Sunday, December 7, 2014

Integrate 2014 Recap

I have recently made it home from a great week at Redmond’s Microsoft campus where I attended the Integrate 2014 event.  I want to take this opportunity to thank both Microsoft and BizTalk360 for being the lead sponsors and organizers of the event.

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I also want to call out to the other sponsors as these events typically do not take place without this type of support.  I think it also a testament of just how deep Microsoft’s partner ecosystem really is and it was a pleasure to interact with you over the course of the week.

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Speaking at the event

I want to thank Microsoft and BizTalk360 for inviting me to speak at this event. This was the first time that I have had the chance to present at Microsoft’s campus and it was an experience I don’t think I will ever forget.  I have been to Microsoft campus probably around 20 times for various events but have never had the opportunity to present.  It was a pretty easy decision.

One of the best parts of being involved in the Microsoft MVP program is the international network that you develop. Many of us have been in the program for several years and really value each other’s experience and expertise.  Whenever we get together, we often compare notes and talk about the industry.  We had a great conversation about the competitive landscape.  We also discussed the way that products are being sold with a lot of buzzwords and marketecture.  People were starting to get caught up in this instead of focusing on some of the fundamental requirements.  Much like any project should be based upon a formal, methodical, requirements driven approach, so should buying an integration platform.

These concepts introduced the idea of developing a whitepaper where we would identify requirements “if I was buying” an integration platform. Joining me on this journey was Michael Stephenson and Steef-Jan Wiggers.  We focused on both functional and nonfunctional requirements. We also took this opportunity to rank the Microsoft platform, which includes BizTalk Server, BizTalk Services, Azure Service Bus and Azure API Management.  Our ranking was based upon experiences with these tools and how our generic integration requirements could be met by the Microsoft stack. This whitepaper is available on the BizTalk360 site for free.  Whether your are a partner, system integrator, integration consultant or customer you are welcome to use and alter as you see fit.  If you feel we have missed some requirements, you are encouraged to reach out to us.  We are already planning a 1.1 version of this document to address some of the recent announcements from the Integrate event.

My presentation focused on 10 of the different requirements that were introduced in the paper.  I also included a ‘Legacy Modernization’ demo that highlights Microsoft’s ability to deliver on some of the requirements that were discussed in the whitepaper.  This session was recorded and will be published on the BizTalk360 site in the near future.

 

Recap

Disclaimer: What I am about to discuss is all based upon public knowledge that was communicated during the event.  I have been careful to ensure what is described is accurate to the best of my knowledge.  It was a fast and furious 3 days with information moving at warp speed. I have also included some of my own opinions which may or may not be inline with Microsoft’s way of thinking.   For some additional perspectives, I encourage you to check out the following blog posts from the past week:

Event Buildup

There was a lot of build up to this event, with Integration MVPs seeing some early demos there was cause for a lot of excitement.  This spilled over to twitter where @CrazyBizTalk posted this prior to the event kicking off.  The poster(I know who you are Smile ) was correct, there has never been so much activity on twitter related to Microsoft Integration. Feel free to check out the timeline for yourself here.

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Picture Source @CrazyBizTalk

Keynote

The ever so popular Scott Guthrie or otherwise known as “Scott Gu” kicked off the Integrate 2014 event.  Scott is the EVP of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise groups.  He provided a broad update on the Azure platform describing all of the recent investments that have been rolled out.

Picture Source @SamVanhoutte

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Some of the more impressive points that Scott made about Azure include:

  • Azure Active Directory supports identity federation with 2342 SaaS platforms
  • Microsoft Azure is the only cloud provider in all 4 Gartner magic quadrants
  • Microsoft Azure provides the largest VMs in the cloud known as ‘G’ Machines (for Godzilla).  These VMs support 32 cores, 448 GB of Ram and 6500 GB of SSD Storage
  • Microsoft is adding 10 000+ customers per week to Microsoft Azure

For some attendees, I sensed some confusion about why there would be so much emphasis on Microsoft Azure. In hindsight, it makes a lot of sense.  Scott was really setting the stage for what would be come a conference that focused on a cohesive Azure platform where BizTalk becomes one of the center pieces.

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Picture Source @gintveld

A Microservices platform is born

Next up was Bill Staples.  Bill is the General Manager for the Azure Application Platform or what is also known as “Azure App Platform”.  Azure App Platform is the foundational ‘fabric’ that currently enables a lot of Azure innovation and will fuel the next generation integration tools for Microsoft.

A foundational component of Azure App Platform is App Containers.  These containers support many underlying Azure technologies that enable:

  • > 400k Apps Hosted
  • 300k Unique Customers
  • 120% Yearly Subscription Growth
  • 2 Billion Transactions daily

Going forward we can expect BizTalk ‘capabilities’ to run inside these containers.  As you can see, I don’t think we will have any performance constraints.

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Picture Source @tomcanter

Later in the session, it was disclosed that Azure App Platform will enable new BizTalk capabilities that will be available in the form of Microservices.  Microservices will enable the ability provide service composition in a really granular way.  We will have the ability to ‘chain’ these Microservices together inside of a browser(at design time), while enjoying the benefits of deploying to an enterprise platform that will provide message durability, tracking, management and analytics.

I welcome this change.  The existing BizTalk platform is very reliable, robust, understood, and supported.  The challenge is that the BizTalk core, or engine, is over 10 years old and the integration landscape has evolved with BizTalk struggling to maintain pace.

BizTalk capabilities exposed as Microservices puts Microsoft in the forefront of integration platforms leapfrogging many innovative competitors.  It allows Microsoft’s customers to enable transformational scenarios for their business.  Some of the Microservices that we can expect to be part of the platform include:

  • Workflow (BPM)
  • SaaS Connectivity
  • Rules (Engine)
  • Analytics
  • Mapping (Transforms)
  • Marketplace
  • API Management

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Picture Source @jeanpaulsmit

We can also see where Microsoft is positioning BizTalk Microservices within this broader platform: 

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Picture Source @wearsy

What is exciting about this is new platform is the role that BizTalk now plays in the broader platform.  For a while now, people have felt that BizTalk is that system that sits in the corner that people do not like to talk about.  Now, BizTalk is a key component within the App Platform that will enable many integration scenarios including new lightweight scenarios that has been challenging for BizTalk Server to support in the past.

Whenever there is a new platform introduced like this, there is always the tendency to chase ‘shiny objects’ while ignoring some of the traditional capabilities of the existing platform that allowed you to gain the market share that you achieved.  Microsoft seems to have a good handle on this and has outlined the Fundamentals that they are using to build this new platform.  This was very encouraging to see. 

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Picture Source @wearsy

At this point the room was buzzing.  Some people nodding their heads with delight(including myself), others struggling with the term Microservice, others concerned about existing requirements that they have and how they fit into the new world.  I will now break down some more details into the types of Microservices that we can expect to see in this new platform.

Workflow Microservice

One of the current gaps in Microsoft Azure BizTalk Services (MABS) is workflow.  In the following image we will see the workflow composer which is hosted inside a web browser.  Within this workflow we have the ability to expose it as a Microservice, but we also have the ability to pull in other Microservices such as a SaaS connector or a Rules Service.

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Picture Source @saravanamv

On the right hand corner of this screen we can see some of these Microservices that we can pull in.  The picture is a little “grainy” but some of the items include:

  • Validation
  • Retrieve Employee Details (custom Microservice I suppose)
  • Rules
  • Custom Filter
  • Acme (custom Microservice I suppose)
  • Survey Monkey SaaS Connector)
  • Email (SaaS Connector)

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Picture Source (@mikaelsand)

In the demo we were able to see a Workflow being triggered and the tracking information was made available in real time.  There are also an ability to schedule a workflow, run it manually or trigger it from another process.

Early in the BizTalk days there as an attempt to involve Business Analysts in the development of Workflows (aka Orchestrations).  This model never really worked well as Visual Studio was just too developer focused, and Orchestration Designer for Business Analysts (ODBA) just didn’t have the required functionality for it to be a really good tool.  Microsoft is once again attempting to bring the Business Analyst into the solution by providing a simple to use tool which is hosted in a Web browser.  I always am a bit skeptical when companies try to enable these types of BA scenarios but I think that was primarily driven from workflows being defined in an IDE instead of a web browser.

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Picture Source @wearsy

Once again, nice to see Microsoft focusing on key tenets that will drive their investment.  Also glad to see some of the traditional integration requirements being addressed including:

  • Persist State
  • Message Assurance
  • End to end tracking
  • Extensibility

All too often some of these ‘new age’ platforms provide lightweight capabilities but neglect the features that integration developers need to support their business requirements. I don’t think this is the case with BizTalk going forward.

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Picture Source @wearsy

SaaS Connectivity

A gap that has existed in the BizTalk Server platform is SaaS connectivity.  While BizTalk does provide a WebHttp Adapter that can both expose and consume RESTful services, I don’t think it is enough (as I discussed in my talk).  I do feel that providing a great SaaS connector makes developers more productive and reduces the time to deliver projects is mandatory.  Delivering value quicker is one of the reasons why people buy Integration Platforms and subsequently having a library that contains full featured, stable connectors for SaaS platforms is increasingly becoming important.  I relate the concept of BizTalk SaaS connectors to Azure Active Directory Federations.  That platform boasts more than 2000+ ‘identity adapters”.  Why should it be any different for integration?

The following image is a bit busy, but some of the Connector Microservices we can expect include:

  • Traditional Enterprise LOBs
  • Dynamics CRM Online
  • SAP SuccessFactors
  • Workday
  • SalesForce
  • HDInsight
  • Quickbooks
  • Yammer
  • Dynamics AX
  • Azure Mobile Services
  • Office 365
  • Coupa
  • OneDrive
  • SugarCRM
  • Informix
  • MongoDB
  • SQL Azure
  • BOX
  • Azure Blobs and Table
  • ….

This list is just the beginning.  Check out the Marketplace section in this blog for more announcements.

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Picture Source @wearsy

Rules Microservice

Rules (Engines) are a component that shouldn’t be overlooked when evaluating Integration Platforms.  I have been at many organizations where ‘the middleware should not contain any business rules’.  While in principle, I do agree with this approach.  However, it is not always that easy. What do you do in situations where you are integrating COTS products that don’t allow you to customize?  Or there may be situations where you can customize, but do not want to as you may lose your customizations in a future upgrade. Enter a Rules platform.

The BizTalk Server Rules Engine is a stable and good Rules Engine.  It does have some extensibility and can be called from outside BizTalk using .NET.  At times it has been criticized as being a bit heavy and difficult to maintained.  I really like where Microsoft is heading with its Microservice implementation that will expose “Rules as a Service” (RaaS?  - ok I will stop with that). This allows integration interfaces to leverage this Microservice but also allows other applications such as a Web or Mobile applications to leverage.  I think there will be endless opportunities for the broader Azure ecosystem to leverage this capability without introducing a lot of infrastructure.

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Picture Source @wearsy

Once again, Microsoft is enabling non-developers to participate in this platform.  I think a Rules engine is a place where Business Analysts should participate.  I have seen this work on a recent project with Data Quality Services (DQS) and don’t see why this can’t transfer to the Rules Microservice.

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Picture Source @wearsy

 

Data Transformation

Another capability that will be exposed as a Microservice is Data Transformation (or mapping).  This is another capability that will exist in a Web browser.  If you look closely on the following image you will discover that we will continue to have what appears to be a functoid (or equivalent).

Only time will tell if a Web Browser will provide the power to build complex Maps.  One thing that BizTalk Server is good at is dealing with large and complex maps.  The BizTalk mapping tools also provide a lot of extensibility through managed code and XSLT.  We will have to keep an eye on this as it further develops.

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Analytics

Within BizTalk Server we have Business Activity Monitoring (BAM).  It is a very powerful tool but has been accused of being too heavy at times. One of the benefits of leveraging the power of Azure is that we will be able to plug into all of those other investments being made in this area.

While there was not a lot of specifics related to Analytics I think it is a pretty safe bet that Microsoft will be able to leverage their Power BI suite which is making giant waves in the industry.

One interesting demo they did show us was using Azure to consume SalesForce data and display it into familiar Microsoft BI tools.

I see a convergence between cloud based integration, Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data and Predictive analytics.  Microsoft has some tremendous opportunities in this space as they have very competent offerings in each of these areas. If Microsoft can find a way to ‘stitch’ them all together they were will be some amazing solutions developed.

Picture Source @wearsy

Below is a Power BI screen that displays SalesForce Opportunities by Lead Source.

Picture Source @wearsy

Marketplace - Microservice Gallery

Buckle your seatbelts for this one!

Azure already has a market place appropriately called Azure Marketplace. In this Marketplace you can leverage 3rd party offerings including:

  • Data services
  • Machine Learning
  • Virtual Machines
  • Web applications
  • Azure Active Directory applications
  • Application services

You can also expect a Microservice Gallery to be added to this list.  This will allow 3rd parties to develop Microservices and add them to the Marketplace.  These Microservices can be monetized in order to develop a healthy eco-system.  At the beginning of this blog post you saw a list of Microsoft partners who are active in the existing Integration eco-system.  Going forward you can expect these partners + other Azure partners and independent developers building Microservices and publishing them to to this Marketplace.

In the past there has been some criticism about BizTalk being too .Net specific and not supporting other languages.  Well guess what? Microservices can be built using other languages that are already supported in Azure including:

  • Java
  • Node.js
  • PHP
  • Python
  • Ruby

This means that if you wanted to build a Microservice that talks to SaaS application ‘XYZ” that you could build it in one of this languages and then publish it to the Azure Marketplace.  This is groundbreaking.

The image below describes how a developer would go ahead and publish their Microservice to the gallery through a wizard based experience.Embedded image permalink

Picture Source @wearsy

Another aspect of the gallery is the introduction of templates.  Templates are another artifact that 3rd parties can publish and contribute.  Knowing the very large Microsoft ISV community with a lot of domain expertise this has the potential to be very big.

Some of the examples that were discussed include:

  • Dropbox – Office365
  • SurveyMonkey – SalesForce
  • Twitter – SalesForce

With a vast amount of Connector Microservices, the opportunities are endless.  I know a lot of the ISVs in the audience were very excited to hear this news and were discussing what templates they are going to build first.

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Picture Source @nickhauenstein

What about BizTalk Server?

Without question, a lot of attendees are still focused on On-Premises integration. This in part due to some of the conservative domains that these people support. Some people were concerned about their existing investments in BizTalk Server.  Microsoft confirmed (again) their commitment to these customers.  You will not be left behind!  On the flipside, I don’t think you can expect a lot of innovation in the traditional On-Premises product but you will be supported and new versions will be released including BizTalk Server 2015.

You can also expect every BizTalk Server capability to be made available as a Microservice in Azure. Microsoft has also committed to providing a great artifact migration experience that allows customers to transition into this new style of architecture.

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Picture Source @wearsy

Conclusion

If there is one thing that I would like you to take away from this post it is the “power of the Azure platform”.  This is not the BizTalk team working in isolation to develop the next generation platform.  This is the BizTalk team working in concert with the larger Azure App Platform team.  It isn’t only the BizTalk team participating but other teams like the API Management team, Mobile Services team, Data team and  many more I am sure.

In my opinion, the BizTalk team being part of this broader team and working side by side with them, reporting up the same organization chart is what will make this possible and wildly successful.

Another encouraging theme that I witnessed was the need for a lighter weight platform without compromising Enterprise requirements.  When you look at some of the other platforms that allow you to build interfaces in a web browser, this is what they are often criticized for.  With Microsoft having such a rich history in Integration, they understand these use cases as well as anyone in the industry. 

Overall, I am extremely encouraged with what I saw.  I love the vision and the strategy.  Execution will become the next big challenge. Since there is a very large Azure App Platform team providing a lot of the foundational platform, I do think the BizTalk team has the bandwidth, talent and vision to bring the Integration specific Microservices to this amazing Azure Platform.

In terms of next steps, we can expect a public preview of Microservices (including BizTalk) in Q1 of 2015.  Notice how I didn’t say a BizTalk Microservices public preview?  This is not just about BizTalk, this about a new Microservice platform that includes BizTalk.  As soon as more information is publicly available, you can expect to see updates on this blog.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Integrate 2014 Summit

 

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Recently Microsoft and BizTalk360 have announced the continuation of the Global BizTalk Summit that is held annually in the greater Seattle area.  This year the event moves from downtown Seattle to Redmond and has been branded Integrate 2014. The event will take place December 3rd – 5th, 2014 on the Microsoft campus.  If you are interested in Microsoft Integration technologies, this is a must attend event. 

Based upon the current Session Schedule you will be exposed to:

  • New BizTalk Adapter Framework for BizTalk Services
  • New Workflow designer in BizTalk Services
  • New BizTalk Rules Engine in BizTalk Services
  • B2B Improvements in BizTalk Services
  • Internet of Things (Service Bus)
  • Hybrid Connectivity
  • Azure API Management
  • Customer Success Stories
  • Ask the Experts (MVP) interactions

As you can see there is a lot of unique and progressive content on display at this event.  I will be attending the event as will many other familiar faces from the Microsoft Integration community.

Registration is now open and there are some early bird tickets available until November 15th, 2014.

See you there!!!

Book Review - Getting Started with BizTalk Services

 

I recently read the Getting Started with BizTalk Services book and decided to blog about my experience with it.  I have test drove earlier versions of BizTalk Services (blog, blog,  and blog) and decided that I wanted to catch up on some of the more recent developments in this space.  Reading this book was a great way to get this type of information from one source.

Let’s first start off with the authors; Jon Fancey and Karthik Bharathy.  Both Jon and Karthik are BizTalk veterans and are both very well respected in the community.  I knew picking up the book that the quality would not be a concern.

The book does not require a reader to possess extensive BizTalk Server experience.  It does help when drawing comparisons between features in Server vs Services.  Even without a lot of Microsoft Integration experience, a reader can be very productive working through the examples in this book.

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Within the book, you will discover 8 chapters covering 156 pages.  Each chapter contains some contextual background information followed by easy to follow examples that include:

  • Introduction to BizTalk Services
  • Messages and Transforms
  • Bridges
  • Enterprise Application Integration
  • Business to business Integration
  • Management APIs
  • Tracking and Troubleshooting
  • Moving to BizTalk Services

Even though I have some experience with the BizTalk Services beta and its predecessors I did learn some things from this book.  Probably most valuable chapter for me was Chapter 2 – Messages and Transforms.  While I have used the new “mapper” in BizTalk Services, there were certainly some operations that I haven’t used before including:

  • List Operations
  • Get Context Properties inside a map
  • If then else operation
  • Transform Exception Settings.

Another useful chapter for me was Chapter 5 – Business to business Integration.  Even though the BizTalk Services platform is rather young, the BizTalk Services’ EDI capabilities are known to be one of the strengths of the platform.  Since I have not done much in the EDI space, this chapter acted as an EDI Primer and then was able to relate these EDI concepts to the BizTalk Services solution.

Lastly, the Management API chapter was interesting as well.  I have seen Steef-Jan present on the topic, but it was nice to be able to read through some examples on how you can manage your BizTalk Services application.

Conclusion

In the final chapter; Chapter 8 – Moving BizTalk Services discusses some of the current gaps between BizTalk Server and BizTalk Services. The authors drop some subtle hints around what features are coming that will close the feature parity gap that currently exists.  Based upon the agenda for the upcoming Integrate 2014 event, I suspect this gap will be closed rather quickly.  Which means, the timing to pick up this book, to ensure you understand the fundamentals of the BizTalk Services, before some of these other features are announced provides a great opportunity to ensure you can hit the ground running.

The book can be sourced from both Amazon and PacktPub in both e-book and traditional paperback format.   The Kindle version of the book is a mere $8.96 USD which is a incredible bargain.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

European Tour 2014

As I look at the calendar and see some important dates are quickly approaching, I thought I better put together a quick blog post to highlight some of the events that I will be speaking at in early March.

I will be using the same content at all events but am happy to talk offline about anything that you have seen in this blog or my presentation from Norway this past September.

The title of my session this time around is: Exposing Operational data to Mobile devices using Windows Azure and here is the session’s abstract:

In this session Kent will take a real world business scenario from the Power Generation industry. The scenario involves real time data collection, power generation commitments made to market stakeholders and current energy prices. A Power Generation company needs to monitor all of these data points to ensure it is maintaining its commitments to the marketplace. When things do not go as planned, there are often significant penalties at stake. Having real time visibility into these business measures and being notified when the business becomes non-compliant becomes extremely important.
Learn how Windows Azure and many of its building blocks (Azure Service Bus, Azure Mobile Services) and BizTalk Server 2013 can address these requirements and provide Operations people with real time visibility into the state of their business processes.

London – March 3rd and March 4th

The first stop on the tour is London where I will be speaking at BizTalk360’s BizTalk Summit 2014.  This is a 2 day paid conference event which has allowed BizTalk360 to bring in experts from all over the world to speak at this event.  This includes speakers from Canada (me), my neighbor, the United States, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands and India.  These experts include many Integration MVPs and the product group from Microsoft.

There are still a few tickets available for this event so I would encourage you to act quickly to avoid being disappointed.  This will easily be the biggest Microsoft Integration event in Europe this year with a lot of new content.

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Stockholm – March 5th

After the London event, Steef-Jan Wiggers and I will be jumping on a plane and will head to Stockhom to visit our good friend Johan Hedberg and the Swedish BizTalk Usergroup.  This will be my third time speaking in Stockholm and 4th time speaking in Scandinavia.  I really enjoy speaking in Stockholm and am very much looking forward to returning to Sweden.  I just really hope that they don’t win the Gold Medal in Men’s Hockey at the Olympics otherwise I won’t hear the end of it.

I am also not aware of any Triathlons going on in Sweden at this time so I should be safe from participating in any adventure sports.

At this point an EventBrite is not available but watch the BizTalk Usergroup Sweden site or my twitter handle (@wearsy) for more details. 

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Netherlands – March 6th

The 3rd and last stop on the tour is the Netherlands where I will be speaking at the Dutch BizTalk User Group.  Steef-Jan Wiggers will also be speaking as will Ren√© Brauwers.  This will be my second trip to the Netherlands but my first time speaking here. I am very much looking forward to coming back to the region to talk about integration with the community and sample Dutch Pancakes, Stroopwafels and perhaps a Heineken (or two).

The eventbrite is available here and there is no cost for this event.

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See you in Europe!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013–Year in Review and looking ahead to 2014

With 2014 now upon us I wanted to take some time to reflect on the past year.  It was an incredible and chaotic year but it was also a lot of fun!  Here are some of the things that I was involved in this past year.

MVP Summits

This year there were two MVP summits.  One in February and another at the end of November.  MVP Summits are such great opportunities on a few different levels.  First off you get to hear about what is in the pipeline from product groups but you also get to network with your industry peers. I find that these conversations are so incredibly valuable and the friendships that are developed are pretty incredible.  Over time I have developed an incredible world wide network with so many quality individuals it is actually mind blowing.

(Pictures from February MVP Summit)

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At the attendee party at Century Link stadium

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Dinner with Product Group and other MVPs

PGand MVPs

(Pictures from November Summit)

At Lowell’s in the Pike Place Market in Seattle  for our annual Integration breakfast prior to the SeaHawk’s game.

Breakfast

A portion of the Berlin Wall with Steef-Jan at Microsoft Campus

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Dinner at our favourite Indian restaurant in Bellevue called Moksha.

Dinner

At Steef Jan’s favorite Donut shop in Seattle prior to the BizTalk Summit.

Donuts

Speaking

This year I had a lot of good opportunities to speak and share some of the things that I have learned.  My first stop was in Phoenix at the Phoenix Connected Systems Group in early May

The next stop was in Charlotte, North Carolina where I presented two sessions at the BizTalk Bootcamp event.  This conference was held at the Microsoft Campus in Charlotte.  Special thanks to Mandi Ohlinger for putting it together and getting me involved.

KentCharlotte

Soon after the Charlotte event I was headed to New York City where I had the opportunity to present at Microsoft Technology Center (MTC) along side the Product group and some MVPs to some of Microsoft’s most influential customers in New York City.

New York City

The next stop on the “circuit” was heading over to Norway to participate in the Bouvet BizTalk Innovation Days conference.  This was my favourite event for a few reasons;

  • I do have some Norwegian heritage so it was a tremendous opportunity to learn about my ancestors.
  • Another opportunity to hang with my MVP buddies from Europe
  • I don’t think there is a more passionate place on the planet about integration than in Scandinavia (Sweden included).  Every time I have spoke there I am completely overwhelmed by the interest in Integration in that part of the world.

Special thanks to Tord Glad Nordahl for including me in this event.

NorwaySpeakers2

After the Norway event I had the opportunity to participate in the 40th Annual Berlin Marathon with my good friend Steef Jan Wiggers. This was my second Marathon that I have run and it was a tremendous cultural experience to run in that city.  I also shaved 4 minutes off of my previous time from the Chicago marathon so it was a win-win type of experience.

Celebrating

The last speaking engagement was in Calgary in November.  I had the opportunity to speak about Windows Azure Mobile Services, Windows Azure BizTalk Services and SAP integration at the Microsoft Alberta Architect forum.  It was a great opportunity to demonstrate some of these capabilities in Windows Azure to the Calgary community.

Grad School

2013 also saw me returning to School! I completed my undergrad degree around 12 years ago and felt I was ready for some higher education.  I have had many good opportunities for career growth in my career but always felt that it was my technical capabilities that created those leadership and management opportunities.  At times I felt like I didn’t have a solid foundation when it came to running parts of an IT organization.  I felt that I could benefit from additional education.  I don’t ever foresee a time when I am not involved in Technology.  It is my job but it is also my hobby. With this in mind I set out to find a program that focused on the “Management of Technology”.  I didn’t want a really technical Master’s program and I also didn’t want a full blown Business Master’s program.  I really wanted a blend of these types of programs.  After some investigation I found a program that really suited my needs.  The program that I landed on was Arizona State University’s MSIM (Masters of Science in Information Management) through the W.P. Carey School of Business.

In August, 2013, I headed down to Tempe, Arizona for Student Orientation.  During this orientation myself and 57 other students in the program received detailed information about the program.  We also got assigned into groups of 4 or 5 people who you will be working closely with over the course of the 16 month program.  There are two flavors of the program.  You can either attend in-person at the ASU campus or you can participate in the on-line version of the program.  With me living in Calgary, I obviously chose the remote program. 

One thing that surprised me was the amount of people from all over the United States that are in this program.  There are people from Washington St, Washington DC, Oregon, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Indiana, New York, Georgia, Vermont, Alabama, Utah and of course Arizona in the program. When establishing groups, the school will try to place you in groups within the same time zone.  My group consists of people from Arizona which has worked out great so far.  This is really a benefit of the program as everyone brings a unique experience to the program which has been really insightful.

I just finished up my 3rd course (of 10) and am very pleased with choosing this program.  Don’t get me wrong, it is a lot of work but I am learning alot and really enjoying the content of the courses.  The 3 courses that I have taken so far are The Strategic value of IT, Business Process Design and Data and Information Management.  My upcoming course is on Managing Enterprise Systems which I am sure will be very interesting.

If you have any questions about the program feel free to leave your email address in the comments as I am happy to answer any questions that you have.

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 Books

Unfortunately this list is going to be quite sparse compared to the list that Richard has compiled here, but I did want to point out a few books that I had the opportunity to read this past year.

Microsoft BizTalk ESB Toolkit 2.1

In 2013, it was a slow year for new BizTalk books.  In part due to the spike in books found in 2012 and also the nature of the BizTalk release cycle. However we did see the Microsoft BizTalk ESB Toolkit 2.1  book being released by Andres Del Rio Benito and Howard Edidin. 

This book comes in Packt Publishing’s new shorter format.  Part of the challenge with writing books is that it takes a really long time to get the product out.  In recent years Packt has tried to shorten this release cycle and this book falls into this new category.   The book is approximately 130 pages long and is the most comprehensive guide of the ESB toolkit available.  I have not seen another resource where you will find as much detailed information about the toolkit.

Within this book you can expect to find 6 chapters that discuss:

  • ESB Toolkit Architecture
  • Itinerary Services
  • ESB Exception Handling
  • ESB Toolkit Web Services
  • ESB Management Portal
  • ESB Toolkit Version 2.2 (BizTalk 2013) sneak peak.

If you are doing some work with the ESB toolkit and are looking for a good resource then this a good place to start. (Amazon)

ESB Book

 

The Phoenix Project: A Novel about IT, DevOps and Helping your Business Win

I was made aware of this book via a Scott Gu tweet and boy it was worth picking up.  This book reads like a novel but there are a lot of very valuable lessons embedded within the book.  This book was so relevant to me that I could have sworn that I have worked with this author before because I had experienced so much of what was in this book.  If you are new to a leadership role or are struggling in that role this book will be very beneficial to you. (Amazon)

The Phoenix Project

 

Adventures of an IT Leader

This is a book that I read as part of my ASU Strategic Value of IT course.  It is similar in nature to the Phoenix Project and also reads like a novel.  In this case a Business Leader has transitioned into a CIO position.  This book takes you through his trials and tribulations and really begs the question is “IT Management just about Management”. (Amazon)

IT Leadership

The Opinionated Software Developer: What Twenty-Five Years of Slinging Code Has Taught Me

This was an interesting read as it describes Shawn Wildermuth’s experiences as a Software Developer.  It was a quick read but was really interesting to learn about Shawn’s experiences throughout his career. I love learning about what other people have experienced in their careers and this provided excellent insight into Shawn’s. (Amazon)

Shawn

Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-based Management

Another book from my ASU studies but this one was interesting.  It does read more like a text book but the authors are very well recognized for their work in Business Re-engineering space.  I think the biggest thing that I got out of this book was to not lose sight of evidence-based management. All too often technical folks use their previous experiences to dictate future decisions.  For example at a previous company or client a particular method worked.  However taking this approach to a new company or client provides you no guarantees that it will work again.  This book was a good reminder that a person needs to stick to the facts when making decisions and to not rely (too much) on what has worked (or hasn’t) in the past. (Amazon)

Hard Facts

 

 2014

Looking ahead I expect 2014 to be as chaotic and exciting as 2013.  It has already gotten off to a good start with Microsoft awarding me with my seventh consecutive MVP award in the Integration discipline.  I want to thank all of the people working in the Product Group, the Support Group and in the Community teams for their support.  I also want to thank my MVP buddies who are an amazing bunch of people that I really enjoy learning from.

MVP_FullColor_ForScreen

Also, look for a refresh of the (MCTS): Microsoft BizTalk Server 2010 (70-595) Certification Guide book. No the exam has not changed, but the book has been updated to include BizTalk 2013 content that is related to the Microsoft BizTalk 2013 Partner competency exam.  I must stress that this book is a re-fresh so do not expect 100% (of anywhere near that) of new content.