Following the Roadmap to Microsoft Integration

Microsoft has just released a document detailing their roadmap to integration. With all of the recent activity in the cloud around integration – including the release of Microsoft Azure BizTalk Services two years ago, followed by a seemingly different change of direction with Azure App Service announcement earlier this year – there has been much confusion about where Microsoft was headed in the integration space. This has been challenging for partners and customers who want to ensure that they invest in the “right” technology when building out their enterprise integration capability.

I am pleased to say that this document finally delivers some much-needed clarification in this respect. Aside from reinforcing that “BizTalk is not dead” and confirming some key new features in the much-anticipated BizTalk Server 2016 release, it also shows how Microsoft is aiming to close the gap between traditional on-premises integration afforded by the server product and the modern API-based approach offered in Azure:

convergence

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Load Balancing with the Azure App Service File Connector

The File Connector is one of the built-in protocol apps that are available in the Marketplace when you go to provision and API App. Through configuration only, this app allows you to perform file-based operations from a Logic App in Azure, bridging the boundaries of your corporate network:

image

The documentation from Microsoft clearly explains how you can configure the app and then download a listener agent to install on your on-premises server associated with the file(s). In most cases, this would be a single server – but I got to wondering what would happen if you installed the agent on multiple servers? So I tried it out using both  the “Get File” and “Upload File” operation.

Turns out that the File Connector will talk to all of those servers, provided that you have set up the same base directory path on all of them. This path is configured at the time you provision the API App – not when you use it within a Logic App. The configuration of the “File Path” property within the instance of this app only defines the sub-directory within the base path, as well as the file name. Incidentally, if this sub-directory does not exist at runtime, it is automatically created for you in the case of the “Upload File” operation.  Unfortunately, this is not the case with the base directory – if that doesn’t exist you get a rather meaningless 500 error recorded in the tracking log:

The requested page cannot be accessed because the related configuration data for the page is invalid.

In any case, I set up a simple Logic App and decided to test using the “Get File” and ‘Upload File” methods respectively to fetch and store files from assorted VMs hosted on my laptop. Once I had the syntax down for specifying the file path (this post by Saravana Kumar proved very helpful), then I was amazed at how easy it was to get this working! Here is my Logic App:

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Latest Pluralsight Course is Now Live!

Pluralsight

Really pleased to announce that my latest Pluralsight course on Azure Hybrid Connections is now live!  This has consumed no insignificant amount of time and effort lately – which goes a long way to explaining the infrequency of my blogging lately.

This is only a short “first look” course, although it took me several weeks to complete it due to work commitments and a virus that stole my voice for awhile. There are two reasons for the short course:

  • Since this is still a “preview” feature in Azure, a short introductory course seemed prudent;
  • Turns out that in 1 hour 48 minutes I was able to cover pretty much everything you need to know about Hybrid Connections anyway!

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Issue with Hybrid Connections and the PowerShell API

While recently playing around with the PowerShell API Azure Hybrid Connections, I stumbled across an interesting “feature” when managing registrations within the on-premises Connection Manager.

As outlined in the MSDN documentation, there are five cmdlets that are included with the Hybrid Connection Manager that you download and install from the Azure portal:

  • Add-HybridConnection
  • Update-HybridConnection
  • Delete-HybridConnection
  • Get-HybridConnection
  • Set-HybridConnectionManagerConfiguration

The first three require a connection string as a parameter, which you can copy from the Hybrid Connection itself in the Azure Portal by clicking the “Manage Connection” button:

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Busy Days!

If you’re wondering why my blogging frequency has dropped off over the last couple of months, it’s because I’ve been busy with some other projects. Here are just a few of them:

Brisbane Azure Bootcamp

BAB2015_Dan_OrientationAlthough originally intended to be the Brisbane chapter of the Global Azure Bootcamp, we had to change the date to a week later since the global event coincided with ANZAC Day in Australia. This year marking the 100th anniversary of the event at Gallipoli, it seemed irreverent (and also impractical) to hold the event on that day. So we joined Perth in organising our own version of the all-day event. Alessandro Cardoso from Readify and myself were the main organisers, while Damien Berry set up the event website.

 

BAB2015_Dan_HCWhat a success! With over 50 registrations, we had a full house at Microsoft headquarters, with the event stretching from 8:30am to 5:30pm. Presenters included Readify’s Alessandro Cardoso and Andrew Harcourt, myself on Hybrid Connections, and Microsoft’s Steve van Bodegraven with a session on Azure ML and lean start-ups.

Lots of prizes were given out thanks to sponsors Mexia, Pluralsight, and the Global Azure Bootcamp. Also a big thanks to Readify for funding the catering.

Brisbane Azure User Group

For the next Brisbane Azure User Group event, I’ll be presenting with Mexia’s Lee Simpson on Logic Apps – so preparation for that is keeping me occupied as well.

Pluralsight

And if that was not enough, I’m also authoring my second Pluralsight course. While I’m not allowed to say too much about the content until it’s published, I can reveal that it is based on an exciting Azure technology directly related to hybrid integration. Only one more module to go! Expect an announcement in a few weeks. 🙂

Of course there are other things stealing my time (and sleep) away as well, including heavier than usual workloads at our current client and preparation for a looming deadline for lodging my income tax return. But I hope to be back to more regular blogging next month! There are plenty of exciting things to write about…

WEBCAST: Introduction to Hybrid Connections

Last week I uploaded our fifth webcast to the Brisbane BizTalk User Group YouTube channel, this one based on a presentation I recently gave to the Brisbane Azure User Group. It is an Introduction to Hybrid Connections, a new BizTalk Services technology that’s currently in Preview. In this 22 minute webcast you’ll learn how Hybrid Connections makes it easy to connect your Azure Web Sites and Mobile Services to your on-premises LOB systems – all with no changes to your corporate network.

mqdefault[1]Introduction to Hybrid Connections [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kEgNE_-KC90]

You can also download the slide deck from SlideShare. Most of these slides are borrowed from Santosh Chandwani, a Microsoft Azure Senior Program Manager who gave the initial presentation at Tech-Ed USA the day this went live.

Enjoy!!

User Group Presentation on Hybrid Connections

Last week I had the privilege to present on Hybrid Connections at the Brisbane Azure User Group meeting. It was well attended and the community responded very enthusiastically to the ease at which this technology enables you to connect Azure Web Sites and Mobile Services to on-premises resources behind your corporate firewall. One attendee was so excited by the feature that he stayed back after the meeting with his laptop and proceeded to deploy his web site application to Azure right there on the spot, hooking it up in minutes to his on-premises database!

highres_399395482 I’d like to express my gratitude to Santosh Chandwani, a Microsoft Azure Sr. Program Manager who shared his slide deck with me and gave some very helpful tips in preparing my demo. The slides are available on SlideShare if you wish to view the presentation as I presented it, or you can download the original version that Santosh presented at Tech Ed USA.

Santosh also promptly answered some questions raised by the community which I posted on the Azure Advisors Yammer group:

Q: Seems expensive to get more than 5 HC connections?
A: “If there are specific Dev-Test scenarios where the 5 Free HC don’t suffice, please let us know.”

Q: What are the performance/load specifications? Any guidance on where potential bottlenecks may be, and/or best practice guidelines?
A: “In general, the throughput you can achieve with HC is constrained by the internet connectivity between the on-prem network and Azure. Since this is part of the user’s network infrastructure, it is hard for us to provide a specific throughput baseline.
We recommend users assess the throughput that each instance of the on-prem Hybrid Connection Manager provides on their network. Adding more instances may provide higher throughput (again depending on the network infrastructure). Also, for production scenarios, at least 2 instances are recommended for resiliency. ”

Stay tuned for an upcoming webcast about this on the BrizTalk YouTube Channel!

UPDATE: Webcast published!! View it here.

Using Azure Hybrid Connections to Consume an On-Premises WCF Service from the Cloud

Microsoft introduced Hybrid Connections a few weeks ago, a [currently] free version of BizTalk Services that allows you to seamlessly connect Web Sites and Mobile Services hosted in Azure to LOB systems residing within your organisation’s network. Similar to Service Bus Relays, there is no need to open inbound firewall ports as a locally installed agent can establish the connection to Azure from within your network. To help support this feature, Microsoft also introduced a free tier of BizTalk Services specifically to accommodate Hybrid Connections.

The most obvious question asked by most is, “Will this replace Service Bus Relays?”.  After all, they do seem very similar in concept. Michael Stephenson wrote an excellent blog post addressing this very question and identifying the key differences as well as the situations you would most likely choose one technology over the other.

What has sparked my post here is that the only examples I found highlighting this new feature were aimed at connecting to on-premises databases. While this is certainly impressive and useful (especially since your Azure Web Site can use the exact same connection string you would use for on-premises access!), it left me wondering how Hybrid Connections could be used to expose WCF Services within an internal network – without the need for configuring relay bindings.  My interest in this capability has arisen from some recent experiences building hybrid solutions for our clients:

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