Interview Series: Four Questions With … Saravana Kumar

Happy July and welcome to the 22nd interview with a connected technology thought leader.  Today we’re talking to Saravana Kumar who is an independent consultant, BizTalk MVP, blogger, and curator of the handy BizTalk 24×7 and BizTalk BlogDoc communities.  The UK seems to be a hotbed for my interview targets, and I should diversify more, but they are just so damn cheery.

On with the interview! 

Q: Each project requires the delivery team to make countless decisions with regards to the design, construction and deployment of the solution. However, there are typically a handful of critical decisions that shape the entire solution. Tell us a few of the most important decisions that you make on a BizTalk project.

A: Every project is different, but there is one thing common across all of them: having a good support model after its live. I’ve seen on numerous occasions projects missing out on requirement gathering to put a solid application support model. One of the key decisions I’ve made on the project I’m on is to use BizTalk’s Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) capabilities to  build a solid production support model with the help of Microsoft Silverlight. I’ve briefly hinted about this here in my blog. There is a wide misconception, BAM is used only to capture key business metrics, but the reality is its just a platform capable of capturing key data at a high volume system in an efficient way. The data could be purely technical monitoring stuff not necessarily Business metrics.   Now we get end to end visibility across various layers and a typical problem analysis takes minutes not hours.

Another important decision I make on a typical BizTalk project is to think about performance in very early stages. Typically you need to get the non-functional SLA requirements way upfront. Because this will effect some of the key decisions, a classic one is whether to use orchestrations or design the solution purely using messaging only pattern.

There are various other areas I’ll be interested to write here like DR, consistent build/deployment across multiple environment, consistent development solution structure, schema design etc.   But in the interest of space I’ll move on to the next question!

Q: There are so many channels for discovering and learning new things about technology. What are your day-to-day means for keeping up to date, and where do you go to actually invest significant time in technology?

A: For the past few years ( 5-6 years) the discovery part for me is always blogs. You get the lead from there and if something interests you, you build up the links from there by doing further searching on the topic.  I can quote on one of  my recent experience on knowing about FMSB (Financial Messaging Service Bus). This is something built on top of our BizTalk ESB Toolkit for the vertical Financial services market. I just came to know about this from one of the blog posts, who came to know about this from chatting to someone in BizTalk booth during TechEd.

When it comes to learning part, my first preference these days are videos. We are living in the age of information overload, the biggest challenge is finding the right material.  These days video materials gets to the public domain almost instantaneously. So, for example if I’m not going to PDC or TechEd, I normally schedule the whole thing as if like I’m attending the conference and go through the videos in next 3-4 weeks. This way I don’t miss out on any big news.

Q: As a consultant, how do you decide to recommend that a client uses a beta product like BizTalk Server 2010 or completely new product like Windows Azure Platform AppFabric? Do you find that you are generally more conservative or adventurous in your recommendations?

A: I work mainly with Financial services client, where projects and future directions are driven by Business and not by Technology.  So, unless otherwise there is really pressing need from Business it will be difficult to recommend a cutting edge technology.  I also strongly believe the technology is there to support the business and not vice versa. That doesn’t mean our applications are still running on Excel Macros and 90’s style VB 4.0 applications.  Our state of the art BPM platform, which helps Business process paper application straight through processing (STP) right from opening the envelope to committing the deal in our AS 400 systems is built using BizTalk Server 2006. We started this project just after BizTalk Server 2006 was released (not Beta, but just after it RTM’ed). To answer your question, if there is a real value for Business in upcoming beta product, I’ll be heading in that direction. Whether I’m conservative or adventurous will depend on the steak. For BizTalk Server 2010 I’ll be bit adventurous to get some cheap wins (just platform upgrade is going to give us certain % of performance gain with minimal or no risk), but for technology like Azure either on premise or cloud I’ll be bit conservative and wait for the both right business need and maturity of the technology itself.

Q [stupid question]: It’s summertime, so that means long vacations and the occasional “sick day” to enjoy the sunshine. Just calling the office and saying “I have a cold” is unoriginal and suspicious. No, you need to really jazz it up to make sure that it sounds legitimate and maybe even a bit awkward or uncomfortable. For instance, you could say “I’m physically incapable of wearing pants today” or “I cut myself while shaving … my back.” Give us a decent excuse to skip work and enjoy a summer day.

A: As a consultant, I don’t get paid if I take day off sick. But that doesn’t stop me from thinking about a crazy idea. How about this :  I ate something very late last night in the local kebab shop and since then I’m constantly burping every 5 minutes non-stop with a disgusting smell. :)

Thanks Saravana, and everyone enjoy their summer vacations!

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