Thoughts on Microsoft Azure App Services after BizTalk Summit 2015

We’re just back from a couple of great days in London and BizTalk Summit 2015. Saravana and his BizTalk360 team put together a great show with excellent content and an overall superb arrangement!

This year Microsoft had a whole team of people at the conference that during the first day did a number of presentation on the new Azure App Service concept. In case you missed it App Services is (among  other things in the concept) Microsoft next attempt to move the integration capabilities from BizTalk Server into the cloud, and more specifically into Azure.

Keynote speaker Karandeep Anand started of by explained that the vision for App Services was based on three main pillars: Democratize Integration, Becoming an IPaas Leader and Creating a Rich Ecosystem.

Image by @wearsy

The focus on Democratization is a goal that aims to make it easier to get started and to quickly get to delivering value. This is a great focus as this is a huge problem with today’s platform. Today we have to install severs, databases, heavy applications, setup accounts and a hundred other things before we can even send a file from A to B! I’m sure that it in the end won’t be as simple as in the demos but what we seen so far is definitely impressive when it comes to how simple it looks to get started.

Another part of Democratize Integration of course has to do with pricing. As it look now we can get to a platform that not only will scale technically but also price-wise. Our hope is that we’ll soon have a platform that can be used for a whole different segment of customer, customers with smaller budgets and smaller needs for integration. That would truly Democratize Integration!

What’s different from BizTalk Services and why will it work this time?

Microsoft has always been great at backwards compatibility and already from the start thought about the Hybrid scenarios when it comes to Azure. App Services is no different and that is to us the main thing that differs from this offer from what we have in BizTalk Services. The fact that we by using App Services can read a flat file file from a IBM WebSphere MQ on-premise, parse it in an Azure Logic App and send it to for example to Salesforce without basically any coding is powerful! We can now implement solutions and requirements that we deal with today, solve our customers’ current needs using one platform and deliver value. BizTalk Services however never got so far and always feels like a bit of a step backwards and a subset of what we had in BizTalk Server.

So, it’s great to see how Microsoft this time actually has taken a step back and thought about what makes BizTalk Server so good and then tried to incorporate those pieces in the new platform.

What’s missing from App Services?

Experience, shared knowledge and trust

BizTalk Server has been around for ages and a lot of us have 10+ years of experience on the platform. We know exactly what works, what to avoid, what are good and what are bad design patterns – we’ve learned to trust the platform (and even deal with its less prettier parts).

In App Services we’ve only done simple demos and minor PoCs so far. How to solve a complex request-response, how to implement scatter and gather (or any more complex pattern for that matter) is still very unclear. What happens when a destination service times out and a $10 000 dollar goes missing – will App Services watch my back the same way as BizTalk Server has done so many times?

From what we seen so far, and what’s already in Azure (for example Service Bus and Queues etc), many of the tools to solve the more complex scenarios are there – but the knowledge of what pieces to use when isn’t. At iBiz Solution will try hard to do our part for and filling that knowledge gap and considering the great community that surrounds Microsoft based integration I’m sure we won’t be the only ones. ;)

Tooling

Logic App designer

As with any young platform we’re missing tooling. It seems that the way to build more complex scenarios is to chain a number of more specific Logic apps together. This in combination with a missing feature for searching and promoting values in incoming messages will make it hard to see status of a specific message, find a certain message and so on. Some sort of overview of status and some sort of archiving with smart searching needs to happen for this to work in more busy and complex scenarios.

Debugging and testing is another area that current feels a bit weak. One can see input and output to each part of the Logic App but it requires a lot of clicking around and there’s no way of steeping through or replaying different parts etc. I can really say that is an area that’s particularly good in BizTalk Server either but it’s something that one is always struggling with and that ends up consuming a lot of time.

ALM

One thing that’s extremely important in our BizTalk centric solutions today is how to handle the Application Lifecycle Management and the development process that it involves. Build servers, automated tests, versioning, test servers and production servers are standard in any BizTalk Server project today. How we can achieve similar workflows where we guarantee quality, versioning, efficient deployment and the possibility to always roll back to previous versions etc. isn’t today obvious and needs more work.

Conclusion

At iBiz Solution we are excited to see Microsoft make another attempt at evolving the integration story! The fact that we this time around can see how we can solve today’s requirements on the future platform makes it even better! We looking forward to GA and even though the platform is far from done we feel it is in a much better place than we have been previously and we have already started talking Swagger and Swashbuckle with our customers. ;)

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