Q: Talk to us a bit about your recent experiences with mobile applications and RFID development with BizTalk Server. Have you ever spoken with a potential customer who didn’t even realize they could make use of RFID technology until you explained the benefits?
A: Richard – funny enough you ask, (I’ll answer these in reverse order) essentially the drivers for this type of scenario is clients talking about how they want to know ‘how long this takes…’ or how to capture how long people spend in a room in a gym – they then want to surface this information through to their management systems.
Client’s will rarely say – “we need RFID technology for this solution”. It’s more like – “we have a problem that all our library books get lost and there’s a huge manual process around taking books in/out” or (hotels etc) “we lose so much laundry sheets/pillows and the like – can you help us get better ROI.”
So in this context I think of BizTalk RFID as applying BAM to the physical world.
Part II – Mobile BizTalk RFID application development – if I said “it couldn’t be easier” I’d be lying. Great set of libraries and RFID support from within BizTalk RFID Mobile – this leaves me to concentrate on building the app.
A particularly nice feature is that the Mobile RFID ‘framework’ will run on a Windows Mobile capable device (WM 5+) so essentially any windows mobile powered device can become a potential reader. This allows problems to be solved in unique ways – for e.g. a typical RFID based solution we think of Readers being fixed, plastered to a wall somewhere and the tags are the things that move about – this is usually the case….BUT…. for e.g. trucks could be the ones carrying the mobile readers and the end destinations could have tags on boom gates/wherever and when the truck arrives – it scans the tag. This maybe more cost effective.
A memorable challenge in the Windows Mobile space was developing an ‘enterprise app’ (distributed to units running around the globe – so *very* hands off from my side) – I was coding for a PPC and got the app to a certain level in the Emulator and life was good. I then deployed to my local physical device for ‘a road test’.
While the device is ‘plugged in’ via a USB cable to my laptop – all is good, but disconnect a PPC will go into a ‘standby’ mode (typically the screen goes black – wakes as soon as you touch it).
The problem was – that if my app had a connection to the RFID reader and the PPC went to sleep, when woke my app still thought it had a valid connection and the Reader (connected via the CF slot) was in a limbo state.
After doing some digging I found out that the Windows Mobile O/S *DOES* send your app an event to tell it get ready to sleep – the *problem* was, but the time my app had a chance to run 1 line of code…the device was asleep!
Fortunately – when the O/S wakes the App, I could query how I woke up….. this solved it.
….wrapping up, so you can see most of my issues are around non-RFID stuff where the RFID mobile component is solved. It’s a known, time to get building the app….
Q: It seems that a debate/discussion we’ll all be having more and more over the coming years centers around what to put in the cloud, and how to integrate with on-premises applications. As you’ve dug into the .NET Services offering, how has this new toolkit influenced your thinking on the “when” and “what” of the cloud and how to best describe the many patterns for integration?
A: Firstly I think the cloud is fantastic! Specifically the .NET services aspects which as an integrator/developer there are some *must* have features in there – to add to the ‘bat utility’ belt.
There’s always the question of uncertainty and I’m putting the secret to Coca Cola out there in the ‘cloud’…not too happy about that, but strangely enough as website hosting has been around for many years now, going to any website popping in personal details/buying things etc – as passing thought of “oh..it’s hosted…fine”. I find people don’t really pass a second thought to that. Why?? Maybe cause it’s a known quantity and has been road tested over the years.
We move into the ‘next gen’ applications (web 2.0/SAAS whatever you want to call it) and how do we utilize this new environment is the question asked. I believe there are several appropriate ‘transitional phases’ as follows:
- All solution components hosted on premise but need better access/exposure to offered WCF/Web Services (we might be too comfortable with having things off premise – keep on a chain)
– here I would use the Service Bus component of the .NET Services which still allows all requests to come into for e.g. our BTS Boxes and run locally as per normal. The access to/from the BTS Application has been greatly improved.
Service Bus comes in the form of WCF Bindings for the Custom WCF Adapter – specify a ‘cloud location’ to receive from and you’re good to go.
– applications can then be pointed to the ‘cloud WCF/WebService’ endpoint from anywhere around the world (our application even ran in China first time). The request is then synchronously passed through to our BTS boxes.
BTS will punch a hole to the cloud to establish ‘our’ side of the connection.
– the beautiful thing about the solution is a) you can move your BTS boxes anywhere – so maybe hosted at a later date….. and b) Apps that don’t know WCF can still call through Web Service standards – the apps don’t even need to know you’re calling a Service Bus endpoint.
..this is just the beginning….
- The On Premise Solution is under load – what to do?
– we could push out components of the Solution into the Cloud (typically we’d use the Azure environment) and be able to securely talk back to our on-premise solution. So we have the ability to slice and dice our solution as demand dictates.
– we still can physically touch our servers/hear the hum of drives and feel the bursts of Electromagnetic Radiation from time to time.
- Push our solution out to someone else to manage the operation of – typically the Cloud
– We’d be looking into Azure here I’d say and the beauty I find about Azure is the level of granularity you get – as an application developer you can choose to run ‘this webservice’, ‘that workflow’ etc. AND dictate the # of CPU cores AND Amount of RAM desired to run it – Brilliant.
– Hosting is not new, many ISPs do it as we all know but Azure gives us some great fidelity around our MS Technology based solutions. Most ISPs on the other hand say “here’s your box and there’s your RDP connection to it – knock yourself out”… you then find you’re saying “so where’s my sql, IIS, etc etc”
** Another interesting point around all of this cloud computing is many large companies have ‘outsourced’ data centers that host their production environments today – there is a certain level of trust in this…these times and the market – everyone is looking squeeze the most out of what they have. **
I feel that this Year is year of the cloud 🙂
Q: You have taught numerous BizTalk classes over the years. Give us an example of an under-used BizTalk Server capability that you highlight when teaching these classes.
A: This changes from time to time over the years, currently it’s got to be being able to use Multiple Host/Host Instances within BTS on a single box or group. Students then respond with “oooooohhhhh can you do that…”
It’s just amazing the amount of times I’ve come up against a Single Host/Single Instance running the whole shooting match – the other one is going for a x64 bit environment rather than x86.
Q [stupid question]: I have this spunky 5 year old kid on my street who has started playing pranks on my neighbors (e.g. removing packages from front doors and “redelivering” them elsewhere, turning off the power to a house). I’d like to teach him a lesson. Now the lesson shouldn’t be emotionally cruel (e.g. “Hey Timmy, I just barbequed your kitty cat and he’s DELICIOUS”), overly messy (e.g. fill his wagon to the brim with maple syrup) or extremely dangerous (e.g. loosen all the screws on his bicycle). Basically nothing that gets me arrested. Give me some ideas for pranks to play on a mischievous youngster.
A: Richard – you didn’t go back in time did you? 😉
I’d setup a fake package and put it on my doorstep with a big sign – on the floor under the package I’d stick a photo of him doing it. Nothing too harsh
As an optional extra – tie some fishing line to the package and on the other end of the line tie a bunch of tin cans that make a lot of noise. Hide this in the bushes and when he tries to redeliver, the cans will give him away.
I usually play “spot the exclamation point” when I read Mick’s blog posts, so hopefully I was able to capture a bit of his excitement in this interview!!!!