Thursday, October 30, 2008

PDC Day 2 - Windows 7

The big news on Day 2 at PDC was the first public sneak peak of Windows 7. Overall, I was pretty impressed with what I saw.

The first thing that stuck out at me is that Microsoft has dedicated a lot of effort to improve the usability of the operating system. Below is a list of features that I feel will greatly improve the usability of the Operating System.

Jump Lists
A feature called a "jump lists" is viewable in your task bar area. You know when you have 8 windows of IE or Word open and they stack up on top of each other? Well a jump list will provide some better visibility into what each of those windows contains.

Do you have several folders where you store most of your content? For instance you may have some files you keep on a network drive, external drive or local drive. Do you hate having to search each of them independently(or having to search the entire drive)? The concept of the Library is to have the ability to aggregate your content. So if you need to do a search within your library, it will automatically search each of your work spaces that are configured in your library.

Homegroup is designed to make networking, and more specifically home networking, easier. The idea is that when you introduce a new computer to your home network, it shouldn't be difficult. The feature is also "smart" enough to seamlessly allow you to connect your work laptop to the network and take advantage of all of the file, network and printing capabilities without exposing sensitive data on your laptop to the remaining devices in your home network.

Pushing Content to a device
Are you in your home office but want to play some content on another machine? This feature will allow you to "Play media "xyz" on machine abc".

System Tray Notifications
Annoyed by those pop-ups that appear in you system tray? A new management tool exists that allows you more freedom to display the notifications that you want to display and suppress the ones that you do not want displayed.

Improved abilities to customize your Windows Themes. Also the ability to import/export themes to allow for sharing.

External Memory devices
Windows 7 supports Memory Stick - bit locker protection out of the box to ensure that if your memory stick gets into the hands of someone else that your data is encrypted.

VHD Support
New capabilities exist that allow you to create a VHD from Disk manager and also the ability to boot a Windows 7 vhd(directly) while maintaining state between reboots.

Dual Monitor Support
Ever RDP (remote desktop) into a PC/Server that has dual monitors? New capabilities exist that allow you to RDP into those machines and actually use both monitors.

User Account Control (UAC)
Tired of the "nag" messages that Vista gives you when you actually try to do something? A new UAC Slide control easily allows you to set the level of "nag" (or security) that you want applied.

Increased Touch Support
More monitor touch support is provided "out of the box" including the ability to use flicks inside of Internet Explorer. (Monitor must actually have touch capabilities).

Customized Shutdown
Have users that "accidentally" shut down machines when they should be logging off? New shutdown capabilities exist that allow you to customize the shutdown menu.

Other Features
Been waiting for the update to Paint or Wordpad? Wait no longer, as some improvements have been included in this release including Open XML support in Wordpad.

Windows 7 Principles
The goal of the Windows 7 team is to deliver an OS that:

  • Has a decreased Memory (RAM) footprint
  • Reduces the amount of Disk IO
  • Does not require excessive Battery power (think laptops)


  • Improving Speed(Faster boot/Device readiness)
  • Responsiveness (start menu, task bar)
  • Scale (Windows 7 supports up to 256 processors)
This release looks extremely promising, however don't expect it any time soon. The message that was given was "it will be ready when it is ready". This isn't such a bad thing as Microsoft is trying to deliver a solid product.

I encourage you to take a further look by viewing the actual web cast here.

PDC Day 3

The highlights for me on Day 3 include the .NET Services: Connectivity, Messaging, Events, and Discovery with the Service Bus and Dublin": Hosting and Managing Workflows and Services in Windows Application Server" sessions.

This blog post will provide a summary of both of these sessions and any additional 'tid-bits' that stuck out for me.

.NET Services: Connectivity, Messaging, Events, and Discovery with the Service Bus
Clemons Vasters presented the .Net Services session and did he ever do a good job. Not only is he extremely technically gifted, but he also has good presentation skills(this reminds me that I need to fill out a review for this session).

What are .Net Services
.Net Services is the successor of what was formerly called "BizTalk Services" and is one of the core components of the Azure platform. I would describe .Net Services as providing the abilities to host .Net Applications in the cloud (off-premise) and provide the ability to traverse firewalls by using Relay Bindings in messaging scenarios. For instance, if you have an on premise service that you would like to expose to the world but don't want to deal with some of the challenges that firewalls and security bring.

Dealing with firewalls is becoming a bigger and greater challenge as they are extremely pervasive. Also the use of NAT (Network Address Translation) devices makes it difficult to connect with publicly exposed services. This is the result of the IPV4 address supply being pretty much exhausted.

Service Bus Capabilities
.Net Services provide Service Bus capabilities in the cloud. What this essentially means is that you are able to are able to place a message on the wire and let the Service Bus look after directing that message to the appropriate subscriber. Subscriptions are handled by the Service Bus Naming System and are URI based.

Message Confidentiality
Transport security, in the form of SSL, is used for all connections. Microsoft has no need to look at the payload of your messages and claims that they do not. They welcome, and to an extent, encourage you to use Message level encryption if you have concerns as to whether or not your data is safe. A question that I repeatedly heard was, what type of audience do you expect to use these services as certain agencies would "never" trust Microsoft with their data. For instance, could the level of privacy that Microsoft is offering be sufficient enough to meet the criteria of Governments or Health Care organizations? Since .Net Services is still in CTP mode, I never did hear a real definitive answer to the question, but it is definitely something that is on Microsoft's radar.

A very cool demo and discussion about the NetTCPRelayBindingHybrid was included in this presentation. The goal of this binding is to try to establish a direct peer to peer connection between the service consumer and service provider. You may be asking: how is this accomplished? At a (very) high level, A Relay connection is established that includes some NAT Probing. Microsoft will use the data that is obtained during this NAT Probing to form an educated guess on what NAT settings need to be used in order to establish a direct connection between the parties. If a direct connection can be established then the message payload will be sent directly to the destination system. If a direct connection cannot be established, then the Relay connection will be used to send data to the destination system via the .Net Service bus. Since .Net Services will use a "Pay as you go approach" the data, that is sent over the Relay connection, would be subject to the "cost" model.

Dublin": Hosting and Managing Workflows and Services in Windows Application Server"

This was my first real good look at the technology since the SDR sessions that were held at the MVP Global Summit in April. While I cannot discuss what I saw in April, I am able to say that the Dublin team has been doing some good work and has made progress.

When will Dublin be available
No public date was given other than "shortly" after Visual Studio 10 is released. This means we are probably looking at 1.5 - 2 years from now.

It just works
A slogan that is being used by the Connected Systems team. The idea behind this slogan is that in the past developers have had to either implement some features themselves or tweak their WCF/WF application in order to get it to work the way they want it to. In Dublin, more tooling and visibility into your WCF/WF applications is provided. The goal is that you design/build/test your application and after that ..."it just works".

Feature list (non-exhaustive)

  • Management Capabilities through IIS Manager snap in tool
  • Management APIs in the form of PowerShell command-lets
  • Hosting (Durable Time Service/Discovery Service)
  • Persistence (Scale-out and Reliability)
  • Monitoring(WCF and WF Tracking)
  • Messaging (Forwarding Service)
  • System Center Integration
  • Modeling Deployment via Quadrant

The Management experience had some of the "look and feel" that you would find in BizTalk. The difference being is that there is not a new or separate tool. Additional functionality is "plugged" into IIS Manager. The rationale behind this decision was that Microsoft did not want to introduce a new tool that would also introduce another learning curve. By using IIS Manager, they could leverage an existing tool which should allow people to get up to speed quicker since they may already be familiar with the tool.

Model Deployment
They showed a cool demo where they were able to Model a workflow in the new Quadrant tool. They were then able to deploy the Model to the runtime. This demonstrated the vast integration between the technologies and perhaps gave us a real world glimpse into how we will develop and deploy software in the future.

Looking Ahead
There were a few things that I believe require some additional investigation. I do realize that Dublin is currently a CTP so it may just be a matter of having more time to include some of these features.

  • More details in IIS Manager surrounding instances. Having just a dialog box pop up indicating the amount of successful or failed instances is not quite enough information.
  • No Workflow Debug/Replay capabilities. What I am looking for here is a similar experience to the Orchestration Debugger that essentially allows you to replay a suspended (or successful) instance.
  • Provide a GUI for the forwarding service configuration. While Powershell is a great tool and I can see it being very useful, something like inputting an XPath statement into a GUI would be my preferred method. While I encourage scriptable deployments, making a change to this could be done on the fly and I may not always want to switch into a command based session to make a change like this
  • Unless I misunderstood, you have to deploy the installation 'package' on each node in your Dublin "group". There was no way to "push" the application to all nodes in a "group". While this is probably achievable via Powershell, it would be nice to have more visibility into other servers that may be running the same application.

So all in all , I have listed some pretty minor enhancements . Overall, I think the Dublin team has done some great work with the technology and remember that it is still early.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

PDC Day 1

Monday, October 27th was the official start to the Microsoft 2008 PDC conference. The event is taking place at the Los Angeles Convention center in downtown LA. The conference has the feel of a "Microsoft" conference...which is a good thing. The conference is extremely well organized, there are plenty of people around to help you where you are going and there is plenty of caffeine.

PDC is the place to be for upcoming Technologies and "Sneak Peaks". On Monday, Chief Software Architect, Ray Ozzie unveiled a new Software + Services offering called Microsoft Azure. Azure allows you to "build new applications in the cloud - or use interoperable services that run on Microsoft infrastructure to extend and enhance your existing applications. "

Azure looks to have a LOT of potential. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of the ways that people can take advantage of Azure:
  • Use a Relay service(.Net Services) that allows an on-premise service to connect with an external application without the hassle of mind numbing firewall configuration.
  • Use Azure in an ASP(Application Service Provider) model where you can expose a WCF + WF service and have it run in the "Cloud". A decision that many companies will need to make is whether to host services on premise in your own data center or leverage Microsoft's "pay as you go" model. Clearly for smaller organizations or organizations looking to avoid a large upfront infrastructure cost, this is an attractive solution.
  • Exposing structured, semi-structured or unstructured data to the world via SQL Server Services.
  • Leveraging Authentication and Social Networking capabilities of Live Services. Have data that you want to propagate through a Social Network or want to leverage Live Id authentication through your application? Using Live Services may provide you with a wack of opportunities to solve your challenges.
  • Leveraging other Microsoft Cloud applications like Sharepoint, Exchange and Dynamics.

I think that there are going to be endless opportunities with this platform and highly recommend that you learn more by visiting

Personally, I am really interested in the .Net Services and more specifically the new relay service possibilities. I definitely plan on learning more about Azure and .Net Services specifically.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Book Review: Microsoft.Net Framework 3.5 Windows Communication Foundation Self Paced Training Kit

I have recently read the Microsoft.Net Framework 3.5 Windows Communication Foundation Self Paced Training Kit book and figured I would post a review of it for anyone debating purchasing this book.

Everyone has opinions about books and definitely technical books. I am going to try to stay away from opinions as much as possible, focus on the features of the book and what you can expect when reading it.

This book has LOTS of content, which isn't always a great thing but when you get a wide variety of content it adds a lot of value. When I say content, I am referring to all of the features that you will find in every chapter in the book. This includes:

  • Real World Sections - Real world scenarios are discussed that are relevant to the chapter that you are currently studying. The author will usually look back upon some of their scenarios and experiences to provide some insight into the topic that is currently being discussed.
  • Chapter Objectives - How this chapter is applicable to the exam.
  • Quick Checks - a mid chapter check-point to empathize a point or to test you on a recently discussed topic.
  • Labs - that include before and after solutions for you to work on. Step by step instructions are included.
  • Exam Tips
  • Lesson Summary - Chapters are broken down into Lessons to break the information into manageable chunks.
  • Lesson Review (Q and A) - At the end of the Lesson you are presented with some relevant questions regarding the section you just read. The answers are provided at the back of the book.
  • Chapter Review - At the end of the chapter, some further practice is recommended to enforce what you previously studied.
  • Chapter Summary
  • Key Terms
  • Case Scenarios - The Authors give you a hypothetical situation that is relevant to the chapter that you just read. You then think about the problem and how you would solve it. They provide you with their answers at the back of the book which allows you to compare your notes to theirs.
  • Suggested Practices - Additional information or resources that are applicable to the chapter just read. These resources include MSDN web casts which may be provided on the CD that comes with the book or a link to an online resource.
  • Practice Tests
  • Sample Code - This book provides sample code in both VB.Net and C# so no matter your (.Net) language of choice you will find suitable examples.

The book is very comprehensive with topics that include:

  • Contracts
  • Exposing Services
  • Deploying Services
  • Consuming Services
  • Configuration
  • Instrumentation
  • Infrastructure Security
  • User-Level Security
  • "When simple isn't sufficient"
  • Sessions and Instancing
  • Transactional Services
  • Concurrency

I really enjoyed the Instrumentation chapter, perhaps because I learned quite a bit from that chapter. It discusses how to trace your WCF services(basic and end to end), Extensibility and Monitoring your WCF services. While the ABC's (Address, Binding, Contracts) of WCF are the most talked about features of WCF, I thought the authors did a a good job of the "Operations" side of WCF.

Who this book is for

In my opinion, I think this book is ideal for someone who has some good experience with WCF that perhaps has not explored all of the features of WCF. This is definitely not the book you start with, but rather a book where you can re-affirm what you do know and get some exposure to what you may have missed or lack in experience.

Do I recommend the book

Yes, if you plan on using it for the purposes I have previously stated. The book is well-written, engaging and interesting. It is definitely not a book that you struggle to get through. As already mentioned there is so much content that whether you are looking for real world scenarios, exam tips, practice questions or labs you are bound to find value in this book.

Additional WCF Resources

Prior to reading this book I enjoyed the Windows Communication Foundation Unleashed book and recommend watching Michele Leroux Bustamante's web-cast series. She also has a book but I haven't read it so can't comment on it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Business Rules Engine (BRE) Customer Survey

Do you use BRE? Do you have any feedback that you think the product team could benefit from?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, I suggest that you fill out the following survey. The results of the survey(collectively) may have an impact on the next version of the Connected Systems - Rules engine.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

PAL is still a good friend of mine

A new colleague of mine was experiencing some issues with performance in our BizTalk test environment. They hadn't heard of PAL before so I gave them a quick walk through. When I launched the PAL site I noticed that Clint Huffman had recently updated his tool.

The current version of PAL is, when I initially blogged about PAL the version that I was running was 1.1.8.

The tool's purpose has remained unchanged. PAL continues to provide empirical data based upon defined Performance Counters that are related to your Product(s). Green/Yellow/Red indicators are used to tell you when your counters are "Safe/Warning/Critical".

From looking at the GUI and the feature's list, here are some of the changes that stuck out for me. This is a non-exhaustive list(some points copied from official site):
  • The ID Process (PID) for each of the BizTalk 2006 host instances has been added to make it easier to identify them. A side note is that if you want to see the name of the BizTalk host as long as you know the PID you can execute the following from a command prompt: tasklist /svc /fi "imagename eq btsntsvc.exe

  • Some of the analyses in the other Exchange 2007 threshold files did not make it into the single file.

  • The PAL installation wizard now detects if Microsoft Office Web Components 2003 is installed and if Microsoft Log Parser v2.2 is installed. If they are not installed, then the installer points the user to the installation URL for the respective product.

  • A Windows Server 2008 Hyper-V threshold file has been added to PAL. This is a beta release of this threshold file pending review from other subject matter experts.

  • The ability to "queue" multiple vbs instances so they are run as a group instead of you executing individually.

  • The UI now supports time range restrictions - meaning the perfmon log can be restricted to a time range

  • UI is now "wizard based" - what can I say Clint works for Microsoft. :-). It is cool though, it is more intuitive than the previous version.
Below I have included some images that highlight some of these new features.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Testing Web Services - .Net WebService Studio

I am currently engaged in a project which involves integration with a 3rd party using Web Services. A colleague recommended a tool to me called ".Net WebService Studio" for testing Web Services. He was using this tool on his project and had nothing but good things to say about the tool. The tool itself is available for free on Codeplex by Adnan Masood.

Within my project, I am hosting a Web Service and the 3rd party is hosting several Web Services. So during some of my unit testing and before I exchanged WSDLs with the 3rd party I wanted to be able to submit messages to BizTalk via my Web Service. My BizTalk Web Service was generated by the "Expose Orchestration as Web Service Wizard" and is a traditional two/way, request/response service.

In the past I have built my own 'stubs' that would allow me to send in messages that satisfy my testing scenarios. This resulted in a lot of code that eventually is just thrown away. Using .Net Web Studio allows for a Proxy to be download "on the fly". So you basically point the tool at your Web Services and start submitting messages without writing any code!

The first thing you are going to want to do is launch the application and input your Web Service URL in the WSDL EndPoint dropdown. A list of recently used URLs is kept so you don't have to remember a long list of URLs.

The next thing you are going to want to do is click on the "Get" button. This will generate the Web Service Proxy for you and is required in order for you to invoke the Web Service.

You are now in a position to invoke the Web Service. The application is capable of sending some basic data to the Web Service based upon the expected data types. It works similar to the way the "Generate Instance" works when wanting to generate a sample message from a Schema in BizTalk/Visual Studio . In order to Invoke the Web Service you need to select the Operation(or Web Method) that you want to invoke and click the "Invoke" button. Once you have clicked the button, the Response of the Web Service will be displayed in the "Output" text box in the lower left corner.

From this screen you can also modify the "default" values that Web Service Studio is going to use by clicking on an element and then updating the value in the top right "quadrant".

By clicking on the "Request/Response" button, you are able to see, and modify, the actual SOAP request that is being sent to the Web Service and the SOAP Response that is being returned to your client.

This screen also allows you to tweak your SOAP request in case you have some additional security, content type or Proxy requirements.

Overall I think the tool is great and definitely a worth having in your "toolbox".

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Canadian Tech Days Update

For those of you that are interested, the Tech Days site has been updated. Do note that the Early Bird prices are in effect until October 15th, 2008.

The sessions, tracks and presenters are also listed on the web site so check it out!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

BizTalk Mapper: Ensuring that Node Exists before calling scripting Functoid

A scenario that I have recently encountered is that I have an optional element coming in that, if present, requires some manipulation before it can be assigned on the outbound message. The problem that I encountered is that an exception is raised when the map is executed and has nothing to pass to the scripting functoid.

Below is an image of my original map. All elements are required except Operation. The Operation element is of type long and a third party system will be sending this so we don't have total control over the data types. The equivalent element on the destination message is VORNR which happens to be part of an SAP IDoc. The element on the IDoc is also optional, but if it is provided, it needs to have padded values to make it a 4 digit string. So if 220 is provided by the source system then 0220 needs to be passed to the IDoc.

Below is an image of a message sent in without the Operation element. The issue is that if the element doesn't exists, then BizTalk will generate the following exception(truncated for readability):
Exception type: OverflowExceptionSource: mscorlibTarget Site: Int64 System.IConvertible.ToInt64(System.IFormatProvider)The following is a stack trace that identifies the location where the exception occurred

So to get around this, I have added some checks in the Map to ensure that the scripting functoid is only called when the Operation element exists.

The checks come in the form of Logical Existence and Value Mapping functoids. The Logical Existence functoid will return "True" or "False" based upon whether or not the element/attribute that you connect it to exists. You then use this output to feed the Value Mapping functoid. The Value Mapping functoid requires two inputs:

  1. An boolean indicator that if True will output the 2nd input
  2. The 2nd input will be passed to the next functoid(or element) should the 1st input be true.
Without the scripting functoid, BizTalk takes care dealing when elements exist and when they do not. The addition of the scripting functoid creates some issues when the Optional element is not provided in the message. But, with a couple standard functoids, a check can be made that only calls the scripting functoid when the element is provided.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Microsoft - Dublin

No this isn't an announcement for a new Microsoft office in Ireland, but rather the latest technology announcement coming out of Redmond. Microsoft has publicly released some information regarding .Net 4.0 and the new "Application Server Extensions". This announcement is significant as Dublin will allow for:
  • A standard host for WF/WCF applications
  • Tooling and Managment for the application server
  • Support for scale-out durable messaging
  • Scalable monitoring and diagnostics
  • Message based correlation
  • Long Running applications
  • Management functions via IIS Manager

Much like the BizTalk Server 2009 announcement that occurred a few weeks back, I think Microsoft wants to clear the air and provide a glimpse into what the future holds before developers make their way to PDC in LA later this month.

As much as I am a "BizTalk guy", I am very encouraged with where Microsoft is taking the Connected Systems Division. If nothing else, I feel that the WCF/WF technologies provide options for developers when implementing solutions. Microsoft has already announced their committment to BizTalk, so it is not disappearing any time soon. It should be interesting to see some of the solutions that people come up with using Dublin.

For more information regarding this annoucenemt, please visit Steve Martin's blog.