Readings, Review

Book Review: Microsoft BizTalk 2010: Line of Business Systems Integration

If you are looking for more information on understanding the WCF LOB Adapter SDK and how to build adapters with it and how the pre-built adapters available in the BizTalk Server 2010 Adapter Pack can help getting data in or out of SQL Server or with handling IDOCs, RFCs and BAPIs in SAP then this is a book for you. If you are also interested in integrating with Dynamics CRM or Ax, working with Sharepoint Documents, Forms and Lists, and connecting to the cloud in the form of AppFabric and Salesforce then even better.


At first, from the title, I had expected this book to cover the Adapter Pack. It covers the parts in the first paragraph. This means it does not cover the full content of the Adapter Pack, but on the other hand it covers a lot more, which is a good thing.


This book contains detailed walkthroughs and step-by-step instructions. Not only will you learn how and what to do, you will also learn what no to do and share the authors real world experience. The book is sprinkled with tips and tricks from exposure to the technologies and products involved. And the book is just the beginning. Throughout you can find additional references to blog post, msdn pages and other resources.


I love getting that level of detail, especially accompanied with good visualizations and screenshots so there is no mistaking what a textual description means. Perhaps sometimes the level of detail might be unnecessarily high and the books intended target audience shouldn’t need a screenshot of how to deploy a BizTalk project, or the full context menu that you get when you right click a project to get to the Add… menu item, or the welcome screen of the Consume WCF Service wizard. But that only goes to show that nothing is left to chance and the reader wont be left guessing what was intended. I also like how a good mix of text and pictures make you feel that you are doing good progress reading the book.


My experience is, that of the time spent developing an integration, a large part is spent understanding how the systems you need to integrate work. Most BizTalk books don’t capitalize on that. Instead they use all of their space to explain how the BizTalk technology works in some aspect. This books differs in that respect in that it spends a large part explaining how the LOB systems work, and how you go about setting up and developing the integration components needed inside those systems before continuing on to BizTalk and the integration solution developed there. That to me is the real value add of this book. The day that you feel you don’t have to learn that is the day you can’t do integration work on your own but need someone else to do half the work for you.


Overall, the books content is still really fresh, even the chapters on cloud and AppFabric are still valid, which is always a risk when covering that kind of a rapidly evolving technology. Later releases has complemented some of the techniques presented with other options, but not necessarily replaced them.


I can highly recommend this book if the topics and systems it covers are part of your system integration landscape. I learned plenty and I know I’ll return to read parts of it again more closely as additional systems enter my landscape.


HTH
/Johan

BAM, Readings

Book Review: Pro BAM in BizTalk 2009

A while back now I got the Pro BAM in BizTalk Server 2009 book. I have always liked BAM and we always try to use it in our solutions, if nothing else then for infrastructural logging purposes. However BAM has never been something that has been described in any detail or highlighted within the BizTalk documentation. There are also a great deal many BizTalk solutions and developers out there that have never used BAM, perhaps in part because they haven’t had a good source to learn about it. When we had a user group meeting and talked about BAM last year we did a short put-your-hand-up poll and, if my memory serves, only about one out of five did put their hand up. And this in a group that to a large part I would judge as pretty progressive. I didn’t ask how many had used BAM outside of BizTalk, but I am pretty sure that if I had the answer might have been one or two, out of the whole group, if that.

If the issue is that it’s hard to find a source that covers BAM, one that is decently complete in its coverage, then that is one issue that is now resolved. Pro BAM in BizTalk Server 2009 succeeds in being that source. It covers both development, administration and business aspects of BAM. And with Business I don’t solely mean the Business Analyst role, but also where BAM fits, where it makes sense, and how you can get your data into the observation model as well as how you can get it out and report and research on it.

Although BAM presently is a BizTalk bundled technology the book approaches BAM from a BizTalk independent way, and talks as much about BAM in relation to other connected system technologies like WCF and WF as it does BizTalk. But that’s in line with the trends of BizTalk in general, where WCF more and more is taking on a very central role. Not everything is 100% up to date, but that’s not to be expected – change happens so fast that yesterday can be old news today, but the book still strives to put things in context of the latest technology and concepts and touches on topics such as Dublin and Oslo.

The book also goes into great detail about how to use the different types of tooling that comes along with BAM aimed for the different roles of Business Analyst, Developer, Administrator, and Information Worker (or Data Consumer as the book calls it). I also like how the book has specific sections on troubleshooting, should everything not work as expected, and tips that goes beyond just configuring it but also living with it.

It’s a really complete book in its coverage of BAM, and pointing out what’s missing is not an easy task, and isn’t really fair to the authors. If anything a discussion on BAM and performance could have been present. Although BAM has a highly performing infrastructure, a performance discussion is always of interest, especially from a BizTalk perspective when comparing it to for example the DTA tracking. The book also doesn’t go into much detail about when different tables are used, or what they contain and what flags have what meaning. Such things are however not need to know for you too call yourself a BAM wiz, something which this book may very well help you become.

Thanks Jeff and Geoff, it’s a great addition to my library. And I’m a better BizTalker for reading it 😉

BAM, BizTalk, Monitoring, Performance, Readings

BAM Tracking and Failed Messages, and a new issue of BizTalk HotRod

Mikael Håkansson has a post called How to Replace Tracking with BAM in BizTalk that features a performance comparison he made for disabling global tracking in BizTalk Server 2006 and how that would look if you replaced that with BAM – in hard figures. He also posts a sample solution and talks about concepts such as activities and tracking profiles. The post mentions that the approach is meant for tracking successful messages and he suggests (as an example) the use of a WMI service to catch suspended messages. A concept that he leaves out is the tracking of failed messages using BAM and failed message routing. As a fluke, at roughly the same time his post was published there was a white paper released at MSDN that describes the process of creating an activity, tying that to a tracking profile by connecting it to relevant context properties and deploying it for a failed message routing scenario, see How to Track Failed Messages in BAM. It’s a very basic step-by-step article. Now…I am not taking a stance to say that failed message routing is the way to go. There are many considerations to take into account before determining to opt for that or for allowing messages to get suspended. I just wanted to post this to tie these two articles together since I think they are both good reads and gives you a view of what is required to replace tracking in BizTalk with BAM, for both successful and failed messages. And what the performance benefits might be for your solution.


Also check out the new issue of BizTalk HotRod that (among other things) also discusses Failed Message Routing and how to log these message, but does so in the context of the ESB Guidance.

Administration, BizTalk, Configuration, Learning, Maintenance, Monitoring, Readings

BizTalk Administration Tutorials

This post is for those of you who are administrators rather then developers, and don’t keep track of the latest downloads around BizTalk. Microsoft has, at the same time that they released a revised version of the developer centric tutorials, released BizTalk Server 2006 Adminstration Tutorials. The administration tutorials are planned to become two, although at the moment only one is available. The first part is setting up the environment, in this case a slightly altered version of what is available in the multi-server scenario of the installation guides adding on an ISA Server to be able to create the environment separate from your corporate network. The tutorials also describes how to setup this environment using Virtual Server 2005 R2 (although physical hardware is also mentioned) and goes much more in depth to make it a compelling learning experience, as opposed to the install guide that can sometimes be hard to follow for a first timer. The first tutorial weighs in at 138 pages (double the size of the install guide), not counting the supporting documents. The second part is supposed to feature common administrative exercises based on the environment setup in part 1. If your are to familiarize youself with BizTalk Server 2006 as an administrator, from what I’ve seen, I’d recommend these tutorials.

64-bit, BizTalk, Configuration, Links, Readings

Linklist: BizTalk 64-bit

I’ve read a few links lately that has to do with issues or gotchas around BizTalk and 64-bit computing. I decided to publish the list to make it more easily available for myself, and others.



I’ll settle for these links for now, but I’ll probably keep adding as I find more 64-bit links relating to BizTalk that interests me.

General, LINQ, Readings, SOA

Snow and LINQ

For those of you wondering where I’ve been – I’ve been on vacation for the last 10 days, skiing and snowboarding. Although slightly of topic for this blog I just have to share one of the pictures we took with you, to give you an idea of the wonderful snow and weather we had. And yes, that’s me in the midst of that snow. And no, I’m not about to fall, we just had alot of snow.



For those who know me, you know I like to bring some litterature along on my vacations to catch up on some topic of interest. This time that topic was LINQ and the reading was the free ebook from Microsoft press: Introducing Microsoft LINQ. Go here for details about the book and the free ebook offer. I’ve listened in on presentation about LINQ before, but not lately, and they have never gone deeper than to show the grace of the syntax, and talk about why LINQ was developed and what you can do with it. The ebook also talks about the language syntax and background, but goes into more detail about the .NET language features that enables LINQ, and their history and evolution. Good stuff.


Of the different aspects I’ve learned about LINQ I most like the idea of LINQ as a SOA enabler, rather than a simple data access language. Being able to do join, where, etc. on data returned from different Services being called in parallell, all wrapped up in a simple functional statement. That’s where LINQ really becomes useful. 

BizTalk, Readings

BizTalk Server Operations Guide

A valuable resource for anyone involved in the implementation and administration of a BizTalk solution, particularly IT professionals. The guide provides detailed information for planning a BizTalk Server environment, as well as recommendations and best practices for configuring, testing, maintaining, monitoring, and optimizing this environment.

 

After browsing through it I find some things kind of “blah”, simply selected parts of the help file put together in a new format, while other parts really does provide guidance that goes outside the contents of the help file, certainly worthy the term valuable resource. The contributors list includes names such as Ahmed Metwally (Pro BizTalk 2006) and Darren Jefford (Professional BizTalk Server 2006) to name a few. The BizTalk Server Operations Guide also has alot more content then the earlier released Developers Guide to Troubleshooting (Note: I’m not comparing them, they are aimed at different groups of people for different situations, but it’s the last thing released as a complement to the core documentation named to be a guide). Weighing in at a healthy 627 pages I wouldn’t recommend you to read it straight through, but I’m definatly going to read selected parts. Another great addition to the already competent BizTalk Server documentation.