There’s been a lot happening in the Microsoft space lately, so let’s see how he holds up to my probing questions.
Q: With Microsoft recently outlining the details of BizTalk Server 2010 R2, it seems that there WILL be a relatively strong feature-based update coming soon. Of the new capabilities included in this version, which are you most interested in, and why?
A: First of all let me point out that Microsoft has a strong commitment to investing in BizTalk Server as an integration platform for cloud, on-premises and hybrid scenarios and taking customers and partners forward. Microsoft’s strategy in the integration and B2B landscape is to allow customers to preserve their investments and provide them an easy way to migrate or extend their solutions to the cloud. The new on-premises version will align with the platform update: BizTalk Server 2010 R2 will provide support for Visual Studio 2012, Windows 8 Server, SQL Server 2012, Office 15 and System Center 2012. In addition, it will offer B2B enhancements to support the latest standards natively, better performance and improvements of the messaging engine like the possibility to associate dynamic send port to specific host handlers. Also the MLLP adapter has been improved to provide better scalability and latency. The ESB Toolkit will be a core part of BizTalk setup and product and the BizTalk Administration Console will be extended to visualize artifact dependencies.
That said, the new features which I’m most interested in are the possibility to host BizTalk Server in Windows Azure Virtual Machines in an IaaS context, and the new connectivity features, in particular the possibility to directly consume REST services using a new dedicated adapter and the possibility to natively integrate with ACS and the Windows Azure Service Bus relay services, topics and queues. In particular, BizTalk on Windows Azure Virtual Machines will enable customers to eliminate hardware procurement lead times and reduce time and cost to setup, configure and maintain BizTalk environments. It will allow developers and system administrators to move existing applications from on-premises to Windows Azure or back if necessary and to connect to corporate data centers and access local services and data via a Virtual Network. I’m also pretty excited about the new capabilities offered by Windows Azure Service Bus EAI & EDI, which you can think of as BizTalk capabilities on Windows Azure as PaaS. The EAI capabilities will help bridge integration needs within one’s boundaries. Using EDI capabilities one will be able to configure trading partners and agreements directly on Windows Azure so as to send/receive EDI messages. The Windows Azure EAI & EDI capabilities are already in preview mode in the LABS environment at https://portal.appfabriclabs.com. The new capabilities cover the full range of needs for building hybrid integration solutions: on-premises with BizTalk Server, IaaS with BizTalk Server on Windows Azure Virtual Machines, and PaaS with Windows Azure EAI & EDI. Taken together these capabilities give customers a lot of choice and will greatly ease the development of a new class of hybrid solutions.
Q: In your work with customers, how do you think that they will marry their onsite integration platforms with new cloud environments? Will products like the Windows Azure Service Bus play a key role, or do you foresee many companies relying on tried-and-true ETL operations between environments? What role do you think BizTalk will play in this cloudy world?
A: In today’s IT landscape, it’s quite common that data and services used by a system are located in multiple application domains. In this context, resources may be stored in a corporate data center, while other resources may be located across the organizational boundaries, in the cloud or in the data centers of business partners or service providers. An Internet Service Bus can be used to connect a set of heterogeneous applications across multiple domains and across network topologies, such as NAT and firewall. A typical Internet Service Bus provides connectivity and queuing capabilities, a service registry, a claims-based security model, support for RESTful services and intermediary capabilities such as message validation, enrichment, transformation, routing. BizTalk Server 2010 R2 and the Windows Azure Service Bus together will provide this functionality. Microsoft BizTalk Server enables organizations to connect and extend heterogeneous systems across the enterprise and with trading partners. The Service Bus is part of Windows Azure and is designed to provide connectivity, queuing, and routing capabilities not only for cloud applications but also for on-premises applications. As a I explained in my article “How to Integrate a BizTalk Server Application with Service Bus Queues and Topics” on MSDN, using these two technologies together enables a significant number of hybrid solutions that span the cloud and on premises environments:
1. Exchange electronic documents with trading partners.
2. Expose services running on-premises behind firewalls to third parties.
3. Enable communication between spoke branches and a hub back office system.
BizTalk Server on-premises, BizTalk Server on Windows Azure Virtual Machines as IaaS, and Windows Azure EAI & EDI services as PaaS, along with the Service Bus allow you to seamlessly connect with Windows Azure artifacts, build hybrid applications that span Windows Azure and on-premises, access local LOB systems from Windows Azure and easily migrate application artifacts from on-premises to cloud. This year I had the chance to work with a few partners that leveraged the Service Bus as the backbone of their messaging infrastructure. For example, Bedin Shop Systems realized a retail management solution called aKite where front-office and back-office applications running in a point of sale can exchange messages in a reliable, secure and scalable manner with headquarters via Service Bus topics and queues. In addition, as the author of the Service Bus Explorer, I had the chance to receive a significant number of positive feedbacks from customers and partners about this technology. At this regard, my team is working with the BizTalk and Service Bus product groups to turn these feedbacks into new capabilities in the next release of our Windows Azure services. My personal perception, as an architect, is that the usage of BizTalk Server and Service Bus as an integration and messaging platform for on-premise, cloud and hybrid scenarios is set to grow in the immediate future.
Q: With the Windows Azure SDK v1.7, Microsoft finally introduced some more vigorous Visual Studio-based management tooling for the Windows Azure Service Bus. Much like your excellent Service Bus Explorer tool, the Azure SDK now provides the ability for developers to send and receive test messages from Service Bus queues/topics. I’ve always found it interesting that “testing tools” from Microsoft always seem to come very late in the game, if at all. We still have the just-ok WCF Test Client tool for testing WCF (SOAP) services, Fiddler for REST services, nothing really for BizTalk input testing, and nothing much for StreamInsight. When I was working with the Service Bus EAI CTP last month, the provided “test tool” was relatively rudimentary and I ended up building my own. Should Microsoft provide more comprehensive testing tools for its products (and earlier in their lifecycles), or is the reliance on the community and 3rd parties the right way to go?
A: Thanks for the compliments Richard, much appreciated. :) Providing a good tooling is extremely important not to say crucial to drive the adoption of any technologies as it allows to lower the learning curve and decrease the time necessary to develop and test applications. One year ago I decided to build my tool to facilitate the management, debugging, monitoring and testing of hybrid solutions that make use of the relayed and brokered messaging capabilities of the Windows Azure Service Bus. My intention is to keep updating the tool as I did recently, so expect new capabilities in the future. To answer your question, I’m sure that Microsoft will continue to invest in management, debugging, testing and profiling tooling that made Visual Studio and our technologies a successful application platform. At the same time, I’ve to admit that sometimes Microsoft concentrates its efforts in delivering the core functionality of products or technologies and pays less attention in building tools. In this context, community and 3rd parties tools sometimes can be perceived as filling a functionality gap, but at the same time they are an incentive for Microsoft to build a better tooling around its products. In addition, I think that tools built by the community plays an important role because they can be extended and customized by developers based on their needs and because they usually anticipate and surface the need for missing capabilities.
Q [stupid question]: During a recent double-date, my friend’s wife proclaimed that someone was the “Bill Gates of wedding planners.” My friend and I were baffled at this comparison, so I proceeded to throw out other “X is they Y” scenarios that made virtually no sense. Examples include “this is the Angelina Jolie of Maine lobsters” or “he’s the Steve Jobs of exterminators.” Give us some comparisons that might make sense for a moment, but don’t hold up to any critical thinking.
A:I’m Italian, so for this game I will use some references from my country: Windows Azure is the Leonardo da Vinci of the cloud platforms, while BizTalk Server and Service Bus, together, are the Gladiator of the integration and messaging platforms.
Great stuff, Paolo. Thanks for participating!