. 

The Azure Bot Service takes care of the infrastructure so you can focus on your application logic, conversational experience design, and integrations with other services.

How does Azure bot service work?

Developers can build applications using the Azure Bot Service SDK for .NET or Node.js, with support in preview for Python coming soon. 

Once an app is built and tested, developers simply upload it to Azure via a GIT push command that builds and deploys your bot service to one of two regions: West US or East Asia Pacific (Tokyo). 

The Microsoft cloud takes care of all server management tasks from load balancing to patching to scaling up as needed—all you need is a browser! 

They also provide a web-based portal where developers can manage their bots by configuring dialogs and integrating other services such as;

  • Bing Search
  • LUIS NLP technology
  • QnA Maker knowledge bases
  • Cognitive Services APIs like Computer Vision Image and Text Analytics 
  • Language Understanding Intelligent Service (LUIS).

Core features of Azure bot service and benefits

a). Comprehensive development experience

Microsoft takes care of the infrastructure so that you can focus on your application logic, conversational experience design, and integrations with other services.

b). Easy to build 

The Azure Bot Service SDK for .NET or Node.js allows developers to easily integrate existing code into bots built in their favorite languages and frameworks including C #, Python, JavaScript/NodeJS, Java/.NET Framework and React Native. 

Developers also have full control over bot markup via customizable templates.

c). Seamless security 

Customized authentication using OAuth enables seamless integration with your organization’s identity provider (Azure Active Directory) as well as external providers such as Facebook and GitHub. 

Microsoft continues to invest in making all web requests encrypted by default across our entire service platform, including the Azure Bot Service.

d). Cognitive services integration 

The cognitive APIs for LUIS, QnA Maker, and Bing Search in the bot service enables developers to easily add intelligent features to their bots with a few lines of code. 

You can also configure your own custom models by importing pre-trained machine learning models from popular deep learning frameworks such as Caffe/CNTK or TensorFlow. 

In addition, you have full control over managing user identities across multiple systems when using existing identity providers like Microsoft Account, Facebook or Google accounts via OAuth.

e). Developer portal 

A convenient web interface where users only need a browser on any device (desktop, tablet, or phone) allowing them to quickly and test their apps without any installation.

f). Developer tools

A rich set of developer tools including IntelliSense, debugging and bot analytics to improve productivity during development by providing real-time feedback on the behavior of their bots. 

They can also configure webhooks for external integrations (e.g., Azure Functions, Slack ) or easily integrate with third-party services like LUIS.

What can developers build? 

The Azure Bot Service provides a framework for building all kinds of applications, from simple bots that answer questions to complex ones that perform workflows or automate processes. 

It supports common bot tasks such as fetching information from websites using the Bing Search API as well as other Cognitive Services APIs like Computer Vision Image and Text Analytics. 

In addition, the service also provides support for working with QnA Maker knowledge bases – collections of FAQs used by chatbots.

This allows users to ask natural language questions about topics ranging from weather forecasts to movie reviews. 

Whether it is a sales assistant capable of answering customer inquiries in several languages or an intelligent employee assistance application able to field frequently asked questions on behalf of human workers, the Azure Bot Service has something to offer for every kind of developer.

What about my existing bot? 

If you already have an application that runs in your own data center or cloud, including one built with another service like Azure Functions, don’t worry! 

You can use the same code and deploy it easily to new regions without having to modify anything. 

Your app will seamlessly scale up within minutes so you never need to worry about running out of available compute power again. 

The new mini-cores are especially useful for this scenario since they allow developers who run their bots during off-peak hours (such as overnight) to benefit from low costs while taking advantage of higher concurrency levels than the standard core.

What is the Azure bot framework? 

The Azure Bot Service provides an easy way to build bots with the tools needed for successful bot experiences.

What is it? 

Azure Bot Framework (formerly known as MicrosoftBot) is a platform to easily connect intelligent, cloud-based services across all major messaging channels like Skype, Office 365 mail and IM, Slack, Facebook Messenger, Kik, etc. 

The service allows you to focus on building a great user experience by providing a conversational context within your app via common dialogs such as greetings, small talk, and error handling while taking care of infrastructure management tasks like authentication, server scale-out/in during peaks in customer usage or a number of active conversations without any additional code changes required from developers’ side.

You can access the Azure bot documentation here.

Azure Bot Services pricing

First, you can try Azure for free. And when the time comes to upgrade, here is a simple table showing the pricing of the Azure bot service.

Standard channelsUnlimited messagesUnlimited messages
Premium channels10,000 messages/month$0.50 per 1K messages

What is a standard and premium channel?

Standard channels include Microsoft first-party services (such as Skype, Cortana, and Microsoft Teams) and services with publicly available Bot APIs (such as Facebook and Slack). 

Premium channels allow your bot to reliably communicate with users within your own application or on your website. 

These channels allow you to customize the client experience for your users by customizing the open source DirectLine and Web Chat clients.

You can see the Azure bot service demo here. And read about Azure App Service.

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