Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 – Year in Review

 

Feels like I was writing my 2014 Year in Review just last week. Astonishing how time flies when you are busy having fun.

Learning

In the technology industry, if you are not learning you are dying. Having spent a lot of time in the Architecture space there is not much that frustrates more than Ivory Tower Architects.  For me, I need to touch a technology to really understand it.  Reading about it doesn’t give me enough insight to set direction for its usage in a company. 

In 2015, one of my goals was to really dive into API Management platforms and more specifically Azure API Management.  I started hearing about API Management platforms when I was working at Mulesoft.  While I never had any engagements that required their APIM platform, I knew enough about it to know that API Management, as a domain, will be big.

When trying to balance work and speaking opportunities/obligations, I try to ‘kill two birds with one stone’.  As you will find in the next section of this blog, I had the opportunity to speak about Azure API Management on several occasions.  It was signing up for these sessions that motivated me to do a good job researching the technology.

Probably one of the most rewarding moments was taking all of this research and speaking and turning it into a tangible solution at work. We had a requirement come up in a project where we needed to do some trading partner integration using a RESTful API.  As a result of all the ‘homework’ I was doing, I was able to spin up and API Management and supporting APIs all within two weeks that addressed a project requirement and gave the organization flexibility.  We have had approximately 15 million calls to this API in the last 6 months which has been very rewarding.

Another area of learning for me was around SaaS connectivity and more specifically ServiceNow.  ServiceNow is an IT Service Management tool.  This was a tool that our organization was implementing and was given some warning that some integration with this tool was bound to happen.

Since there was no Azure API App (connector) available for ServiceNow, this allowed me to create my own.  This provided me with another learning opportunity where I got to dive into all of the recent investments that Microsoft was making in Integration Platform as a Service (IPaaS)

Speaking

Being in the MVP program has created many opportunities for me to speak all over the world.  For that I am grateful to fellow MVPs, BizTalk360 and Microsoft for creating those opportunities.

This year was another busy year speaking.  I spent more time speaking in my home town (Calgary) than ever before which is encouraging to see as it shows there is more appetite for cloud integration.

.Net Usergroup I was a last minute addition to the MVPs putting on an Azure Cloud day.  In this session I was able to talk about Azure Service BUs messaging.  For many in attendance they were familiar with MSMQ but never heard of Azure Service Bus.  It is always fun to demo ServiceBus as people feel there is a little bit of magic whenever you start showing the Relay Service.

#IntegrationMonday – The brainchild of Michael Stephenson and Saravana Kumar has brought together a world-wide Microsoft Integration community on a weekly basis.  I had the opportunity to speak twice (link, link).  Thanks Mike and Saravana for giving me the opportunity.

BizTalk Summit (London) – This was my second time speaking in London and have to thank Saravana and his team for the opportunity.  This was probably the largest audiences that I have spoken in front of with more than 350 people in attendance.  In my session I talked about an Introduction to Azure API Management.  I think this is an untapped discipline amongst BizTalk resources so it was a good opportunity to introduce many people to the subject. 

Following this event my wife and I went to Portugal to visit Sandro and SteefJan.  Sandro took great care of us and showed us all around his hometown of Porto.  It was an amazing trip so thanks Sandro! 

BizTalk Booktcamp (Charlotte) – Mandi Ohlinger, from Microsoft, was hosting another edition of the BizTalk Bootcamp.  I had the opportunity to speak at this event in 2013 and was happy to return.  I had two sessions at this event.  The first was a replay of my BizTalk Summit API Management session and my next session was a live Lab walkthrough.  I had some tremendous feedback after this event.  I had people who had never heard of API Management, provision their own API Management instance, manage a set of APIs, call it from Postman all within an hour. They could not believe how far they were able to go within 1 hour. While I appreciated the feedback, it is also a testament to that Azure API Management platform as well as it is a simple but powerful tool.

MVPDays – I was approached by a local MVP Dave Kawula to speak at his upcoming MVPDays event in Calgary.  It was more of a Cloud Infrastructure event, but I appreciated the opportunity to introduce API Management and SaaS connectivity to a new audiance.

Azure Hybrid Integration Day – This time it was my turn to host some of my European MVP buddies and put on an event in Calgary.  With the help and support of my Canadian MVP Lead Sim Chaudhry, support from Microsoft Canada employees such as Darren King and BizTalk360 we were able to pull of an entire day focused on Microsoft Integration.  My session focused on Azure App Service and SaaS Connectivity using Microsoft’s latest bits.

After the event was over we had the opportunity to take in a football game (with tailgate) and cheer for the Saskatchewan Roughriders (event though they lost).

MVP Summit Videos – For the second straight year Microsoft arranged for Integration MVPs to enter the Channel 9 studios to record some short sessions. I want to thank Jon Fancey and Mark Mortimore for co-ordinating this.  My session focused on some of my demos from the Azure Hybrid Integration Day.

InfoQ

Around the August timeframe I had the opportunity to start writing for InfoQ.  For those of you who are not familiar with InfoQ, it is an online media outlet that focuses on Technology News and also hosts many conferences called QCon.  The organization is pretty impressive.  They have assembled a distributed team of technologists who also have a passion for writing.  Their goal is not necessarily to break news but to provide some technical substance to the happenings in the industry.

I am part of Richard Seroter’s Cloud Editorial team.  Richard and I co-authored a book several years ago and we continue to be good friends.  Richard is also one of those people that I regularly say “how does he do it” as he always has a million things on the go and the quality never suffers.  The opportunity to work along side him in this domain was too good to pass up and appreciate the opportunity he gave me.

The best part about writing for InfoQ is all of the ‘forced learning’ that occurs. While I pride myself on staying up to date it can become difficult especially when you consider all of the platforms out there.  As you probably know, I spend a lot of time in the Microsoft eco-system which is obviously one I enjoy.  Previously I was not very focused on what some of the big cloud players like Amazon, Salesforce and Google were up to.  As a result of covering these companies I now have a new perspective about what these companies are doing right and where Microsoft may have room for improvement.  Ultimately, I think this helps me do my day job better as I have a good appreciation of where the industry is headed.

Since September, I have had the opportunity to write approximately 17 articles. I figured it would be fun to list my 5 favourite articles (in no particular order).

  • Salesforce Enters IOT Platform-  This provided me with one of those ‘ah ha’ moments.  I think Salesforce is onto something with this platform.  If you think about tying customer events into a customer engagement platform, I think Salesforce will have a lot of opportunities in this space.
  • PowerAppsI was sitting beside Richard at the MVP Summit where the team is talking about PowerApps.  Richard gave me a nudge and said – “hey you should break this story when it is no longer NDA”.  After the session I reached out to Wade Wagner from the product group who put me in touch with some marketing folks at Microsoft who ensured I had all of the information I required in order to launch a detailed article as soon as the embargo was lifted. It was neat to be part of launching a story like this.
  • Microsoft’s Integration Roadmap – While I did write about this on my blog, I was deliberate to provide my personal opinions on the matter.  The goal of the InfoQ article was to remain objective and speak to the facts.  Regardless, It was fun to write about this topic from that perspective and in that outlet.
  • Amazon IOT Beta– Once again, having not been familiar with what Amazon was doing with IOT, this gave me the opportunity to compare and contrast Amazon’s vision against Salesforce and Microsoft.
  • Event Hubs surpasses 1 Trillion messages in a month – This was my very first article and also gave me an opporunity to interview Dan Rosanova.  You can always get a good sound bite out of Dan.  It was really neat to see where Dan, Clemens and ther rest of the team have been able to take this service.

Looking ahead…

2016 should be another very interesting year in the area of Microsoft Integration.  We will see a new version of BizTalk Server, Logic Apps Updates, PowerApps Updates and also another Integrate event in Q2.

It is also off to a good start with my MVP being renewed.  All Integration MVPs have been moved into the Azure discipline. I believe this is my 9th year in the program.  I know someday it will end but until that time I am happy to continue to contribute to this excellent community.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

My Point of View: Microsoft Releases Integration Roadmap

On December 24th, 2015 Microsoft provided a Christmas gift to its customers, partners and broader eco-system in the form of a highly sought after roadmap.  For several years, customers and partners have been awaiting an “official” statement from Microsoft with clear direction on where they are headed.  Competitors have used the lack of a roadmap against them in compete situations. That has all changed as of this writing.

You can find the roadmap here and BizTalk360 founder and Microsoft MVP Saravana Kumar has provided his thoughts here.

My POV:

BizTalk is not dead

The BizTalk ‘franchise’ will continue to exist.  We will see a BizTalk Server 2016 next year that will include the following features:

    • Platform Alignment (Windows Server, SQL Server, Visual Studio)
    • SQL Server 2016 support and  Always-On Availability groups which will simplify BizTalk Disaster Recovery.
    • Full support for High Availability in Azure IaaS
    • Better support for cloud based integration and SaaS connectivity.  Today we have a lot of SaaS connectivity through API Apps.  I suspect we will see BizTalk Server to tap into these API Apps rather seamlessly.
    • Bug fixes and Adapter enhancements.

We will also continue to see ‘BizTalk’ capabilities being leveraged in Logic Apps in the form of API Apps such as BizTalk Transformations, encoding/decoding, Business Rules etc.

A unified vision from Microsoft

For some outsiders this may not be abundantly clear, but the BizTalk team lives within the Azure App Service team.  Subsequently, both the Logic App and BizTalk teams are the same team. This roadmap accounts for this and represents a single vision for Integration at Microsoft. 

For people familiar with both BizTalk and Logic Apps, it is probably evident that BizTalk and Logic Apps tend to operate at different ends of the integration spectrum. With BizTalk, customers get a solid on-premises integration broker that is very robust.  It is also very feature rich with support for BAM, Business Rules, EDI, ESB, Exception Portal, Pub/Sub messaging and much more.  However, all of these capabilities, there is a price to pay in terms of complexity and technical dependencies for it all to work.  As a result agility can become a concern for some customers.  For teams with concerns about BizTalk’s agility, their concerns can often times be resolved in Logic Apps.  In Logic Apps we have IPaaS capabilities with loads of SaaS connectivity and (soon)direct integration with API Management.

I think the following image (from roadmap) does a great job of illustrating where Microsoft is headed.  The goal is clearly symmetric capabilities, but provided in a modern platform. This modern platform is not BizTalk Server, but rather building out Logic Apps to address outstanding enterprise features and deliver them in the cloud and on-premises.  A key enabler of this story is Azure Stack.  Without it we will not see the new Logic App assets running in your own data center.  Microsoft is targeting an “IPaaS” preview in Q2 2016 and GA by end of the 2016.

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Bringing more people to the party

Let’s be honest, BizTalk developers have a very niche skill set.  I have been working with BizTalk since 2004 at several different organizations.  I have seen some amazing BizTalk solutions being built that literally run a company and have enabled many business opportunities for organizations.  I have also seen what happens when you don’t have good BizTalk people working in BizTalk.  It gets messy quickly.  This especially a problem in the BizTalk 2004 and 2006 days when there was little documentation and guidance out there.  Today, there are so many resources out there provided by MVPs and the community this is becoming less of an issue. (What other ecosystem can brag about a weekly international user group meeting run by the community). However, and I am confident in saying this, there are not a lot of BizTalk experts out there and it is a steep learning curve in getting people to a place where they will be productive and not ‘paint an organization into a corner’.

While this may not be a popular statement with people who have invested a significant amount of time in BizTalk, it needs to get simpler.  Microsoft has around 10 000 BizTalk customers (give or take).  With the introduction of SaaS and mobile, and subsequently more demand for integration, how can you scale both a technology and a resource pool to meet that demand?  In my opinion, you can’t do that with BizTalk nor is it designed to excel in these ‘new’ use cases.

As a result, we will continue to hear  messages of ‘democratization of integration’ or ‘citizen developers’.  While many will scoff, the need is real.  If I need to connect a SaaS application, such as Salesforce, with an on-premises application this should take hours and not days(if you need to setup BizTalk environments).  For organizations with an existing broker or ESB, they can turn this around quicker than an organization without, but not as quick as an IPaaS platform.  At the end of the day, organization don’t do integration for the sake of integration but rather for a business opportunity and the old adage of ‘time is money’ could not be truer in today’s economy.

The biggest challenge, and common rebuttal,  in a simplification scenario is that integration can be complex.  This is true and this will not go away.  Recently, my team has been involved in a complex energy trading implementation with many complex, large interfaces with critical data.  I am very confident in saying that this was not a good use case for IPaaS, at least not at this time. 

However, I also run into scenarios such as SaaS connectivity where I don’t need the heavy broker.  So clearly I can relate to both points of the integration spectrum.  For customers, lowering the barrier of entry for building interfaces is a good thing.  Expert integrators will continue to be required to address more complex scenarios and develop the right patterns and architectures, but we will also see integration tools being made available to mobile and web developers to build interfaces in a timely and cost efficient manner.  Ultimately this will allow Microsoft to grow both the platform and the ecosystem.  A healthy ecosystem is good for all parties.

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Conclusion

I am sure everyone reading the roadmap would love a magical, cohesive platform that combines both BizTalk Server with Azure App Service yesterday.  BizTalk was not built overnight, and similarly it will take time for the convergence of these two platforms to happen.  The good news is that we have official confirmation from Microsoft on where they are headed which is a great step while we await the bits to arrive.

Take this for what it is worth, but here is how I am acting on this roadmap.

  • Continue to use BizTalk for its strengths.  If you have complex integration needs that deal with on-premises systems, or complex messaging patterns,  continue to use BizTalk for those purposes. 
  • The SQL Server Always On feature may be worth the price of an upgrade alone from a Disaster Recovery perspective.  Let’s be honest, DR with the current BizTalk version is not ideal
  • Where you have trading partner, that can leverage APIs, mobility or SaaS connectivity requirements look to the modern IpaaS platform.  I am a big fan of keeping this type of integration on the edge of my enterprise.  I don’t want to open up firewalls and manage those configurations using legacy approaches.  Very easy to do so using Azure API management and API Apps. 
  • Azure Service Bus is a great way to bridge on-premise workloads with IPaaS connectivity.  It also enables Pub-Sub for Logic Apps.
  • Vote early and vote often! The Azure App Service team is very interested in feedback.  If you think something is missing, add it on User Voice here. Back in May I created topic for allowing BizTalk to talk to API Apps in order to allow for SaaS connectivity in BizTalk.  While I cannot take credit for this featuring being included in BizTalk 2016, it does show that the team is listening.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Azure Hybrid Integration Day coming to Calgary

Every year some of the brightest minds in Microsoft Integration descend upon Redmond, Washington for the Microsoft MVP Summit. This year 3 MVPs (Saravana Kumar, Steef-Jan Wiggers and Michael Stephenson) from Europe will be stopping by Calgary on their way to the Summit and will be giving some presentations.   Myself and a local Microsoft employee, Darren King, will also be presenting.

I have shared the stage with these MVPs before and can vouch that attendees are in for a unique experience as they discuss their experiences with Microsoft Azure and BizTalk Server.

During this full day of sessions you will learn about how BizTalk and Microsoft Azure can address integration challenges. Session topics include SaaS connectivity, IoT, Hybrid SQL Server, BizTalk administration & operations and Two Speed IT using Microsoft Azure. Also bring your burning questions for our interactive Ask the Experts Q & A.

The free event takes place on October 30th, 2015  at the Calgary Microsoft office.  You can find more details here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

/nSoftware Powershell Adapter for BizTalk Server

 

In the past I have blogged about /n Software and their SFTP Adapter here and here.  Hard to believe one of those posts goes back to 2007. One thing that /nSoftware continues to do is add new adapters to their suite.  In this case it is the Powershell Adapter.

Can’t say that a Powershell Adapter previously was on my radar until a scenario was brought to me.  We have a very specialized piece of software that does “analysis” (I will leave at that for now).  This software is essentially a library that has been wrapped around an exe.  This exe will receive a series of parameters including a path to a file that it will use to perform its analysis on.

A suggestion was brought up about calling this exe using Powershell.  While I am sure we could call this from .Net the Powershell warranted some investigation.  So sure enough in a web search, /nSoftware comes up with an offering and sure enough we had it installed in all of our environments.

Since BizTalk is going to deliver the flat file used as an input to this process, I decided to check out the Powershell Adapter and allow BizTalk to orchestrate the entire process.  For the purpose of this blog post I will over-simplify the process and focus more on a POC than the original use case.

As part of the POC I am going to receive an xml file that represents our Parameter data.  We will then send this same message out through a Send Port that is bound to the /nSoftware Powershell adapter.

In order to help illustrate this POC, I have a console application that will simply receive 3 parameters and then write the contents to a file in my c:temp folder.  The reason why I am writing to a file is that when I call this exe from Powershell I don’t see the console window being displayed.  Perhaps there is a way to do that but I didn’t look for a solution for that.

namespace PowerShellPOC
{
    class Program
    {
        static void Main(string[] args)
        {

            string[] lines = { args[0], args[1], args[2] };
            // WriteAllLines creates a file, writes a collection of strings to the file,
            // and then closes the file.
            string filename = DateTime.Now.ToString("ddMMyyyymmhhss") + ".txt";
            System.IO.File.WriteAllLines(@"C:\temp\" + filename, lines);

           
        }
    }
}

 

In hindsight, I should have just built a send port subscription but here is my orchestration.

image

Using a standard FILE – receive location

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On the Send things start to get a little more interesting. We will create a Static One-Way port and select the nSoftware.PowerShell.v4 Adapter.

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Within our configuration we need to provide a Port Name (which can be anything) and our script.

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If we click on the Script ellipses we can write our PowerShell script.  In this case we are able to retrieve our message that is moving through our Send Port and pass it into our executable.

image

If we only wanted some data elements we can also use $param3 = $xml.arguments.ReturnType

In this case “arguments” is our root node of our BizTalk Message and “ReturnType” is a child node in our XML Document.

When we go to process a file we will find that our text file has been created and it contains our 3 parameters; 2 that are hard coded and our BizTalk Messsage Payload.

image

Conclusion

When I think of BizTalk, I don’t necessarily think of Powershell.  But there will always be times when you need to perform some function that is a little bit off mainstream.  What I do like about this approach that there was no additional custom dev required to support the solution and we can use the actual BizTalk message in our Powershell script.

I am still exploring the capabilities of the adapter but after a dialog with the /nSoftware team I understand that remote Powershell scripts can be run and we can also use Dynamic ports and Solicit Response ports if we want to return messages from our PowerShell script to BizTalk.

For more details please check out the /nSoftware website.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

BizTalk 2013 SharePoint Adapter not respecting SharePoint 2013 View Name

 

I have done a lot of BizTalk-SharePoint Integration in the past and ran into a situation recently that surprised me. There wasn’t an easily identifiable resolution online so I have decided to document this for the benefit of others.

Background

We have a process that requires a user to approve a financial summary document in SharePoint.  Once the document has been approved, BizTalk will then fetch the details behind those financial transactions, from another source system, and send them to SAP.

In the past I have leveraged SharePoint views as a way for BizTalk to pickup messages from a SharePoint document library. The way to achieve this is to rely upon meta data that can be populated within a SharePoint document library column.

Adding a custom column to a document is very simple.  Under the library tab we will discover the Create Column label. We can simply click this button and then add a column and related properties as required. 

image

With our custom column created, we can now create a view for BizTalk to “watch”.  In our example we were dealing with an approval workflow.  We can create our custom column called Status and then when BizTalk initially publishes this financial summary document(for users to approve), we can use the SharePoint adapter to populate this column with a value of Pending.  After a user has reviewed the document, that Status value can be changed to Approved.

Since we don’t want BizTalk to move Pending documents we will create a view that will only show Approved documents.  To create a custom View we can once again click on the Library tab and then click on Create View

 

image

For our purposes a Standard View will be sufficient.

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We need to provide a View Name and can also indicate where we want this column to be positioned.

Tip – In my experience I have experienced odd behavior with spaces in the name of SharePoint entities.  My advice is to avoid spaces in names where possible.

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Lastly, since we only want Approved documents to show up in this field we need to add a filter.

Within our filter we want to Show items only when the following is true:

Status is equal to Approved

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We can now save our view and test it. To test it we will upload two documents.  One will have the Status of Approved and the other will have a Status of Pending.  When we click on All Documents we should see both documents.

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When we click on our view for BizTalk, which in this case is called BizTalkMoveView we will only see our Approved document.

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From a SharePoint perspective we are good and we can now create our SharePoint Receive Location in BizTalk.  For the purposes of this blog post I am using a Send Port Subscription; I will receive the message from SharePoint and then send it to a File folder.

In our BizTalk Receive Location configuration we are going to use the Client OM which in this case is the SharePoint Client Object API.  This allows us to communicate with SharePoint without having to install any agents on a SharePoint Server.

We also need to configure our SharePoint Site URL, Source Document Library URL and View Name

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When we enable our Send Port and Receive Location we should receive 1 file in our File Folder right? WRONG! Both files were picked up and moved to our file folder even though we have a View enabled.

image

If we go back to SharePoint we will discover both documents are gone.

image

Issue

The issue is that for some reason, BizTalk 2013 is not using/respecting the View Name property that is available in the Receive Location Configuration.

Resolution

The resolution is to install BizTalk 2013 CU 2. The download and more details about CU2 can be found here.

Before you install, the recommended approach from Microsoft is:

  • Stop all host instances
  • Stop SQL Server Agent which is responsible for running the internal BizTalk jobs
  • Perform a Database Backup

Running the CU2 exe is pretty straight forward and only takes a couple minutes.  I wasn't prompted for a reboot but decided to go that route regardless.

After applying the CU, I uploaded two documents again.  One had a Status  of Approved while the other had a Status  of Pending.

image

Our BizTalkMoveView is also displaying our file correctly

image

When we enable our Receive Location we will discover that only our Approved file has moved.

image

image

Our document that was in a Pending state remains in SharePoint as expected.

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Conclusion

BizTalk 2013 was the first version that had support for the SharePoint Client Object model.  So I am not sure if this bug only impacts when you are using the Client OM within the BizTalk Receive Location.  I do know that in previous versions of BizTalk that this was not an issue.  However those versions of BizTalk relied upon the SharePoint Adapter Service being installed on the remote SharePoint Server.  Using the Client OM is the way to go as it also allows you to communicate with SharePoint Online/Office365.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Introducing Azure App Service

If you have been keeping up with cloud based platforms, I am sure that you have realized it has become a very competitive landscape.  Some cloud platforms focus on websites ,infrastructure, and database platforms, while others focus on integration or API management.  We even have Mobile backend as a service platforms that we can choose from. While organizations can choose to cherry pick from each of these different platforms, they can also get first class capabilities, that encompasses all of these domains, from Microsoft’s Azure platform.


At the Integrate 2014 conference in December, 2014 Microsoft gave us a preview of its next generation ‘App’ platform.  At the time, the term Microservice was being used to describe the “architecture style” of the applications that can be built using this new platform.  While the Microservice name did not make its way into the product, the concepts that were discussed at that event have not changed. The day has finally arrived when this Next Generation has emerged in the form of a Preview Service.  The name of this service is called Azure App Service.

For Microsoft this is a PLATFORM PLAY.  No longer do we see disparate product lines in the areas of Integration, API Management, Web Development, Mobility and Workflow.  In addition to these characteristics, we also have the rest of Azure that we can leverage including Service Bus, Analytic Engines(both Microsoft and 3rd party), Databases and Infrastructure.  When you think of all of these different capabilities, using a common platform, common authentication schemes, common tooling, common billing and a global reach for providing these services, Azure is more than just compelling.
Using the Azure App Service we can now create the following types of Apps:

  • Web Apps
    • Build and deploy mission critical Web Apps that can leverage Azure’s hyper-scale capabilities.
  • Mobile Apps
    • The evolution of Azure Mobile Services that allows developers to build engaging Mobile Applications.
  • API Apps
    • Expose your own WebAPIs, consume APIs including 3rd party SaaS based connectors for many popular SaaS platforms.
  • Logic Apps
    • Build workflow application in a declarative manner using a Web browser.

What are some use cases of an API App?
An example of an API app may be a SalesForce connector.  Consider a scenario where you have a mobile application that requires data from SalesForce.  There may be good reasons to place this request on a messaging bus (and don’t worry you still can!) but there may also be good reasons to plug into a connector directly.  Consider a low latency situation where you want to by-pass a monolithic ESB in favor of something lighter.  You could use an API Client library that allows you to consume this SalesForce connector without having a complicated auth scenario.   If you have ever looked at a Mobile Service client, you will feel very comfortable working with API App Client.  When I saw an insider’s demo of this functionality, I was really happy to see the similarities to a paradigm that I am used to.
Similarly, what if you have built an ASP.Net Web API and you want to consume it from a Web Application.  While it can be fun constructing a json message using a String Builder (not really), wouldn’t it be nice to leverage a strongly typed API Client instead?  Yes it would!  So once again much like Azure Mobile Services client we can use something similar in the form of an API App Client.
Another aspect of API apps is that Swagger is a first class citizen of Azure App Service.  We have the ability to generate contracts between the client and API Server which aids in having strongly typed client libraries.

A point worth making is that when building or consuming API apps you are in Visual Studio and there is an accompanying Visual Studio SDK to leverage in order to build or call these API Apps.
Another interesting aspect of this platform is the Cross Platform capabilities.  You can choose to build your APIs in the language of your choice (Java, PHP, Node.js, Python + .Net) and expose them as an HTTP endpoint which you can then consume from other applications.

What are some use cases of a Logic App?
A Logic App is really a workflow application.  Personally, I am not a big fan of Logic App name but it is preview so maybe it will change.  One of the first questions that comes to mind is this workflow based upon Windows Workflow and the answer is no.  Perhaps this is why Microsoft stayed away from using “Workflow App”.

What is interesting about a Logic App is that this is a Workflow that you would construct in a Web Browser without writing code. While some people have made some references to IFTTT (If This Then That), Microsoft feels that this is a much more robust, Enterprise grade, platform.
Below is a screenshot of a “work in progress” Logic App. In this example we can retrieve records from SQL Server, create contacts in Salesforce and then send a welcome tweet all without writing a line of code.

In order to add a connector we simply drag and drop it onto our Logic App canvas and then configure it.
image
A question you may be asking is well if I am composing a workflow in the cloud, how can I add some version control around this?  Behind the scenes, the Logic App Workflow itself is based upon JSON and we have the ability to save/export this JSON data and subsequently store in TFS/GIT etc.


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So where does BizTalk(Integration) fit into this platform?
The BizTalk brand continues to exist both on-premise in its BizTalk Server sku but also in the form of an API App or what is being called a BizTalk API App.  Since building integration applications requires more than just connectivity we can expect to still perform valuable functions such as:

  • Rules Engine
  • Batching/Debatching
  • Encoders/Decoders
  • VETR messaging patterns (Validate, Extract, Transform, Route)
  • EDI
    • X12
    • EDIFACT
    • AS2
  • Hybrid Connectivity

We can drag these BizTalk API Apps onto our Logic App Canvas much like any other connector. I have highlighted a few of them.


image


It is important to remember that this is a Platform play.  BizTalk, within Azure, now participates in the broader platform.  You can think of the platform as a series of building blocks.  As a developer you now have the ability to select the different building blocks that you need in order to build a compelling solution.  As an example of the breadth of this platform, you do not see Workflow currently listed in the BizTalk section, but that doesn’t mean that the capability doesn’t exist.  This is a capability that is part of Logic Apps. As a BizTalk person we need to start thinking more about Azure and that is a good thing due to the vast amount of capabilities that exist.  Let’s be honest, in the past BizTalk seemed to be a distant cousin of Azure, but it clearly has a place at the family table in this new paradigm.

This is good news for developers.  In the past BizTalk has been accused of being too bulky of a platform with too much ‘lift’ required for developers to be productive.  With this new platform Microsoft is democratizing integration and bringing the toolset that BizTalk Developers are used to using to a broader audience.  This will enable more use cases that involve BizTalk and as a result we will see more integrated Web and Mobile applications leveraging BizTalk capabilities.
In addition to these core BizTalk API capabilities we will also see Connectors in the form of SaaS Connectors, Premium Connectors and Protocol Connectors.
SaaS Connectors

  • Office 365
  • SalesForce
  • Sugar CRM
  • OneDrive
  • DropBox
  • Marketo
  • Facebook
  • Box
  • QuickBooks
We will also see Premium Connectors in the form of:
  • SAP
  • Seibel
  • Oracle
  • DB2
and Protocol Connectors in the form of:
  • FTP
  • SFTP
  • POP3/IMAP
  • SMTP
  • HTTP
  • SOAP

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Conclusion
I have heard many people refer to this release as the “Back to BizTalk 2004” release.  What I mean by this is that back in 2004, Microsoft released BizTalk which at the time was the most modern Integration platform available.  While we are still in preview and there is a lot to learn, there are a lot of expectations about this release.  The current version of BizTalk is extremely robust, but it could benefit by having some very modern capabilities and being able to efficiently run in the cloud.  What we are seeing today are the initial steps of BizTalk once again becoming the most modern Integration platform available. 


One particular pattern that I am going to be interested in exploring is the hybrid connectivity scenarios that exist.  As you may have noticed above, we do have an Azure Service Bus Connector.  We also have an Azure Service Bus Adapter in BizTalk Server.  So suppose you have an async messaging requirement that involves on-premises systems but you want to tap into one of these cloud based systems.  Well now you can leverage the Service Bus to ‘bridge’ your on-prem envionment with the Azure App Platform Service where we can then leverage one of these fancy new SaaS connectors to talk to SaaS system like Box, Marketo, Dropbox etc without having to do any custom work in BizTalk Server.  It allows you to take advantage of robust on-premise messaging while tapping into modern, SaaS base connectivity and allows you to migrate these workflows to the cloud at a cadence that you are comfortable with and that make business sense.

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It is also worth mentioning that I am just scratching the surface on these new capabilities and we are still in Preview mode.  I think being a Microsoft platform developer is going to get even more exciting than it already is.  I think developers will be able to build some compelling, mobile, connected apps using a vast array of building blocks.
Expect much more to come on this blog regarding this release.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Upcoming Presentation: BizTalk Boot Camp

 

BizTalk Boot Camp 2015 – Microsoft Campus, Charlotte North Carolina


In addition to me speaking at the BizTalk Summit in London,  I will also be speaking about Azure API Management at the BizTalk Boot camp at the Microsoft campus in Charlotte on April 29th/30th.

I had the opportunity to speak at this event two years ago and was happy to come back.  The event is being organized by Mandi Ohlinger who works for Microsoft and is responsible for a lot of the technical content that you find on Azure BizTalk Services and BizTalk Server.

This is a free event and registration is required.

My topic will be an introduction to Azure API Management and how you can leverage this new Azure capability with your existing BizTalk Services.