Great Experience at INTEGRATE 2017 in London!

Last week I had the privilege not only of attending the INTEGRATE 2017 conference in London, but presenting as well. A huge thanks to Saravana Kumar and BizTalk360 for inviting me as a speaker – what a tremendous honour and thrill to stand in front of nearly 400 integration enthusiasts from around the world and talk about Hybrid Connectivity! Also, a big thanks to Mexia for generously funding my trip. 14-DMT_NickHhauenstein

With 380+ attendees from 52 countries around the globe, this is by far the biggest Microsoft integration event of the year. Of those 380, only four of us that I know of came from APAC: fellow MVP speakers Martin Abbott from Perth and Wagner Silveira from Auckland NZ, as well as Cameron Shackell from Brisbane who manned his ActiveADAPTER sponsor stand. Wagner would have to take the prize for the furthest travelled with his 30+ hour journey!

I’ve already published one blog post summarising my take on the messages delivered by Microsoft (which accounted for half of the sessions at the event). This will soon be followed by a similar post with highlights of the MVP community presentations, which in addition to BizTalk Server, Logic Apps, and other traditional integration topics also spanned into the new areas of Bots, IoT and PowerApps.

iPhone Import 156Aside from the main event, Saravana and his team also arranged for a few social events as well, including networking drinks after the first day, a dinner at Nando’s for the speakers, and another social evening for the BizTalk360 partners. They also presented each of the BizTalk360 product specialists with a beautiful award – an unexpected treat!

You have to hand it to Saravana and his team – everything went like clockwork, even keeping the speakers on schedule. And I thought it was a really nice touch that each speaker was introduced by a BizTalk360 team member. Not only did it make the speakers feel special, but it provided an opportunity to highlight the people behind the scenes who not only work to make BizTalk360 a great product but also ensure events like these come off. I hope all of them had a good rest this week!

As with all of these events, one of the things I treasure the most is the opportunity to catch up with my friends from around the globe who share my passion for integration, as well as meeting new friends. In my talk, I commented about how strong our community is, and that we not only integrate as professionals but integrate well as people too.

01-SundayNight-Mikael  21-Pizza_TomCanter

Arriving a day and a half before the three day event, I had hoped to conquer most of the jet-lag early on. But alas, the proximity to the solstice in a country so far North meant the sun didn’t set until past 10:30pm while rising just before 4:30am – which is the time I would involuntarily wake up each day no matter how late I stayed up the night before! Still, adrenalin kept me going and the engaging content kept me awake for every session.

And no matter what.., there was always time for a beer or two! Smile

22-PostPizza_TomCanter

I look forward to the next time I get to meet up with my integration friends! If you missed the event in London, you’ll have a second chance at INTEGRATE 2017 USA which will be held in Redmond on October 25-27. And of course, if you keep your eyes on the website, the videos and slides should be published soon.

(Photos by Nick Hauenstein, Dan Toomey, Mikael Sand, and Tom Canter)

Great Week at Ignite Australia!

TLGsLast week I had the opportunity to attend Microsoft Ignite on the Gold Coast, Australia. Even better – I had a free ticket on account of agreeing to serve as a Technical Learning Guide (TLG) in the hands-on labs. This opportunity is only open to Microsoft Certified Trainers (MCTs) and competition was evidently keen this year – so I am glad to have been chosen. Catching up with fellow MCTs like Mark Daunt and meeting up with new ones such as Michael Schmitz was a real pleasure. Of course the down side was that I missed quite a few breakout sessions during the times I was rostered. Nevertheless, I still got to see some of the most important sessions to me, particularly those that centred around Azure and integration technologies. Please have a read of my summary of these on my employer’s blog.

By and far this was my best Australian Ignite/Tech-Ed event experience for many reasons, including:

  1. The Pro-Integration team from Redmond came all the way out to Australia show everyone what the product group is doing with Logic Apps, Flow, Service Bus, and BizTalk Server
  2. I was chosen to present an Instructor-Led Lab in Service Fabric – my first ever speaking engagement at Ignite
  3. I had the rare opportunity to catch up with some fellow MVPs from Perth and Europe.

It was truly phenomenal to see enterprise integration properly represented at an Australian conference, as it is typically overlooked at these events. In addition to at least four breakout sessions on hybrid integration, Scott Guthrie actually performed a live demo of Logic Apps in his keynote! This was a good shout-out to the product team that has worked so hard to bring this technology up to the usability level it now enjoys. I’m glad that Jim Harrer, Jeff Holland, Jon Fancey and Kevin Lam were there to see it!

iPhone Import 015Teaching the lab in Service Fabric was a thrilling experience, but not without some challenges. The lab itself was broken and required a re-write of the second half, which I had pre-prepared and uploaded to One-Drive here so the students could progress. The main lab content is only available to Ignite attendees, however if you want to have a go at a similar lab you can try these ones available from Microsoft:

Despite the frustration that some attendees expressed about the lab errata and the poor performance of the environment, I was pleased that all the submitted feedback relating to the speaker was very positive! Smile

iPhone Import 050iPhone Import 037 (2)Finally, perhaps the best part of events like these is the ability to catch up with old friends and meet some new ones. It was a pleasure to hang out with Azure MVP Martin Abbott from Perth and meet a few of his iPhone Import 047colleagues. It was also great to see Elder Grootenboer and Steef-Jan Wiggers from the Netherlands, who happened to travel to Australia this month on holidays and to speak at some events. Steef-Jan also took time to include me in a V-Log series he’s been working on with various integration MVPs, recording his 3-minute interview with me at the top of Mount Coot-tha on a sunny Brisbane Saturday! And Mexia’s CEO Dean Robertson & myself got to enjoy a nice dinner out with the Microsoft product group and the MVPs.

All good things must come to an end, but it was definitely a memorable week! Now it’s time to start getting ready for the Brisbane edition of the Global Integration Bootcamp on Saturday, 25th March, to be followed not long after by the Global Azure Bootcamp on Saturday 22nd April! I’ve got a few demos and presentations to prepare – but now with plenty of inspiration from Ignite!

Month of Achievements!

“When it rains, it pours.”

Well, I must say I’ve had a pretty remarkable run the past few weeks! I can’t remember any point in my professional life where I’ve enjoyed so much reward and recognition in such a short time span.

mcsa-cloud-platform-certified-2017-smFor starters, after six weeks and probably 50-60 hours of study, I managed to pass my MS 70-533 Implementing Azure Infrastructure Solutions exam. Since I’d already passed the MS 79-532 Developing Azure Solutions exam a couple of month earlier, this earned me the coveted Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) qualification in Cloud Platform. I now have just one more exam to pass to earn the Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE) qualification.

MVP_Logo_Preferred_Cyan300_RGB_72ppiThen just last week I was granted my first  Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award  in Azure! This is incredibly exciting to say the least, and not only a surprise to myself to have been identified with so many incredibly accomplished leaders in the industry, but also to many others because of the timing. Microsoft has revamped the MVP program so that now awards will be granted every month instead of every quarter, and everyone will have their review date on July 1st. I’m looking forward to using my newfound benefits to contribute more to the community.

And if that wasn’t enough, this week Mexia promoted me to the position of Principal Consultant! Aside from the CEO (Dean Robertson), I am the longest serving employee, and the journey over the last seven and a half years has been nothing short of amazing. Seeing the company grow from just three of us into the current roster of nearly forty has been remarkable enough, but I’ve also watched us become a Microsoft Gold Partner and win a plethora of awards (including ranking #10 in the Australia’s Great Place to Work competition) along the way. Working with such an awesome team has afforded me unparalleled opportunities to grow as an IT professional, and I will strive to serve both our team and our clients to the best of my ability in this role.

So what else is on the horizon? Well for starters, next week I join the speaker list at Ignite Australia for the first time delivering a Level 300 Instructor-Led Lab in Azure Service Fabric. I’m also organising and presenting for the first ever Global Integration Bootcamp in Brisbane on 25th March, and doing the same for the fifth Global Azure Bootcamp on 22nd April. And somewhere in there I need to fit in that third Azure exam… It’s going to be a busy year!

Azure Exam Talk at User Group

The other night I had the privilege of presenting to the Brisbane Azure User Group at our last meeting of the year. My topic was about certification exams in Microsoft Azure, and aimed to address two relatively new changes in the certification program:

  • New Certification Path – Microsoft recently announced changes in their certification program designed to streamline the certification path. Although they are retiring the Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD): Azure Solutions Architect as of 31st March 2017, the three exams mentioned below that made up this certification are still relevant and will now earn the title of Microsoft Certified Solutions Expert (MCSE): Cloud Platform and Infrastructure.
  • Refreshed Exams – All three exams have been refreshed as of 23 November 2016, now including new content specifically around the PaaS capabilities in Azure (App Service, Logic Apps, Azure Functions, API Management, Service Fabric, etc), Azure Resource Manager (ARM), and extended identity management capabilities (e.g. Azure Active Directory B2B and B2C). They have also removed Cloud Services from the syllabus.

The three exams that all this relates to are:

The recording of this talk (which also discussed preparation tips & techniques) can be found here, whilst the slides are available here.

Busy Times…Again

You may have noticed that I haven’t been too active on the social media / blogging front of late. It certainly isn’t because there isn’t much to write about…especially when you consider the release of BizTalk Server 2016 (including the Logic Apps Adapter), the General Availability of Azure Functions, and many other integration events leading up to these! And for those on the certification path, there’s news of the refresh of the Azure exams as well.

In fact, it is that very last item that accounts for a good deal of my scarcity in the blogging world of late. My employer is keen for as many of us as possible to earn the Microsoft Certified Solution Expert (MCSE) accreditation in Azure. I’ve already passed first of three required exams, MS 70-532 Developing Microsoft Azure Solutions after several weeks of after hours study (hours that might have been spent blogging). That accomplishment has earned me this nice little badge:

exam-532-developing-microsoft-azure-solutionsI’m now currently studying for the next exam, MS 70-533 Implementing Microsoft Azure Infrastructure Solutions. Passing this exam will earn me a Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA) qualification in Cloud Platform. However, it won’t stop there as I’ll need to pass one more exam – MS 70-534 Architecting Microsoft Azure Solutions in order to attain the coveted MCSE in Cloud Platform and Infrastructure. All I can say is that I’ll be doing a lot of studying over the Christmas holidays…

Aside from studying for exams, I’ve also been heavily tasked at work as Mexia has had a profoundly successful sales year in 2016 – which translates into an overload of work! No wonder we’re heavily recruiting right now, looking for those “unicorns” that can help us remain as the best integration consultancy in Australia. There has been a fair amount of travel lately, and as Mexia’s only Microsoft Certified Trainer (MCT) I will continuing to deliver courses in BizTalk Server Development, BizTalk Server Administration, BizTalk360, and Azure Readiness. That means many more hours preparing all of that content.

But it hasn’t stopped me from speaking, at least not entirely. Aside from regular presentations at the Brisbane Azure User Group (including this one on Microsoft Flow), I’ve also been a guest presenter at Xamarin Dev Days in Brisbane where I talked about Connected and Disconnected Apps with Azure Mobile Apps.

Looking forward to writing posts more regularly again after this exam crunch is over. There’s a lot of exciting things happening in the integration world right now!

New Online API Mapping Tool

One of the many challenges with an integration project is typically the mapping of messages from one API to another. The difficulty most often lies not with the technical implementation (although some former projects mapping SAP iDocs to EDI X12 are still giving me nightmares), but rather with forming the specification of the mapping itself, including understanding the semantical meaning behind each element. This is difficult because it requires expert knowledge of both the source and target system, as well as an analysts who can correct “draw the connecting line” between the two. The correct end result is only achieved through significant collaboration amongst the relevant parties.

The BizTalk Mapper goes a long way to facilitating this task with it’s graphical mapping interface. Aside from providing the developer a means of rapidly implementing a transformation, it also servers as a visual representation of the mapping that can be understood by a business analyst (if not too complex):

biztalkmap

(image courtesy of MSDN)

There are two problems with this approach, however:

  1. It requires BizTalk Server, which is not only expensive, but also may be overkill for a solution that can easily be implemented in WCF, REST, or another platform;
  2. The mapping must be implemented by a developer before it can be shown to analysts and business users for discussion and validation. This usually entails a number of iterative cycles until the mapping is correct.

Enter api-map.com – a new free online tool created by my colleague Joseph Cooney specifically to address these particular challenges. api-map provides a medium to formulate, display and share mapping documentation which can eventually be handed over to a developer for implementation on any chosen platform.

Read more of this post

User Group Presentation on Microsoft Flow

Last week I had the privilege of presenting a short session on Microsoft Flow to the Brisbane Azure User Group. The group meets every month, and at this particular event we decided to have an “Unconvention Night” where instead of one or two main presentations, we had several (four in this case) shorter sessions to introduce various topics. This has been a popular format with the group and one that we will keep repeating from time to time.

Wrapping up the evening was my session, called Easy Desktop Integration with Microsoft Flow.  Flow is a new integration tool built into Office365; it allows business users (yes, I really mean “business users” – no code required) to build automated workflows using 35+ connectors to popular SaaS systems like DropBox, Slack, SharePoint, Twitter, Yammer, MailChimp, etc.  The full list of connectors can be found here.

Even better is that Flow comes with over 100 pre-built templates out of the box, so you don’t even need to construct your own workflows unless you want to do something very customised! All you need to do is select a template, configure the connectors, publish the workflow – and off it goes!  In fact, it is so simple that I built my first Flow during Charles Lamanna’s presentation at the Integrate 2016 conference in London; I decided to capture all tweets with the #Integration2016 hashtag to a CSV file in DropBox.

Flow is built upon Azure Logic Apps, and it uses the same connectors as PowerApps – so you can leverage both of these great utilities to create simple but powerful applications:

image

Because it is built on Logic Apps, this means you can easily migrate a Flow workflow to an Azure Logic App when it becomes mission critical, requires scalability, or begins to use more sensitive data that requires greater security and auditing.

Feel free to view the recording of my session at https://youtu.be/sd1AhZpPsBw:

Microsoft Flow presentation to the Brisbane Azure User Group

 

You can also download the slides (which came mostly from Charles Lamanna’s deck– used with permission of course). But most importantly, get started using Flow! I’m sure you’ll find plenty of uses for it.

Integrate 2016 – What an Event!

Last week I had the privilege of attending the world’s largest integration event this year, Integrate 2016 in London. A big thanks to my employer Mexia for sending me. As is typical for events organised by BizTalk360, it was on an especially grand scale (27 sessions with 25+ speakers) and did not disappoint in the content presented by members of the Microsoft product team and the MVP community.

Day 1 of the three day event featured a number of announcements from Microsoft that clarified their vision and direction for integration, even more so than the Integration Roadmap delivered at the end of last year. Showing their commitment to BizTalk Server as the on-premises integration platform and Logic Apps as the cloud platform provided some much-needed reassurance and comfort to the community. “BizTalk and Logic Apps better together” is the mantra underpinned by the addition of a Logic Apps adapter in the upcoming BizTalk 2016 CTP2 release and the new BizTalk Connector soon to be introduced in Logic Apps.

Without explicitly stating it, it also became rather apparent as to what is “on the outs” in the integration space:

    • Microsoft Azure BizTalk Services (MABS) is likely to be deprecated as both the VETER pipelines and the EDI/B2B functionality moves into Logic Apps by way of the Enterprise Integration Pack;
    • Azure Stack is no longer being touted as the on-premises integration platform; rather BizTalk Server will continue to be king of that domain.

I’ve already posted an article on Mexia’s blog giving my rundown on all the sessions presented by Microsoft and the  significant announcements. Soon after I followed up with a summary of the many MVP sessions that rounded out the conference.  In addition, there are plenty of other blog posts from the community giving their thoughts and recaps of the event; here are just a few:

Besides Microsoft’s clear roadmap message and the excellent presentations, perhaps the best thing about this conference was the opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends from around the world – and meet new ones as well!

Kickoff Dinner
(photo by Thomas Canter)

 

Saravana&Dan
(photo courtesy of BizTalk360)

 

GreenwichKitchen
(photo by Tara Motevalli)

Dinner_with_MVPs
(photo by Steef-Jan Wiggers)

Kudos again to Saravana Kumar, BizTalk360, Microsoft and all the sponsors for making this such an outstanding event! Looking forward to Integrate 2017!

Azure Service Bus Relays, SAS tokens and BizTalk Server

Great article by Mark Brimble. SAS support is now available across all WCF adapters in BizTalk Server 2016 CTP1!

Connected Pawns

Many people have written about Azure Service Bus Relays in the past and a summary can be found here. Dan Rosanova recently tweeted “….We’re trying to discourage ACS for security. SAS is our preferred model.”. The ACS security pattern is described here and the SAS pattern is described here. This article attempts to summarise BizTalk adapter support for using SAS tokens.

Most BizTalk Server examples use ACS tokens rather than SAS tokens, probably because the BizTalk Adapters only allowed configuration with ACS tokens when service bus relays were first released with BizTalk 2013. BizTalk 2013 R2 has limited support for configuration of SAS tokens and most adapters only allow use of ACS tokens out of the box (OOTB). If you want to use a SAS token you have to be very inventive. I hope that BizTalk vNext will add SAS token support for all WCF adapters.

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"Flush failed to run" SQL error with BAM API

Today I encountered an unusual error when executing a pipeline component that utilises the EventStream API to write to BAM. The failure that showed up in the event log looked something like this:

A message received by adapter "WCF-SQL" on receive location "MyReceivePort" with URI "mssql://MyDatabaseInstance/MyDatabase?InboundId=Employee" is suspended.
Error details: There was a failure executing the receive pipeline: "MyReceivePipeline, MyAssembly, Version=1.0.0.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=1a2b345c67d89e0f" Source: "Log Message To BAM Receive" Receive Port: "MyReceivePort" URI: "mssql://MyDatabaseInstance/MyDatabase?InboundId=Employee" Reason: Flush failed to run. 

A quick Google search pulled up this helpful post by Yossi Dahan, which pointed me in the right direction. I knew that the connection string was all right, and I was using the BufferedEventStream rather than the DirectEventStream that Yossi referred to. (Incidentally, when using the BufferedEventStream your connection string actually points to the BizTalkMsgBoxDb database rather than the BAMPrimaryImport database.)

However, the clue was really in the second part of Yossi’s suggestion (and also in an anonymous comment), "…and related permissions…".  I could see that the BizTalk Application Users domain group had been assigned all of the appropriate roles in SQL Server, and I knew that all the host accounts had been dutifully added to this group when BizTalk was installed.

Er… hang on a moment. I double checked and found that the SQL Adapter was running under a new dedicated host account that had been created specifically for the data warehouse. A simple check on the account using the "net user /domain" command prompt unveiled the culprit. This account had not be granted membership in the BizTalk Application Users domain group.

Once that was accomplished, everything worked smoothly.

It would be nice to actually see an error that hinted towards permission issues. Perhaps the detail was buried somewhere in an inner exception, but the logging does not go past the first level.

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