Integrate 2014 – Final Thoughts

By Nick Hauenstein

The last day at Integrate 2014 started off early with Microsoft IT demonstrating the benefits of their early investment in BizTalk Services to the bottom line, and then transitioned into presentations by Microsoft Integration MVPs Michael Stephenson and Kent Weare discussing the cloud in practice, and  how to choose an integration platform respectively.

Those last two talks were especially good, and I would recommend giving them a watch once the videos are posted on the Integrate 2014 event channel on the Channel 9 site.

Integration Current/Futures q+A Panel

At this point, I’m going to stray from the style of my previous posts on Integration 2014. The reason for that is that I want to take a little bit of time to clarify some things that I have posted, as well as to correct factual errors – given that we’re all learning this stuff at the same time right now. Don’t get me wrong, I do not at all want to discount the excellent sessions for the day from Integration MVPs and partners, I just believe it more important right now to make sure that I don’t leave errors on the table and propagate misunderstanding.

It seemed like throughout the conference, the whole BizTalk team, but Guru especially, was constantly fielding questions and correcting misunderstandings about the new microservices strategy. To that end, he organized an informal ad-hoc panel of fellow team members and Microsoft representatives to put everything out on the table and to answer any question that was kicking around in the minds of attendees about all of the new stuff for the week.

I’m going to let an abbreviated transcript (the best I could manage without recording the audio) do the talking here.

Microservices is not the name of the product, it’s a way you can build Stuff

Q – We heard about microservices on Wednesday, how come you (to Kannan from MS IT) are going live with MABS, when you know that there are changes coming down the pipeline?

A – (Vivek Dali): “A lot of people walked away with microservices is the name of the product, and it’s not the name of the product, it’s an architectural pattern that creates the foundation for building BizTalk on top of. There is no product called Microservices that will replace BizTalk Services. BizTalk Services v1.0 had certain functionality, it had B2B, EAI, and there was big demand for orchestration and rules engine, and what we’re doing is adding that functionality. It does not mean that BizTalk Service v1.0 is dead and we have to re-do it. MS IT is actually one of the biggest customers of BizTalk [Services], and we’re telling them to stay in it, and we’re committing to support them as well as move them as we introduce new functionality over […]. The next step in how MABS is evolving is to a microservices architecture.”

Microsoft Is CommitteD To a Solid Core For Long-Term Cloud Integration

Q – (Michael Stephenson): I’m kind of one of the people that gives Guru quite the hard time […] About this time last year, I did a really deep dive with you on MABS 1.0 because we were considering when we would use it, what it offered, what the use cases were. At the time, I decided that it wasn’t ready for us yet […]. When we did the SDR earlier this last year, it was quite different at that time […] We were giving the team a lot of feedback on isolation and ease of deployment, and personally my opinion is that I really like the stuff shown this week, you really fielded that feedback. What I’ve seen from where we were a year ago, and from that SDR, personally I’m really pleased.

A) Don’t worry about coming around and telling us what we’re doing wrong — we do value that feedback. We will commit to come back to you as often as we can […].

(Vivek): Here’s how I think about the product: there’s a few fundamental things that we HAVE to get right, and then there’s a feature list. I’m not worried about the feature list right now, I’m worried about what we NEED to get right to last for the next ten years. Don’t worry about how we’ll take the feedback, send us your emails, we value that feedback.

BizTalk Services Isn’t Going Away, It’s Being Aligned to a Microservices Architecture

Q: I had a conversation with Guru outside, which I think is worthwhile sharing with everybody […] I was really confused at the beginning of the session as to how microservices fits in with where we are with BizTalk Server and with MABS 1.0 and where that brings us moving forward. How do the pipelines and bridges map to where we’re going. I was really excited about the workflow concept, but I couldn’t see that link between the workflow and the microservices.

A – (Guru): The flow was that you had to have a receive port, and a pipeline, and you would persist it in a message box for somebody to subscribe, and that subscriber could be a workflow and a downstream system. That was server, that continues and that has been there for 10+ years.

Then there’s a pattern of I’m receiving something, transforming, and sending it somewhere, and in services that was one entity — and we called that a bridge. It consisted of a receiving endpoint a sequence of activities and then routing it. This concept was a bridge. If you look at it as executing a sequence of activities, then what you have is a workflow.

The difference between what we were doing then and what we’re doing now is that we’re exposing the pieces of that workflow for external pieces to access. [Paraphrased]

How do we extend those workflow capabilities outside of just a BizTalk Server application? (microservices) [Paraphrased]

I’m (Nick) going to inject this slide from Sameer’s first day presentation where he compared/contrasted EAI in MABS with the microservices model for the same, as it’s incredibly relevant to demonstrating the evolution of MABS:

Sameer compares MABS with microservices architecture for the same

You Don’t Have to Wait for vNext in 2015 to Upgrade Your BizTalk Environment

Q: We’ve got a small but critical BizTalk 2006 installation that we’re upgrading now, or in the very near future. And I was wondering if we should upgrade it to 2013 R2, or should we upgrade it to the next release, and when is the next release?

A – (Guru): This is a scenario where we’re starting from 2006? I would strongly encourage you to move to 2013 R2, not just for the support lifecycle. One for lifecycle, and the other for compatibility with the latest Windows, SQL, SharePoint etc…

Then, look at what the application is doing. Is it something that needs to be on-prem, or is it something that is adaptable to the cloud architecture, or even if that application is something that could be managed in the cloud? There’s nothing that is keeping you from migrating to 2013 R2 today.

To further drive home Guru’s point here, I’m (Nick) personally going to add in a slide that was shown on the first day, showing the huge investments the BizTalk team has been making into BizTalk Server over the last few versions. Quite a few people see it as not a lot of change on the surface, but this really goes to show just how much change is really there (heck, it took me ~100 pages worth of content just to lightly touch on the changes in 2013, and I’m still working on 2013 R2):

How BizTalk Server 2006 R2 stacks up to BizTalk Server 2013 R2

MABS 1.0 is Production Ready and Already Doing Great Things, You Should Feel Confident to Use It

Q: How do we reassure our customers that are moving to cloud based integration now, and are seeing MABS now, and are seeing the same tweets about the next version? Migration tools aren’t the full answer because there’s still a cost in doing a migration, so how do we convince customers to use MABS now?

A – (Guru): MABS 1.0 primary market has been EDI because that was the first workload that we targeted. That’s something that is complete in all aspects. So if you’re looking at a customer that is looking to use MABS for EDI, then I strongly encourage that because there’s nothing that changes between using EDI in MABS and whatever future implementation we have [Heavily paraphrased]

(Vivek): Remember MS IT is one of the biggest customers, and it’s not like we’re telling them a different thing than we’re telling you […]. Joking aside, the stuff they’re running is serious stuff, and we don’t want to take a risk, and if there’s not faith in that technology, I don’t want them to take a dependency on it.

Azure Resource MAnager Isn’t The New Workflow – But the Engine that it uses Is

Q: How will the Azure Resource manage fit into this picture?

A – (Vivek): [How] Azure Resource Manager fit in? Azure Resource Manager is a product that has a purpose of installing resources on Azure. It is built on an engine that can execute actions in a long-running fashion, and wait for the results to come, it does parallels. Azure Resource Manager has a purpose and it will be its own thing, but we’re using the engine. We picked that engine because it’s already running at a massive scale and it was built thinking about how the workload will evolve eventually. It already knows how to talk to different services. We share technologies, but those are two different products.

Microservices ALM Is partially there, and is On the Radar, But Is Still A Challenge

Q: What is the ALM story?

A: Support for CI for example? The workflow is a part that we’re still trying to figure out. For the microservices technology part of it, the host that we run on already supports it. One other feedback that came was “how do I do this for an entire workflow” and we’ll go figure that out.

componentizing Early Will Pay Dividends Moving Forward

Q: (Last question) As teams continue to design to the existing platform, we understand the messaging of don’t worry about microservices quite yet. As we design systems going forward, is there a better way to do it, keeping in mind how that will fit into the microservices world? For example, componentizing things more, deciding when to use what kind of adapter. What are things that we can do to ensure a clean migration

A – (Vivek): I think there are two kinds of decisions. One are the business decisions (do we need to have it on premise, etc…) What stays on Hybrid vs what goes on cloud. We want you to make the decision based on business, we will have technology everywhere.

There are patterns that you can benefit from. I think componentizing [will be good]. There are design principles that are just common patterns that you should follow (e.g., how you take dependencies).

So that’s where we are in terms of hearing things direct from the source at this point. Certainly a lot of information to take in, but I’m really happy to see that the team building the product realizes that, and is actively working on clearing up misconceptions and clarifying the vision of for the microservices ecosystem.

Three Shout-Outs

Before I wrap this up, I want to give 3 shout outs right now in terms of the content that I more or less glossed over and/or omitted right now.

  • Stott Creations is doing great things, and I have to hand it to the HIS team for being so intimately involved in not only helping a customer, but helping a partner look good while helping that customer. In addition to that – the Informix adapter looks awesome, and I’m really digging the schema generation from the custom SQL query; that was a really nice touch.

Paul Larsen Presents Features of the BizTalk Adapter for Informix

  • Sam Vanhoutte’s session touched on a not too often discussed tension between what the cloud actually brings in terms of development challenges, and what customers are trying to get out of it. While he was presenting in terms of how Codit addresses these customer asks by dealing with the constant change and risk on their customers’ behalf, these are all still valid points in general. I think he did a great job at summing it up nicely in these two slides:

Challenges - Constant change / Multi-tenancy / Roadmap / DR Planningimage

  • Last, but certainly not least, I want to give a shout out and huge thanks to Saravana and  the BizTalk 360 team for making the event happen. Also they really took one for the team here today as well, as Richard Broida pointed out – ensuring that everyone would have time to share on a jam packed day. The execution was spot-on for a really first class event.

To Microsoft: Remember That BizTalk Server Connects Customers To The Cloud

As a final thought from the Integrate 2014 event: We’re constantly seeing Microsoft bang the drum of “Azure, azure, azure, cloud, cloud, cloud…” Personally, I love it, I fell in love with Azure in October of 2008 when Steve Marx showed up on stage at PDC and laid it all out. However, what we can’t forget, and what Microsoft needs to remember is that any customer bringing their applications to the cloud is doing integration – and Microsoft’s flagship product for doing that integration, better than any other, is BizTalk Server.

BizTalk Server is how you get customers connected to the cloud – not in a wonky disruptive way – but in a way that doesn’t necessarily require that other systems bend to either how the cloud works, or how BizTalk works.

It’s a Good Day To Be a BizTalk Dev

These are good times to be a developer, and great times to be connected into the BizTalk Community as a whole. The next year is going to open up a lot of interesting opportunities, as well as empower customers to take control of their data (wherever it lives) and make it work for them.

I’m out for now. If you were at the conference, and you want to stick around town a little bit longer, I will be teaching the BizTalk Server Developer Deep Dive class over at QuickLearn Training headquarters in Kirkland, WA this coming week. I’d love to continue the discussion there. That being said, you can always connect live to our classes from anywhere in the world as well! Winking smile

Integrate 2014 Day 2 in Review

By Nick Hauenstein

I’m going to start off today’s post with some clarifications/corrections from my previous posts.

First off – It is now my understanding that the “containers” in which the Microservices will be hosted and executed in are simply a re-branding of the Azure Websites functionality that we already have. This has interesting implications for the Hybrid Connections capability as well – inasmuch as our Microservices essentially inherit the ability to interface directly with on-premise systems as if they were local.

This also brings clarity to the “any language” remark from the first day. In reality, we’re looking at building them in any language supported by Azure Websites (.NET languages, Java, PHP, Node.js, Python) – or truly any language if we host the implementation externally but expose a facade through Azure Websites (at the expense of egress, added latency, loss of auto-load balancing and scale), but I digress.

UPDATE (05-DEC-2014): There are actually some additional clarifications now available here, please read before continuing. Most importantly there is no product called the Azure BizTalk Microservices Platform – it’s just a new style in which Microsoft is approaching building out and componentizing integration (and other) capabilities within the Azure Platform. Second, Azure Resource Manager is a product that sits on top of an engine. The engine is what’s being shared with the new Workflow capability discusssed – not the product itself. You could say it’s similar to how workflow services and TFS builds use the same underlying engine (WF).

The rest of the article remains unchanged because there are simply too many places where the name was called out as if it were a product.

Rules Engine as a (Micro)Service

After a long and exciting day yesterday, day 2 of Integrate 2014 got underway with Anurag Dalmia bringing the latest thinking around the re-implementation of the BizTalk Business Rules Engine that is designed to run as a Microservice in the Azure BizTalk Microservices Platform.

Anurag Dalmia presents the Rules Engine Design Principles 

First off, this is not the existing BizTalk Rules Engine repackaged for the cloud. This is a complete re-implementation designed for cloud execution and with the existing BRE pain points in mind. From the presentation, it sounds as if the core engine is complete, and all that remains is a new Azure Portal-based design experience (which currently only exists in storyboard form) around designing vocabularies, rules, and policies for the engine.

Currently the (XML-based, not JSON!) vocabularies support:

  • Constant & XML based vocabulary definitions
  • Single value, range and set of constants
  • XML vocabulary definitions (created from uploaded schema)
  • Bulk Generation (no details were discussed for this, but I’d be very interested in seeing what that will look like)
  • Validation

Vocabulary Design Experience in Azure BizTalk Microservices

Missing from the list above are really important things like .NET objects and Database tables, but these are slated for future inclusion. That being said, I’m not sure how exactly custom .NET classes as facts are going to work in a Microservices infrastrcture assuming that each Microservices is an independent isolated chunk of functionality invoked via RESTful interactions. Really, the question becomes how does it get your .dlls so that it can Activator.CreateInstance that jazz? I guess if schema upload can be a thing there, then .dll upload can as well. But then, are these stored in private Azure blob containers, some other kind of repository, or should we even care?

On the actual Rules creation side, things become quite a bit more interesting. Gone is the painful 1 million click Business Rule Composer – instead, free flowing text takes its place. All of this is still happening in a web-based editor that also provides Intellisense-like functionality, tool-tops, and color-coding of special keywords. To get a sense for what these rules look like, here’s one rule that was shown:

If (Condition)

ClaimAmount is greater than AutoApprovalLimit OR
TreatmentID is in SpecialTreatmentIDs

Then (Action)

ClaimStatus equals "Manual Approval Required"
ClaimStatesReason equals "Claim sent for Manual Approval"

Features of the Rules Engine were said to include:

  • Handling of optional XML nodes
  • Enable/Disable Rules
  • Rule prioritization through drag-and-drop
  • Support for Update / Halt Forward Chaining (No Assert?)
  • Test Policy (through Web UI, or via Test APIs)
  • Schema Management

I’m not going to lie, at that point, I got really concerned with no declared ability to Assert new facts (or to Retract facts for that matter), and I’m hoping that this was a simple omission to the slide, but I do intend to reach out for clarification there.

Storyboard for the Web-based Test Policy UI

Building Connectors and Activities

After the session on the Rules Engine, Mohit Srivastava was up to discuss Building Connectors an Activities. The session began, however, with a recap of some of the things that Bill Staples discussed yesterday morning. I’m actually really thankful for this recap as I had missed some things along the way (namely Azure Websites as the hosting container), and I also had a chance to snap a picture of what is likely the most important slide of the entire conference (which I had missed getting a picture of the first time around).

Microservices are part of refactored App Platform with integration at the core

I’ve re-created the diagram of the “refactored” Azure App Platform with a few parenthetical annotations:

Re-factored Azure App Platform

One interesting thing about this diagram, when you really think about it, is that the entry point (for requests coming into stuff in the platform) doesn’t have to be from the top down. It can be direct to a capability, or to a process, or to a composed set of capabilities or to a full human friendly UI around any one of those things.

So what are all of the moving pieces that will make it all work?

  1. Gallery for Microservice Discovery
    • Some Microservices will be codeless (e.g., SaaS and On-premises connectors)
    • Others will be code (e.g. activities and custom logic)
  2. Hosting – Azure App Container (formerly Azure Websites)
  3. Gateway
    1. Security – identity broker, SSO, secure token store
    2. Runtime – name resolution, isolated storage, shared config, “IDispatch” on WADL/Swagger (though such metadata is technically optional)
    3. Proxy – Monitoring, governance, test pages
      • Brings all of the value of API management to the gateway out-of-the-box
  4. Developers
    • Writing RESTful services in your language of choice.

To further prove just exactly what a Microservice is, he demoed a sample service starting from just the raw endpoint. You can even look for yourselves here:

What’s really cool about all of this, is that the tooling support for building such services is going to be baked into Visual Studio. We already have Web API for cleanly building out RESTful services, but the ability to package these with metadata and publish to the gallery (a la NuGet) is going to be included as part of a project template and Publish Web experience. This was all shown in storyboard form, and that’s when I had my moment of developer happiness (much like Nino’s yesterday as he gained reprieve from crying over BizTalk development pain points  when first using the productivity tool that he developed).

Publish Web Experience for BizTalk Microservices built using Web API

Finally, we’re getting low enough into the platform that we’re inside Visual Studio and can meaningfully deploy some code – one of the greatest feelings in the whole world.

The talk continued showing fragments of code (that, unfortunately, were too blurry in my photos to capture here) that demonstrated the direct runtime API that Microservices will have access into in order to do things like have encrypted isolated storage, and a mechanism to manage and flow tokens for external SaaS products that are used within a larger workflow. There’s some really exciting stuff here. I honestly could have sat through an entire day of that session just going all the way into it.

But, alas, there were still more sessions to be had.

API Management and Mobile Services

I’m grouping these together inasmuch as they represent functionality within Azure that we have had now for some amount of time (Movile Services certainly longer than API management). I’ve seen quite a bit on these already, and was mainly looking for those touchpoints with the Microservices story.

API Management sits right under Microservices in the diagram shown earlier, and it would make sense that it would become the monetization strategy for developers that want to write/expose a specific capability within Azure. However, that wasn’t explicitly stated, and, in fact, the only direct statement we had was above where we saw that the capabilities of API Management are available within the gateway. That left me a little confused, and I honestly could have missed something obvious there. As much as Josh was fighting PowerPoint, I was fighting my Surface towards the beginning of his talk:

Fighting my Surface at the beginning of Josh Twist's talk on API Management

If you’re not familiar with API Management, it provides the ability to put a cloud-hosted wrapper around your API and project it (in the data shaping sense) to choose carefully the exposed resources, actions, and routes through which they can be accessed. It handles packaging your APIs into saleable subscriptions and monitoring their use. That’s a gross oversimplification, and I highly recommend that you dig in right away and explore it because there’s a lot there, and it’s super cool.

That being said, in terms of Microservices, it would be truly great if we could use that to wrap around external services and then turn the Azure hosted portion of the API into a Microservice in such a way that we can even flow back to our external service some of the same information that we can get directly from the APIs that would be available if we were writing within a proper Azure App Container. For example, to be able to request a certain value from the secure store to be passed in a special HTTP Header to our external service –- which could then use that value in any way that it wanted. That would really help speed adoption, as I could quite easily then take any BizTalk Server on-premise capability, wrap a nice RESTful endpoint around it, and not have to worry about authorization, rate-limited, or re-implementation.

Next up was Kirill Gavrylyuk rocking Xamarin Studio on a Mac to talk about Mobile Services (he even went for a Hat-trick and launched an Android emulator). He actually did feature a slide towards the end of his talk showing the enterprise/non-consumer-centric Mobile Services development  experience by positioning Mobile Services within the scope of the refactored Azure App Platform:

Mobile Services in light of Refactored App Platform

I’m going to let that one speak for itself for now.

Those two talks were a lot of fun, and I don’t want to sell them short by not writing as much, but there’s certainly already a lot of information already out there for these ones.

Big Data With Azure Data Factory & Power BI

The day took a little bit of a shift after lunch as we saw a few talks on both Azure Data Factory and Power BI. In watching the demos, and seeing those talks, it’s clear that there’s definitely some really exciting stuff there. Sadly, I’m already out-of-date in that area, as there were quite a few things mentioned that I was entirely unaware of (e.g., Azure Data Factory itself). For now, I’ll leave any coverage of those topics to the BI and Big Data experts – which I will be the first to admit is not me. I don’t think in more than 4 dimensions at a time – though with Power BI maybe all I need to know how to do is to speak English.

For all of those out there that spend their days writing MDX queries, I salute you. You deserve a raise, no matter what you’re being paid.

HCA Rocks BizTalk Server 2013 R2

For the last talk of the day, Alan Scott from HCA and Todd Rivers from Microsoft presented on HCA’s use of BizTalk Server 2010 & 2013 R2 for processing HL7 workloads (and MSMQ + XML) workloads. The presentation was excellent, and it’s going to be really difficult to capture it here. One of the most impressive things (besides their own web-based rules editing experience) is the sheer scale of the installation:

HCA Rocks BizTalk Server 2013 R2

Cultural Change Reaps Biggest Rewards – Value People Not Software

The presentation really highlighted not only the flexibility of the BIzTalk platform, but the power of having a leader that is able to evangelize the capability to the business – while being careful to not talk in terms of the platform, but in terms of the people and the data, and also while equipping the developers with the tools they will need to succeed with that platform.



Looking Forward

Looking forward beyond today, I’m getting really excited to see the direction that we’re headed. We still have a rock solid platform on-premise alongside a hyper-flexible distributed platform brewing in the cloud.

To that end, I actually want to announce today that QuickLearn Training will be hosting an Azure BizTalk Microservices Hackathon shortly after the release of the public preview. It will be a fun time to get together and look through it all together, to discuss which microservices will be valuable, and most of all to build some together that can provide value to the entire community.

If any community is up for that, I know it’s the BizTalk community. I’m just really excited that there’s going to be a proper mechanism to surface those efforts so that anyone who builds for the platform will have it at their disposal without worries.

If you want more details, or you want to join us (physically, or even remotely) when that happens, head over here:

For that matter, if you want to host one in your city at the same time and connect up with us here in Kirkland, WA via live remote feed, that would be great too 😉 Let’s build the future together.

Well, that’s all for now! Take care!