Interview Series: Four Questions With … Sam Vanhoutte

Hello and welcome to my 31st interview with a thought leader in the “connected technology” space.  This month we have the pleasure of chatting with Sam Vanhoutte who is the chief technical architect for IT service company CODit, Microsoft Virtual Technology Specialist for BizTalk and interesting blogger.  You can find Sam on Twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/SamVanhoutte.

Microsoft just concluded their US TechEd conference, so let’s get Sam’s perspective on the new capabilities of interest to integration architects.

Q: The recent announcement of version 2 of the AppFabric Service Bus revealed that we now have durable messaging components at our disposal through the use of Queues and Topics.  It seems that any new technology can either replace an existing solution strategy or open up entirely new scenarios.  Do these new capabilities do both?

A: They will definitely do both, as far as I see it.  We are currently working with customers that are in the process of connecting their B2B communications and services to the AppFabric Service Bus.  This way, they will be able to speed up their partner integrations, since it now becomes much easier to expose their internal endpoints in a secure way to external companies.

But I can see a lot of new scenarios coming up, where companies that build Cloud solutions will use the service bus even without exposing endpoints or topics outside of these solutions.  Just because the service bus now provides a way to build decoupled and flexible solutions (by leveraging pub/sub, for example).

When looking at the roadmap of AppFabric (as announced at TechEd), we can safely say that the messaging capabilities of this service bus release will be the foundation for any future integration capabilities (like integration pipelines, transformation, workflow and connectivity). And seeing that the long term vision is to bring symmetry between the cloud and the on-premise runtime, I feel that the AppFabric Service Bus is the train you don’t want to miss as an integration expert.

Q: The one thing I was hoping to see was a durable storage underneath the existing Service Bus Relay services.  That is, a way to provide more guaranteed delivery for one-way Relay services.  Do you think that some organizations will switch from the push-based Relay to the poll-based Topics/Queues in order to get the reliability they need?

A: There are definitely good reasons to switch to the poll-based messaging system of AppFabric.  Especially since these are also exposed in the new ServiceBusMessagingBinding from WCF, which provides the same development experience for one-way services.  Leveraging the messaging capabilities, you now have access to a very rich publish/subscribe mechanism on which you can implement asynchronous, durable services.  But of course, the relay binding still has a lot of added value in synchronous scenarios and in the multi-casting scenarios.

And one thing that might be a decisive factor in the choice between both solutions, will be the pricing.  And that is where I have some concerns.  Being an early adopter, we have started building and proposing solutions, leveraging CTP technology (like Azure Connect, Caching, Data Sync and now the Service Bus).  But since the pricing model of these features is only being announced short before being commercially available, this makes planning the cost of solutions sometimes a big challenge.  So, I hope we’ll get some insight in the pricing model for the queues & topics soon.

Q: As you work with clients, when would you now encourage them to use the AppFabric Service Bus instead of traditional cross-organization or cross-departmental solutions leveraging SQL Server Integration Services or BizTalk Server?

A: Most of our customer projects are real long-term, strategic projects.  Customers hire us to help designing their integration solution.  And most of the cases, we are still proposing BizTalk Server, because of its maturity and rich capabilities.  The AppFabric Services are lacking a lot of capabilities for the moment (no pipelines, no rich management experience, no rules or BAM…).  So for the typical EAI integration solutions, BizTalk Server is still our preferred solution.

Where we are using and proposing the AppFabric Service Bus, is in solutions towards customers that are using a lot of SaaS applications and where external connectivity is the rule. 

Next to that, some customers have been asking us if we could outsource their entire integration platform (running on BizTalk).  They really buy our integration as a service offering.  And for this we have built our integration platform on Windows Azure, leveraging the service bus, running workflows and connecting to our on-premise BizTalk Server for EDI or Flat file parsing.

Q [stupid question]: My company recently upgraded from Office Communicator to Lync and with it we now have new and refined emoticons.  I had been waiting a while to get the “green faced sick smiley” but am still struggling to use the “sheep” in polite conversation.  I was really hoping we’d get the “beating  a dead horse” emoticon, but alas, I’ll have to wait for a Service Pack. Which quasi-office appropriate emoticons do you wish you had available to you?

A: I am really not much of an emoticon guy.  I used to switch off emoticons in Live Messenger, especially since people started typing more emoticons than words.  I also hate the fact that emoticons sometimes pop up when I am typing in Communicator.  For example, when you enter a phone number and put a zero between brackets (0), this gets turned into a clock.  Drives me crazy.  But maybe the “don’t boil the ocean” emoticon would be a nice one, although I can’t imagine what it would look like.  This would help in telling someone politely that he is over-engineering the solution.  And another fun one would be a “high-five” emoticon that I could use when some nice thing has been achieved.  And a less-polite, but sometimes required icon would be a male cow taking a dump😉

Great stuff Sam!  Thanks for participating.



Categories: BizTalk, Cloud, Four Questions, Windows Azure AppFabric

2 replies

  1. Sir Richard Seroter’s I have read lot of your articles related to Biztalk and realy like most of them. thought of meeting you sometime

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  1. 2011 Year in Review « Richard Seroter's Architecture Musings

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