For those that are not familiar with BizTalk 360, it is a Rich Internet Application (RIA) that allows you to monitor and maintain your BizTalk environment via a Web browser. From what I can see, from a high level, there are a few components that you install in your BizTalk environment that make up the solution:
- Silverlight Application which can be accessed via a remote web browser
- WCF Service(s) that expose the operations to the Silverlight application
- A Windows Service that handles some of the monitoring and notification features
- A BizTalk 360 database that will store your configuration and audit/governance
My organization recently purchased a license and support from BizTalk 360. In this blog post I plan on explaining some of the rational and features that influenced our decision.
Over the past 5 years our BizTalk environment continues to grow. With this growth comes more responsibility maintaining it. Our current middleware team consists of both developers and administrators and therefore there is an on-call rotation that is used to handle the after hours support. After hours support requirements are very binary; BizTalk’s infrastructure is either on or off. This would include the core components like SQL Server, SSO, Host instances and applications being online. We are not concerned if a single message is suspended. The reason? There is no one from the business available to consult with in order to correctly determine a resolution to the problem.
Also, in parts of Canada the IT Market is getting hot. Let’s face it there is nothing fun, or cool about being on-call. Even though our environment is very stable, people felt that they were still tied down to their cell phone since we have Service Availability metrics to meet and when an issue occurs response time is very important. As all BizTalk resources know, BizTalk doesn’t have to be down to get roped into “fire fighting” triage sessions. Sometimes your large ERP or engineering systems go down and since BizTalk connects into them you are impacted as well.
The company that I work for is very committed to employee retention and reducing the amount of on-call is a step in the right direction for reducing turnover and keeping employee morale high.
I know Saravana from the MVP program and at the last MVP Summit Saravana was showing MVPs and some of the BizTalk Product Group an early preview of what is now BizTalk 360. My initial thoughts included what a nice looking application and some of the features fill a void left by the BizTalk Admin Console but I wasn’t convinced that I had an immediate use for it.
While I was in Sweden in June, with Richard Seroter, promoting the book I contributed to, I ran into Saravana again and checked out the progress his start-up made on the product. Once again I was impressed with the tool but wasn’t sure how I would use it.
Come July and some more concerns about the on-call situation arose and this turned on a light bulb in my head about how we could use BizTalk 360 to help support our environment after hours. We already have contracted resources that focus on after-hours support for our core infrastructure: Servers, SAN, Network etc. I thought what if I could piggy back on this existing agreement? Knowing that I didn’t need BizTalk Experts to keep an eye on my servers after hours, remember the type of service I am looking for is binary: on or off. BizTalk 360 provides this visibility in a couple ways:
- Dashboard – By looking at this type of screen if is very obvious which artifacts are up and which are down. Enabling these artifacts is a pretty easy action to perform so I don’t need to pay to have BizTalk Experts monitoring after hours.
- Notifications – My company also uses SCOM for monitoring BizTalk and we will continue to do so even with BizTalk 360. But the feature that I like about BizTalk 360 is the Health Summary email notification that you can configure. I can now subscribe this after hours team to periodic notifications where they can quickly, and easily, determine the health of the environment. I don’t want these people logged onto my BizTalk servers hitting F5 all night inside of the BizTalk Admin Console. Using these email notifications frees them up to work on other things but also provides the visibility that we need.
(Sample email notification – note I have added the black marks to retain some privacy)
- Another area that is important to me is the Audit and Governance features that exist. When trusting a 3rd party to provide support it is very nice to have an audit of what actions took place during support periods. It protects both the client and the service provider and is a win-win all around. This is a feature that has been missing from the BizTalk Admin Console that could benefit many organizations.
Overall the process of procuring the BizTalk 360 application has been very positive. When I first tested out the product there were a few features missing that I really wanted. Saravana took the time to review them over a Live Meeting, took my high priority needs and was able to provide me with a build on a committed timeline. Some of my feature requests involve clustered host instances so if you use clustered host instances in your environment – you are welcome!
The BizTalk 360 team is very committed to the product and their customers. It has been refreshing to work with a company that is so motivated.
Something that I have learned through this process is to always keep your eyes open to new trends and tools. I find Twitter really helps in this regard by following likeminded individuals. You don’t need to deep dive on every new technology that you see but it is important to know that it exists as you never know when your requirements may change and you can benefit from it. Case in point my situation that emerged this past summer.