Interview Series: Four Questions With … Ben Cline

Hello and welcome to my 26th interview with a thought leader in the “connected technology” domain.  This month we are chatting with Ben Cline.  Ben is a BizTalk architect at Paylocity, Microsoft MVP for BizTalk Server, blogger, and super helpful guy on in the Microsoft forums.

We’re going to talk to Ben about BizTalk best practices.  Let’s jump in.

Q: What does your ideal BizTalk development environment look like (e.g. single VM, multiple VMs, desktop, shared database) and what are the trade-offs for one vs. another?

A: My typical dev environment is a single VM with everything on it, usually not on a domain. The typical deployment environment is always on a domain and distributed across many different servers. There are many trade-offs to this development VM approach, and some of them are difficult to manage effectively. For me, domain differences are usually resolved in the first level of integration testing in a DEV/testing domain-based environment so I usually forgo attempting to make my VM match the domain structure. 

To offset the trade-offs, I attempt to model the VM on the intended production deployment environment. So examples of this include having the same OS, SQL version, and many other related configuration details. I also try to avoid having any server software on the host OS for performance reasons. I use SQL server synonyms and self-referencing linked servers to simplify the production environment for development usage. The SQL workarounds represent a collapsed accordion in the development environment and an expanded version in production.

Q: What BizTalk development shortcuts do you occasionally accept?  When are some shortcuts ok in one project but strictly forbidden in others?

A:I usually implement overloaded .NET methods so that any SSO calls can be alternately pulled from configuration files when in development mode. Also, I always implement overloads in .NET methods that have parameter types of XLANGMessage using XmlDocument so I can unit test the XmlDocument ones effectively. In development I will also occasionally implement stubbed or mocked methods to focus on certain more interesting code sections and come back to the boring plumbing later.

If I am working on a project where I need to have extremely rapid turnaround I will typically avoid making orchestration message types and just go with schema message types. Some other shortcuts I will use include having single scope orchestrations for global error handling, etc. On some very small scope projects I have coded .NET logic in an in-line method rather than a pipeline component or just used a fixed size buffer like a StringBuilder rather than a custom stream. Most projects where I am more interested in the level of reuse or performance I will (ironically) have more time to implement and I will avoid the shortcuts.

Q: From your experience over the past year, what are the top 4 most common technologies that your BizTalk solutions have integrated with?  Do you find that WCF services are becoming more mainstream or have you encountered ASP.NET web services in 2010?

A: The past year for me has been a great mixture of integrations. For the first half of the year I integrated BizTalk with a large e-Commerce website using Commerce Server as well as some call center applications with The Commerce Server web service APIs are still using ASMX and the web service API that I used was not based on WCF but on Java SOAP web services. WCF is becoming more mainstream but there are still many non WCF web services and there will probably always be. I am always surprised when I encounter WSE in applications out too there but even these still exist.

I recently took a new job at Paylocity, which is a payroll processing and HR company. For the second half of the year I have actually been doing very little web services (with the exception of using the ESB Toolkit WCF services), and have been working more with flat file formats and Payroll applications. With so much more contextual information available with Xml-based formats it seems like flat files would just disappear as companies modernize. But I have found flat files to be very common and I think that like with EDI they will probably be around for a long time to come. So similar to web services, the old implementation technologies always seem to stick around.

Q [stupid question]: One thing that my colleagues at work dread is being "verbed."  That is, having their name treated as a verb.  For instance, if I have a colleague named Bob who never shuts up, I may start saying that "I was late for this meeting because I got Bob-ed in the hallway."  Or if I have a co-worker named Tim who always builds flashy PowerPoint presentations, I might say that "I haven’t had a chance yet to Tim-up my deck." So, what would "being Cline-ed" mean?

A: I do not get verbed too often but quite a few people like to “rhyme” me. In my family we sometimes verb ourselves about being inClined (when someone marries in) or deClined (you can guess this one). When I get rhymed people associate me with other last names  that rhyme with Cline. Rhyming is usually always in a good context. With other people it is always about win Ben Cline’s money (a reference to a game show called Win Ben Stein’s money). Back in college some friends spoofed the game show and guess who was the host…

When my wife and I were picking a name for our son we had brainstorming sessions about the way kids could abuse his name and picked a hard name to abuse – Nicodemus. Perhaps we are sheltering him from name abuse but we think he will be better off anyway.🙂

Good insight, Ben.  Any other acceptable development shortcuts, or ideal development environments that people want to share?

Categories: BizTalk, Four Questions

7 replies

  1. Nice questions and great answers! Also like how Ben managed to slip in ‘accordion’ in the first one, don’t see it used often🙂

  2. on the subject of flashy powerpoint presentations I seem to remember a Yossi Dahan special back in the day which had so many animations and messages flying around the slide that you needed an air traffic controller know what way going on!

    Maybe we can call these being Yossi’d


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