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.
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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.


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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.

Upcoming Presentation: BizTalk Summit

 

BizTalk Summit 2015 -  April 13/14 London, England

The BizTalk Summit has become an annual, must attend, event in London.  This event is once again being organized by BizTalk360 in conjunction with Microsoft and the BizTalk Product group.  BizTalk360 has organized several large events and I expect this one to be even bigger than some of the other events they have hosted including the very successfully Integrate 2014 event they put on in Redmond in December 2014.

There have been over 250 attendees registered and you can still take advantage of some discounted tickets being available.  This event provides a great opportunity to learn and network with Integration experts from all over the world including Microsoft BizTalk and Service Bus product team members.  Please visit this link for registration information.

My buddy Sandro Pereira has put together a blog post called Top 7 reasons to attend BizTalk Summit 2015 which I thought was an interesting read.  You can take a look at that article here.

Recently, some of the BizTalk Summit session abstracts have been posted, including mine, so I thought I would update my blog as my the sessions were not public when I previously announced I would be speaking.

My topic is on API Management and more specifically Azure API Management.  You can read the details below.

Session Abstract

API Management Part 1 – An Introduction to Azure API Management

Building APIs is not just about technology. APIs enable many new business opportunities, but only if done correctly. As a result of lucrative opportunities, many Software vendors have emerged or pivoted from their SOA management roots to provide API Management capabilities. These API Management platforms provide the building blocks behind a successful API program.

In this session, Kent will introduce you to Microsoft’s Azure API Management platform by providing an overview that highlights its capabilities and the opportunities that emerge for organizations. As part of this presentation, Kent will demonstrate how developers can create their first API and discuss strategies for transforming existing services to leverage Azure API Management.

This presentation will consist of general guidance on API Management, an Azure API Management portal walk-through and demos that re-enforce the concepts that were introduced.

You may be asking yourself – “Part 1” well what is “Part 2”?  There will be another session that includes Azure API Management by Tomasso Groenendijk. We have been working together to ensure there is no overlap and he will pick up where I leave off from an Azure API Management capability perspective.  

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

BizTalk Summit 2015 – London

Last year I had the opportunity to participate in the BizTalk Summit in London.  It was a great event with more than 200 attendees from 20 different countries present.  For a recap of this trip please check out this blog post.

I was recently asked if I was interested in coming back to speak at this year’s event which I gladly accepted.

More details will be available in coming weeks but the agenda is shaping up to be excellent with sessions from the BizTalk Product group, other Microsoft employees and several Microsoft Integration MVPs. I think this event will be even bigger than the recent Integrate event in Redmond which was a big success.  If you are in Europe, you do not want to miss this event.

My session abstract has been put forward and should be up on the event website in the coming days so I don’t want to ruin that surprise, but you can expect it to be focused on Azure API Management and how it plays a role in a BizTalk developer’s toolset.

LondonSummit -speakers-badges

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Upcoming Presentation – February 2nd, 2015

Recently Integration MVPs Michael Stephenson and Saravana Kumar have launched a series of community-focused integration events.  What is unique about these events is that they have been designed to cater to an International audience.  Live Webinars have been held every Monday evening (UK time) for the past couple weeks and for several more in the near future.  They have created a website, appropriately called http://www.integrationusergroup.com/ where you can find all the details for these events.

When Michael asked if I was willing to present the talk I gave at the Integrate 2014 event I was happy to oblige.  On Monday, February 2nd I will be discussing “What to look for in an Integration Platform”.  I have included the overview for the session below and want to take this opportunity to thank Michael, Saravana and the BizTalk360 team for hosting these events and providing a great service to the Integration community.

Overview

The landscape for integration platforms continues to evolve. Cloud, Hybrid, Mobility, SaaS connectivity, API Management and MicroServices are introducing new architectural patterns and requirements. These new capabilities are also introducing new entrants in the integration platform industry. For customers who are looking to upgrade, or adopt a new integration platform, this can be an overwhelming and confusing situation. In this talk, Kent will take a requirements driven approach when selecting an integration platform.

http://www.integrationusergroup.com/?event=what-to-look-for-in-an-integration-platform&event_date=2015-02-02

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Slides from Calgary Azure Dev Camp

On January 10, 2015 I had the opportunity to speak about the Azure Service Bus.  This was an introductory presentation on the subject, but I  was able to sneak in a more complex demo at the end that includes Azure Mobile Services and BizTalk.  I have uploaded the slides to slideshare below.  If you want to see a video of the the final demo you can view that on Channel 9.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 Year in Review and looking ahead to 2015

It is that time of year where I take a step back and reflect on the previous year and then start thinking about the upcoming year.  2014 was an incredible year, one that I will not forget any time soon.  I did a lot of travelling in 2014 and met a lot of great people, for this I am grateful for the opportunities that allowed this to happen.

So let’s get into it, here are some of the events that took place over the past year.

Released another book

Johan Hedberg, Morten la Cour and myself released a second edition of the (MCTS) Microsoft BizTalk Server (70-595) certification book to include new BizTalk 2013 content. We released the book in March, 2014 as it also co-incided with the launch of the Microsoft Partner Assessment exam that Microsoft uses to measure its Silver or Gold Application Integration partners.

If your are interested in getting certified, either personally or as part of the Microsoft Partner network, I still feel that it is a great resource that will aid you in achieving your goal.

The Book is available from both Amazon and Packt

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European Adventure

In March, I had the opportunity to head to Europe to present at a few events.  These events included the BizTalk Summit in London on March 3rd/4th, Swedish BizTalk User group in Stockholm, Sweden on March 5th and the Netherlands BizTalk User group on March 6th.

Special thanks to Saravana Kumar, Johan Hedberg and Steef-Jan Wiggers for allowing me to participate in these different events in your countries.  The BizTalk community is second to none in Europe so it is always an honour to head over there.

Even though it was an extremely busy week, we did have some time to see the sights in London. But otherwise a lot of time was spent at airports and in airplanes.

MuleSoft

After my return from Europe, I made a career change and joined MuleSoft. Event though MuleSoft has its headquarters in San Francisco I was able to sign on as a Remote Solutions Architect.

In 2014, MuleSoft made a lot of investments in supporting the Microsoft eco-system.  Most of the activities I was involved with included Microsoft at some level. The highlight of my time there would have to be getting involved in the release of a couple of investments related to calling .NET code (.Net Connector) from a Mule workflow and the MSMQ connector. I had the opportunity to demonstrate these components at MuleSoft’s flagship event called Connect in San Francisco in May 2014.

I decided to leave MuleSoft at the end of September 2014.  The logistics of me being a remote worker in Canada created some challenges and as a result I decided to move on.   Overall, I value the time I spent at MuleSoft.  I got to learn about a new eco-system, met a lot of great, smart people and got exposure to API Management which I hadn’t been exposed to previously.

After leaving Mulesoft, I traded my eclipse IDE for Visual Studio.  I have shifted my attention back to the Microsoft Integration stack including BizTalk, Azure Service Bus and Azure API Management. 

MVP Summit

I was able to attend the Annual MVP Summit in Redmond.  It was another great opportunity to talk shop with my integration colleagues from around the globe. Since the Summit has moved to the fall instead of Spring, we have developed a bit of a tradition by heading to Lowell’s, in the Pike Market, for breakfast before heading to a Seattle Seahawks game.  Even though it rained pretty much the whole game it was still a fun way to to spend a Sunday ffternoon.

 

Microsoft had a bit of a surprise for us once the sessions started.  It was at this point that we started to hear more about the next generation platform that they were building.  This more than kept us occupied in many discussions through-out the week. 

 

Channel 9

The amount of brain-power that shows up for MVP Summit is flat-out impressive.  Some of the brightest minds in the industry are present and eager to share some of their experiences.  Mark Mortimore, who runs marketing for BizTalk, decided to tap into some of this knowledge and have people record some short demos in advance of the Integrate 2014 event.  I took this opportunity to discuss a scenario I had built in the spring involving capturing data from a Power Plant and making it available to mobile devices via BizTalk, Azure Service Bus and Azure Mobile Services. You can view my clip and others here.

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Integrate 2014

Microsoft held its annual Integration event in North America in December 2014.  I had the opportunity to speak at this event. My topic involved considerations when choosing an Integration Platform.  The Integration Platform landscape has been very crowded lately and there are a lot of mixed messages flying around.  The point of my session was to take a step back an look at a requirements based process to selecting a platform.  I discussed some of the top requirements that I would be looking for in a platform.

I also took this opportunity to announce a Whitepaper that myself, Michael Stephenson and Steef -Jan Wiggers had been working on called Choosing the right Integration Platform. This whitepaper is available for free on the BizTalk360 site.

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The Integrate 2014 event had an incredible amount of announcements and gave attendees a lot of insight into where Microsoft is headed with Integration.  You can find a more detailed recap of the event here.

ASU

During all of these activities, I was also pursuing a Master’s Degree.  In December 2014, I graduated from Arizona State University with a 4.0 GPA.  The program that I was enrolled in was called MSIM (Masters of Science in Information Management).  The program is delivered on-campus and online through the W.P. Carey School of Business.  For the past 16 months I have spent approximately 20 hours a week in the program.

It was a great experience and I am glad that I had the opportunity to go through it.  I had some great teammates in my group and we worked really well together even though both of them are in Phoenix and I am in Calgary.

2015

In 2015, I am definitely looking for a slower pace and being able to spend more time with my family. While I will continue to focus on technology with my spare cycles, I definitely plan to spend more time skiing and running this year.  Between school and doing a lot of travel last year these are some of the activities that I had to concede.

From a technology perspective, I certainly plan to dive deeper into the upcoming Microsoft Microservices offering, Azure API Management, Azure Event Hubs and Stream Analytics.

MVP Award

I did receive word that my MVP status has been renewed for 2015.  I want to thank both my Canadian MVP leads Sim and Joel and the Product Group leadership team  Vivek, Guru and Mark for keeping me in the program even though I spent some time away in another platform.  2015 is going to be a really big year for Microsoft in the Integration space and I am thrilled to get involved.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank all my twitter followers and readers of this blog for their continued interest in what I have to say.  The Microsoft Integration community is really amazing and I am inspired to be part of it.  Here’s to a great 2015!