BIZTALK: R2 Launch

Posted on September 18, 2007. Filed under: BizTalk |

The BizTalk 2006 R2 launch last Friday was a surprisingly small event (perhaps only 200 people?) but none the less very worthwhile – especially since it was free.

The event started with the keynote from Don Ferguson which I found very stimulating. (By the way, I forgot to mention in my last post that Don has co-authored a great article in issue 13 of The Architecture Journal about the Internet Service Bus (click here to download the PDF 4MB).

After that, Oliver Sharp gave an overview of the new features in BizTalk 2006 R2. The marketing schpeil goes something like this:

1. BizTalk is enterprise proven (which is true, especially given it is now in it’s 5th version, and is implemented in 90% of the Fortune 100 companies. Mick Badran has further trivia on BizTalk here.)

2. BizTalk is focussing on interoperability with other products both externally (as evidenced by the vast array of adapters that it now ships with), and internally (eg consider its WCF and WF foundations)

3. BizTalk sits on the ‘edge of the enterprise’ – there were a few different explanations of this over the day, but the analogy that I related to best was from Rahul Garg with this: ‘If Visual Studio, Office and other development products are the tools to build the buildings of your city, then BizTalk is the tunnels between them.’

Oh, and did I mention RFID? Yep, pretty important.

Sessions from Raymond Denton (from HP) and Kerry Krause (from Intel) highlighted the global support and success BizTalk is garnering. Michael Woods (from Microsoft) highlighted BizTalk in action with a simple Adventure Works based online store demo using BizTalk to provide the orchestration.

A few comments on BizTalk VNext were illuminating, with Software + Services being a key focus along with tight integration into Office 14. The latter will be crucial for widespread uptake in my opinion (once we start seeing BizTalk wizards and other hooks in Office then developers as a whole will start taking more notice). Interestingly most of the people I spoke to at the event were from the infrastructure side – BizTalk is still a mystery to many developers it would seem.

Other session highlights were from Steve Martin (excellent) covering real world examples (he covered an interesting implementation of BizTalk using RFID to power a sushi restaurant).

An interesting statistic that he noted with regard to IT budgets was this: 80% of IT budgets (in general) are directed towards maintaining existing infrastructure and processes, with the remaining 20% on new projects and innovation. This leads in turn to a focus on getting the maximum value from this 20%. And thus the old ‘Build versus Buy’ decisions become even more important… In light of this there is change in the way business logic is being considered. No longer satisfied with having to pay developers to customise logic within the applications (ie ‘application logic’) customers now want to directly enable ‘commodity logic’ within off-the-shelf applications. The advantage being that the customers themselves can enable all kinds of new logic without the need for developers to be involved. This harks back to what Don was discussing in his Software Breakthroughs trend.

Later Anush Kumar discussed the Real Time Enterprise with a particular focus on RFID. He claims that the inflexion point of RFID has arrived, where it is no longer a technology used in endless pilot programs, but is now quickly turning up in many real world implementations. I can only take him at his word and assume he is correct. He pointed to an impressive implementation of RFID in a Taiwanese Fish Supply Chain where fish are tracked (using RFID) all the way through the chain from fish farm to testing house to distributor to restaurant, with full details on the fish available to the end consumer (ie the restaurant guest) if desired. In this case the example was for a particular kind of fish (in the $100 per fish category) so the cost of implementation is small as a percentage of sale price.

As Anush helpfully pointed out, the ‘magic’ of RFID is of course in the software (ie there is nothing particularly special about RFID) in the same way as the ‘magic’ of the internet is in the software built on top of it (ie not the IP stack).

Phil Kenny from the RFID Association of Australia (yes it is a real organisation 🙂 outlined how we now have an Australian National Livestock Identification System in which all of Australia’s 80 million cattle are RFID tagged – a good example of RFID in action.

The final session for the day was Lawrence Crumpton discussing the Microsoft Customer Care Framework (CCF). An impressive demo from the passionate and likeable Crumpton, but as I discovered speaking with people afterwards, the amazing claims of some of the CCF projects is disputed by some.

CCF for those who don’t know (like me – I’d never heard of it) is a Microsoft framework for pulling legacy apps into a central ‘view’ and automating steps along the way. Thus, for example, a call centre, using multiple applications for managing client accounts (including legacy, DOS based, Mainframe based, and web based applications) can use CCF to automate many of the login and customer record look up functions. The result: a huge time saving. CCF doesn’t aim to replace any of the applications – rather it pulls them together. In fact, the next release is going to be renamed to SingleView. I thought the session was amazing (although with only minimal reference to BizTalk?) but perhaps I was too easily caught up in the marketecture hype… at least based on the real life experience of a person I spoke with afterwards. You can never really know I guess, with things like this, unless you are personally involved in an implementation. But a very thought provoking session to say the least. CCF v3 has just been released.

The day finished with drinks and every attendee receiving a free full copy of Vista Ultimate (yes, you read that right). Suhhhweeet.

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

BIZTALK: 6 mega-trends in IT

Posted on September 18, 2007. Filed under: BizTalk |

Last Friday I attended the BizTalk 2006 R2 launch. It was a great event, and I will cover the main points in a separate post, however the highlight of the day (for me) was the opening keynote by Don Ferguson.

Don Ferguson (who if you didn’t know him you’d think was a tad grumpy – but if you did know him you’d think was understated) shared a few of his thoughts on what the mega-trends of the next 5+ years are going to be. Although he briefly touched on BizTalk, most of the talk was vendor or product agnostic. [For those who don’t know, Don is a Technical Fellow at Microsoft (which puts him pretty much in the inner circle – if one exists)].

The trends he identified were as follows:

Trend 1: Performance of hardware – this is basically the move from single to multi-core processors and the change to parallelism-aware programming. He also touched on the change from disk based to solid state memory being the norm in a few years (‘disk will be the tape of the naughties’). Obvious you say? Yes, I admit this wasn’t ground-breaking, but then, when you are talking about mega-trends, if you were to leave out the obvious ones, someone would no doubt call you on it…

Trend 2: Portable devices – again this might be obvious to some, but the question needs to be asked as to why it is taking so long for portable devices to be our main devices. ‘Everyone‘ might be thinking that the mobile device is becoming mainstream (certainly the advertisers do), but why are they lagging behind in features, power and most importantly connectivity when it comes to our places or work, rest, and play? For example, Don talked about wanting to just take his portable device (eg his PDA/phone/iPod) and simply use it at his hotel – with hotel supplied keyboard, mouse, internet connection (read: network), screen, etc. And to be able to do this everywhere he goes. So we are essentially dealing with an infrastructure hurdle here (as opposed to the specific devices which are pretty much there).

Trend 3: Digital lifestyle – here he talked about the convergence of our machines: our personal machine is also our work machine for example. Our personal and work lives are overlapping and technology will span them with us.

Trend 4: Digitisation of all the processes in everyday life – this was the most important point as I saw it. Don alluded to the disparateness of systems in the health industry for example. A routine procedure at a hospital recorded details on carbon copied notepads; copies of which were then sent to his doctor via fax. How inefficient (and error prone, not to mention lacking in any form of security or auditing) in this?. Why isn’t it recorded electronically and access provided to authorised personnel? Again, the technology is not likely to be the main problem (although it will be a contributor) rather it is the infrastructure and thus relies on the attitudes
of those in charge, and building a good case for the costs.

Trend 5: Software breakthroughs – here he talked about Model Driven Development (MDD) and how we were often taking this approach in our workplaces without even realising. This, the rise of end user programming, and an approach of providing Rules and Policies engines in software that can be managed by the end users, will see software doing stuff outside the wildest imaginations of the original software developers. This struck a chord with me. So many users these days know what they want to do, but just don’t have the skills to program it. But, and here I apologise for taking such a simple example, even beginner computer users can work out how to use the Rules engine in Outlook to perform some form of rudimentary workflow. Don pointed to mashups as a simple example of how end user programming is taking various sources of data and functionality and programming them (simply!) into a new end user experience.

Trend 6: SOA – this is a topic all in itself of course, but essentially impacts all the areas mentioned above. Don talked about the driver of SOA being to solve complexity (at least on the transport medium – eg http), but also on the interface (via XML etc) so that the problems of how to communicate are largely removed, and freeing the solution providers up to focus on the main result to be achieved. With the web becoming ‘the framework’ (or has Don neatly put it ‘the world’s biggest API library’) we are increasingly programming with a Connected Systems mindset. BizTalk is of course a big chunk of Microsoft’s Connected Systems strategy.

I haven’t done justice at all to Don’s talk, but the summary would be he saw the trends of the future to be addressing these areas. Not because they are necessarily big new ideas, but because we will be getting the infrastructure, attitude and costs in line with efficiently providing them.

Don’s entire keynote was videoed and will be made available as a webcast soon – I’m really looking forward to seeing it again.

Aside: You may be interested in the BizTalk service bus (a BizTalk labs project providing their view of an Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) ‘product’ that we can test against now).

Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

TECHED: Why BizTalk and BAM?

Posted on August 9, 2007. Filed under: BizTalk, TechEd |

Business Activity Management (BAM) is an important area for growing businesses to embrace. IT is basically the act of observing key processes in a business and being able to proactively respond to issues.

In this session Mick Badran (local BizTalk guru and MVP) along with Rahul Garg (Microsoft Technical Specialist) took us through an introduction to using BizTalk to implement BAM.

The functionality is largely OotB (Out-of-the-Box) in BizTalk 2006 R2 and is easy to implement.

The need for proper BAM will be decided at each organisation, usually the larger ones, and will require analysts to first work out what needs to be observed. Then it is handed over to the developers to implement using BizTalk orchestration. The general result is a tracking portal that allows activity searches, reporting, queries and alerts (eg even a Vista gadget for displaying summary information).

Why BAM?

  • It is becoming more necessary in companies, especially as timeframes are continually squeezed
  • Companies are requiring real-time activity information
  • The cost of the technologies available are allowing it to be implemented cheaply
  • The cost of not implementing may be high for companies due to lost revenue, opportunities, etc

Why BizTalk?

  • Easy to implement OotB
  • Feature set is growing in future versions
  • Mature toolset
Technorati Tags: , , ,
Read Full Post | Make a Comment ( None so far )

Liked it here?
Why not try sites on the blogroll...