Keeping Up with the Cloud Services Using Logic Apps

By Nick Hauenstein

We’re living in exciting times, where releases of new functionality of all of our favorite software (e.g., Logic Apps, Visual Studio Team Services, and BizTalk Server) isn’t happening every 2 years, it’s happening every 2 weeks. With all of the benefits that such a release cadence brings, it also introduces the dilemma of how to both be productive with the technology, and keep up to date with all of the new features.

For example, while I was at the Integrate conference this year in London, many asked how it’s possible to keep our live 5-day Logic Apps class up-to-date. “Certainly it must be out-of-date if it’s not small recorded videos, right?” Actually, we update the class before each run to incorporate the latest product updates.

In this post, I want to share a strategy that we at QuickLearn have found works to stay on top of the latest technology changes, and give you the tools to implement it yourself.

Enabling Continuous Education

The first step in working towards staying up-to-date with the latest and greatest a technology offers will be locating the ever-evolving list of what’s new. Microsoft maintains a feed of new features for Logic Apps, and even a feed of new features for Visual Studio Team Services (another technology that we teach here). The feed for Logic Apps will be updated less frequently than the listing of features in the Azure Portal, however.

Let’s use one of those feeds, and build a Logic App that notifies us when there is a change by using the RSS trigger to queue up an instance of that Logic App whenever a new item is published to the RSS feed.

RSS Trigger Configuration

Creating a Learning Backlog

At QuickLearn, we add research items for continuous education as Product Backlog Items in VSTS. They sit alongside the core work of building products (in our case, courseware), but serve to carve out some capacity to build up the team itself. Each item carries with it the responsibility to quickly research and/or build a proof of concept using the new feature, or features, whilst also taking extensive notes to share with the team. I made all of my notes public for the release of BizTalk Server 2013 and BizTalk Server 2013 R2, and I wrote them directly in Live Writer to facilitate this. These days, I use OneNote for the same purpose.

Your organization might not want to allocate company time for such efforts. If so, you can always setup a personal VSTS account and do such research and experimentation on your own time.

Thankfully, Logic Apps has a connector for VSTS, which makes the task of building up a learning backlog an easy task to accomplish. The work items themselves will serve as our notifications of new product features:

VSTS Create Work Item Action

Working from the Continuous Learning Backlog

Once the Logic App runs (just the single trigger and single action), it produces backlog items to learn about new features in Logic Apps. In the way that I’ve configured it, it runs every 7 days and will automatically populate your backlog with any new features it finds. Your team can decide to investigate and/or not investigate these features further depending on what they are, and/or if they will help in future efforts on your projects.

Continuous Education Backlog Item

If any features in the release sound helpful and warrant further investigation, you can break out as many tasks as are required to investigate applicable features to see what value you can derive from them. I like taking the approach of building a 30-60 minute proof of concept for each feature, rather than just reading about it. Each team member can take a relevant feature for a test drive, and present it during sprint review.

Decomposing Learning Item Into Tasks

For QuickLearn, backlog items like this are a common occurrence. We update our Logic Apps class before each delivery to incorporate all of the latest and greatest features that we can fit. I always love the week of class, being able to share all of the fun and fresh goodies that the product team has cooked up.

I Need to Get Up to Speed Now

If you want a leg up, and a way to get up-to-speed quickly, there are some good opportunities coming up to do just that:

I’ll be speaking at each of those, and hope to see you there! Good luck on your continuously expanding cloud integration journey!

BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1

By Rob Callaway

Ooh, shiny!

On April 26th 2017, Microsoft released Feature Pack 1 (FP1) for BizTalk Server 2016 and it’s been a while since I was this excited for a BizTalk Server release. Yeah, I just said that. I’m more excited for this feature pack than I was for BizTalk Server 2016 or even 2013 and 2013 R2, and here’s why… this is the first ever Feature Pack for any release of BizTalk Server, and is setting a precedent that we have never seen before in the 16+ years of the product.

So, what is a feature pack?

A feature pack is a release of new non-breaking features for the product. These are not bug fixes or anything like that (those are distributed quarterly through Cumulative Updates). These are brand-new features that extend the product in new ways and help customers get the most out of their BizTalk Server investment.

The product team has confirmed that other feature packs are in the works, but they have not publicly confirmed when we can expect them. In discussions I’ve had with Tord Glad Nordahl (a program manager at Microsoft and longtime lover of BizTalk Server), he said:

“If it takes 6 months to build new features there will be another feature pack in 6 months, and if it takes 2 months there will be a new one in 2 months.”

My takeaway is that the team’s goal is to offer real answers to problems that customers face in the timeliest manner possible.

I’m excited that the BizTalk Engineering team at Microsoft will be releasing new features on a more regular cadence. It’s awesome that they are building new features to address long-overlooked issues and not making us wait another 2 years to get our hands on them.

FP1 is available to customers with Software Assurance who are using the Developer or Enterprise editions of BizTalk Server 2016.

FP1 introduces some innovative new features to BizTalk Server and addresses some longstanding concerns that many customers have had. The new features break down into three categories.


Anyone who’s worked with BizTalk Server knows that the deployment/ALM story has left something to be desired. For years, the “official” deployment story has been to deploy applications using BizTalk MSI Packages. Although the BizTalk MSIs are pretty easy to use and they work well for simple applications, they tend to be inflexible and break with the complexities of a real application in the real world.

For example, to create a BizTalk MSI Package I have to deploy all my assets to the BizTalk Server Management database and then I can generate an MSI with those assets. It sounds easy and it is. The issue is that if I introduce a new assembly, or port, or anything at all, I have to add that new resource to the BizTalkMgmtDb and then generate a new MSI. In the modern world of DevOps and continuous integration/deployment, the standard MSI-based deployment is pretty cumbersome and most teams wanting to adopt those types of strategies need a different answer.

In the past, those teams have used community-designed tools such as the BizTalk Deployment Framework to automate building an MSI from source code repositories (like most modern ALM solutions) and therefore eliminating the need to deploy to a BizTalk Server system to create the deployment package. Feature Pack 1 for BizTalk Server 2016 introduces two new features that will serve as a foundation for more sophisticated deployment strategies in the future (which my inside sources at Microsoft have confirmed are coming in later feature packs).

  • Deploy with VSTS – Enable Continuous Integration to automatically deploy and update applications using Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS).
    For anyone who has used the build/release features of TFS or VSTS, this will be immediately familiar. This is a deployment task that you add to your release pipelines to deploy new or redeploy/update existing BizTalk Server applications.
    If you haven’t used the build/release features of TFS or VSTS check out this post where I explain how to use those features to enable continuous release for a Logic App.
  • New management APIs – Manage your environment remotely using the new REST APIs with full Swagger support.
    Imagine having RESTful web APIs for updating, adding, or querying the status of your BizTalk Server applications and their resources… now stop imagining it because it’s a real thing!


The tracking capabilities in BizTalk Server are extensive, but the configuration is often unintuitive, and no one likes digging through the BizTalkDTADb for the instance data they need.

FP1 enables you to send your tracking data to Azure Application Insights and feed operational data (subscriptions, batching status, message instance counts, etc.) to Power BI.

  • Application Insights – Tap into the power of Azure for tracking valuable application performance, usage, diagnostics, and availability.
    Enabling this is super easy: after creating an Application Insights instance, in the BizTalk Settings Dashboard there’s a new section for enabling analytics.

    Enabling Application Insights for the BizTalk Server group as introduced in BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1

    Once you’ve enabled analytics and provided your App Insights instrumentation key, in your ports and orchestrations you will have a new setting to output the tracking data to App Insights.

    Enabling Application Insights for a BizTalk Server orchestration as introduced in BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1

  • Leverage operational data – View operational data from anywhere and with any device using Power BI.
    This operational data is the same kind of information that you’d typically view using the BizTalk Group Hub (suspended instances, subscriptions, tracked events, etc.). If you can build a query for it using the Group Hub, you can output that to Power BI… but why would you?
    Because Power BI gives you the ability to view that data from anywhere (without having direct access to the BizTalk Group), and the tools in Power BI make querying that data surprisingly easy. With Power BI, you can ask questions in plain English and have MDX-style queries created for you in the background. FP1 comes with a pre-built Power BI template, but you of course have the ability to build your own. I’m interested to see what the BizTalk community can create using these tools.


If I’m being completely honest, the two features in this runtime category weren’t really on my radar at all until Tord Glad Nordahl stopped by one of my classes last month and discussed them with the students. But now that I’ve seen them, I’m excited for the potential and happy that customers with these requirements are getting some much needed love.

  • Support for Always Encrypted – Use the WCF-SQL adapter to connect to SQL Server secure Always Encrypted columns.
    Basically, SQL Server 2016 introduced a feature that enables client applications to read/write encrypted data within a SQL table without actually providing the encryption keys to SQL Server. This gives a new level of data security since the owners of the secure data (i.e., the client applications) can see it, but the manager of the data (i.e., SQL Server) cannot.
    This ensures that on-premises or cloud database administrators or other high-privileged (but unauthorized) users cannot access the sensitive data.
    With Feature Pack 1 of BizTalk Server 2016, the WCF-SQL adapter now offers an Always Encrypted property where you can simply enable or disable the feature as your needs dictate.

    WCF-SQL Adapter Always Encrypted property as introduced in BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1

  • Advanced Scheduling – Set up advanced schedules for BizTalk receive locations.
    The Schedule page of receive locations has additional options for shifting time zones and setting up recurrence schedules.

    BizTalk Server receive location advanced scheduling options as introduced in BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1

As always, the QuickLearn Training team is already looking for the best ways to incorporate these new features into our courses, but until we do you should grab the Feature Pack for yourself and give these new features a spin for yourself. While you’re at it go to the BizTalk Server User Voice page and vote for the features that you’d like to see in the next feature pack, or if you have an original idea for a feature add it there and see how much love it gets.