And so the second day of Integrate 2017 USA is a fact, another day of great sessions and action packed demos. We started the day with Mayank Sharma and Divya Swarnkar from Microsoft CSE, formerly Microsoft IT, taking us through their journey to the cloud. Microsoft has an astounding amount of integrations running for all their internal processes, communicating with 1000+ partners. With 175+ BizTalk servers running on Azure IaaS, doing 170M+ messages per month, they really need a integration platform they can rely on.
Like most companies, Microsoft is also looking into ways to modernize their application landscape, as well as to reduce costs. To accomplish this, they now are using Logic Apps at the heart of all their integrations, using BizTalk as their bridge to their LOB systems. By leveraging API Management they can test their systems in production as well as in their UAT environments, ensuring that all systems work as expected. By using the options the Azure platform provides for geo replication they ensure that even in case of a disaster their business will stay up and running.
Adopting a microservices strategy, each Logic App is set up to perform a specific task, and meta data is used to execute or skip specific parts. To me this seems like a great setup, and definitely something to look into when setting up your own integrations.
Manage API lifecycle sunrise to sunset with Azure API Management
The second session of the day we had Matthew Farmer and Anton Babadjanov showing us how we can use API Management to set up an API using a design first approach. Continuing on the scenario of Contoso Fitness, they set up the situation where you need to onboard a partner to an API which has not been built yet. By using API Management we can set up a façade for the API, adding it’s methods and mock responses, allowing consumers to start working with the API quickly.
Another important subject is how you handle new versions of your API. Thanks to API Management you can now have versions and revisions of your API. Versions allow you to have different implementations of your API living next to each other publically available to your consumers, where revisions allow you to have a private new version of your API, in which you can develop and test changes. Once you are happy with the changes done in the revision, you can publish it with a click of the button, making the new revision the public API. This is very powerful, as it allows us to safely test our changes, and easily roll back in case of any issues.
Thanks to API Management we have the complete lifecycle of our API’s covered, going from our initial design, through the ALM story, all the way up to updating and deprovisioning.
Azure Logic Apps – Advanced integration patterns
Next up are Jeff Hollan and Derek Li, taking us behind the scenes of Logic Apps. Because the massive scale these need to run on, there are many new challenges which needed to be solved. Logic Apps does this by reading in the workflow definition, and breaking it down into a composition of tasks and dependencies. These tasks are then distributed across various workers, each executing their own piece of the tasks. This allows for a high degree of parallelism, which is why they can scale out indefinitely. Having this information, it’s important to take this with us in our scenarios, thinking about how this might impact us. This includes keeping in mind tasks might not be processed in order, and at high scale, so we need to take this into account on our receiving systems. Also, as Logic Apps provides at-least-once delivery, so we should look into idempotency for our systems.
Derek Li showed us different kinds of patterns which can be used with Logic Apps, including parallel processing, exception handling, looping, timeouts, and the ability to control the concurrency, which will be coming to the portal in the coming week. Using these patterns, Derek created a Logic App which sent out an approval email, and by adjusting the timeout and setting up exception handling on this, escalating to the approver’s manager in case the approval was not processed within the timeout. These kinds of scenarios show us how powerful Logic Apps has become, truly allowing for a customized flow.
Bringing Logic Apps into DevOps with Visual Studio and monitoring
After some mingling with like minded people during the break at Integrate 2017 USA, it’s now time for another session by Kevin Lam and Jeff Hollan, which is always a pleasure to see. In this session we dive into the story around DevOps and ALM for Logic Apps. These days Logic Apps is a first class citizen within Visual Studio, allowing us to create and modify them, pulling in and controlling existing Logic Apps from Azure.
As the Logic Apps designer creates ARM templates, we can also add these to source control like VSTS. By using the CI/CD possibilities of VSTS, we can then automatically deploy our Logic Apps, allowing for a completely automated deployment process.
Integrating the last mile with Microsoft Flow
Next up was Anjli Chaudhry, Principal Program Manager on the Flow team. As pro-integrators Microsoft Flow might not be the first tool coming to mind, but actually this is a very interesting service. It allows us to create light weight integrations, giving room to the idea of democratization of integration. There is a plethora of templates available for Flow, allowing users to easily automate tasks, accessing both online and on-premises data. With custom connectors give us the option to expose any system we want to. And being categorized in verticals, users will be able to quickly find templates which are useful for them.
Flow also has the option to use buttons, which can be both physical buttons, from Flic or bttn, or programmatic in the Flow app. This allows for on-demand flows to be executed by the click of a button, and sharing these within your company. For those who want more control over the flows that can be built, and the data that can be accessed, there is the Admin center, which is available with Flow Plan 2.
Looking at the updates which has happened over the last few months, it’s clear the team has been working hard, making Flow ready for your enterprise.
And even more great things are about to come, so make sure to keep an eye on this.
Deep dive into BizTalk technologies and tools
Yesterday (on Day 1 on Integrate 2017 USA), we heard the announcement of Feature Pack 2 for BizTalk. For me, one of the coolest features that will be coming is the ability to publish BizTalk endpoints through Azure API Management. This will allow us to easily expose the endpoint, either via SOAP pass-through or even with SOAP to REST, and take advantage of all the possibilities API Management brings us, like monitoring, throttling, authentication, etc. And all this, with just a right click on the port in BizTalk, pretty amazing.
As we had seen in the first session of today, Microsoft has a huge integration landscape. With that many applications and artifacts, migration to a new BizTalk version can become quite the challenge. To overcome this, Microsoft IT created the BizTalk Server Migration Tool, and published the tool for us as well. The tool takes care of migrating your applications to a new BizTalk environment, taking care of dependencies, services, certificates and everything else.
Looking at the numbers, we can see how much effort this saves, and minimizing the risks of errors. The tool supports migration to BizTalk 2016 from any version from BizTalk 2010, and is certainly a great asset for anyone looking into migration. So if you are running an older version of BizTalk, remember to migrate in time, to avoid running out of the support timelines we have seen yesterday.
What’s there & what’s coming in BizTalk360
Next up we had Saravana Kumar, CEO of BizTalk360 and founding father of Integrate, guiding us through his top 10 features of BizTalk360. Having worked with the product since its first release, I can only say it has gone through an amazing journey, and has become the de-facto monitoring solution for BizTalk and its surrounding systems. It helps solving the challenges anyone who has been administrating BizTalk, giving insights in your environment, adding monitoring and notifications, and giving fine-grained security control.
So Saravana’s top 10 of BizTalk360 is as following, and I pretty much agree on all of them.
1. Rich operational dashboards, showing you the health of your environment in one single place
2. Fine grained security and auditing, so you can give your users access to only those things they need, without the need to opening up your complete system
3. Graphical message flow, providing an end to end view of your message flows
4. Azure + BizTalk Server (single management tool), because Azure is becoming very important in most integrations these days
5. Monitoring – complete coverage, allowing us monitor and, even more importantly, be notified on any issue in your environment
6. Data (no events) monitoring, giving us monitoring on what’s not happening as well, for example expected messages not coming in
7. Auto healing – from failures, to make sure your environment keeps running, automatically coming back up after issues, either from mechanical or human causes
8. Scheduled reporting, which will be coming in the next version, creating reports about your environment on a regular basis
9. Analytics & messaging patterns, giving even more insights in what is happening using graphical charts and widgets
10. Throttling analyser, because anyone who has ever needed to solve a throttling problem knows how difficult this can be, having to keep track of various performance counters, this feature allows a nice graphical overview and historical insights
11. Team knowledgebase, so one more bonus feature that should really be addressed, the knowledgebase is used to link articles to specific errors and faults, making sure this knowledge is readily available in your company
Of course, this is not all, BizTalk360 has a lot more great features, and I can recommend anyone to go and check it.
Give your Bots connectivity, with Azure Logic Apps
Kent Weare, former MVP and now Principal Program Manager within Microsoft on Flow team, takes us on a journey into bots, and giving them connectivity with Logic Apps and Flow. First setting the stage, we all have heard about digital transformation, but what is it all about? Digital transformation has become a bit of a buzzword, but the idea behind it is actually quite intriguing, which is using digital means to provide more value and new business models. The following quote shows this quite nicely.
“Digital transformation is the methodology in which organizations transform, create new business models and culture with digital technologies” – Ray Wang, Constellation Research
An important part here is the culture in the organization will need to change as well, so go out and become a change agent within your organization.
Next we go on to bots, which can be used to reduce barriers and empower users through conversational apps. With the rise of various messenger applications like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, there is a huge market to be reached here. There are many different kinds of bots, but they all have a common way of working, often incorporating cognitive services like Language Understanding Intelligence Service (LUIS) to make the bot more human friendly.
When we want to build our own bots, we have different possibilities here as well, depending on your background and skills. Kent had a great slide on this, making it clear you don’t have to be a pro integrator anymore to make compelling bots.
In his demos, Kent showed the different implementations on how to build a bot. The first is using the bot framework with Logic Apps and Cognitive Services to make a complex bot, allowing for a completely tailored bot. For the other two demos, he used Microsoft flow in combination with Bizzy, a very cool connector which allows us to create a “question-answer bot”, analyzing the input from the user and making decisions on it. Finally the ability to migrate Flow implementations to Logic Apps was demonstrated, allowing users to start a simple integration in Flow, but having the ability to seamlessly migrate these to Logic Apps when more complexity is needed over the lifecycle of the integration.
Empowering the business using Logic Apps
And closing this second day of Integrate 2017 USA, we had Steef-Jan Wiggers, with a view from the business side on Logic Apps. A very interesting session, as instead of just going deep down into the underlying technologies, he actually went and looked for the business value we can add using these technologies, which in the end is what it is all about. Serverless integration is a great way to provide value for your business, lowering costs and allowing for easy and massive scaling.
Steef-Jan went out to several companies who are actually using and implementing Azure, including Phidiax, MyTE, Mexia and ServiceBus360. The general consensus amongst them, is Logic Apps and the other Azure services are indeed adding value to their business, as it gives them the ability to set up new powerful scenarios fast and easy.
With several great demos and customer cases Steef-Jan made very visible how he has already helped many customers with these integrations to add value to their business. The integration platform as a service is here to stay, and according to Gartner iPaaS will actually be the preferred option for new projects by 2019. And again, he has gone out and this time went to the community leaders and experts, to get their take on Logic Apps. The conclusion here is these days Logic Apps is a mature and powerful tool in the iPaaS integration platform.
So that was the end of the second day at Integrate 2017 USA, another day full of great sessions, inspiring demos, and amazing presenters. With one more day to go, Integrate 2017 USA is again one of the best events out there.