This is going to be one of the major shift in the way how Microsoft is going to bring new features into BizTalk Server in the future in a more agile way. Microsoft has been shipping service packs and cumulative updates for BizTalk Server for many years now. However, the concept of Feature Pack is completely different and it’s more aggressive.
Microsoft BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1.
As an ISV vendor, we had the privilege to work with Microsoft very closely on this, and we are delighted to see some major updates coming for Microsoft BizTalk Server.
Download Link: BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1
Death of Packaged Software
Traditionally, enterprise software products like Windows, SQL, BizTalk, Office etc., what we call them as packaged software are released in a set period of every 18 to 36 months. Once the product is shipped, say, for example BizTalk Server 2013 R2, it then typically takes about another 2 years before Microsoft releases a new version, BizTalk Server 2016.
It’s kind of restrictive for software vendors like Microsoft where if they miss a key feature in the shipment, it’s a long wait until they can ship it. It’s also not good for the customers as they need to wait for a long period.
In the last few years, the way software products are built and consumed have changed significantly. With Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) becoming more mainstream, 2-3 years wait for a software update is not viable anymore.
Hence we have seen the shift in recent years like Office to Office 365. Serverless/Platform as Service changed the way people think about software. Even a base operating system product like Windows made the shift after the release of Windows 10 to ship Windows as a Service continuously. Here is the communication from a Windows Blog:
“We’ll deliver new features when they’re ready, not waiting for the next major release. We think of Windows as a Service — in fact, one could reasonably think of Windows in the next couple of years as one of the largest Internet services on the planet. And just like any Internet service, the idea of asking ‘What version are you on?’ will cease to make sense.”
BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack is the story along the same lines to ship new features as and when they are ready.
What is BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1?
You might get the question – Microsoft been shipping Service Pack and Cumulative Updates for many years, how is Feature Pack different from these? Microsoft used to ship Service Packs for BizTalk until 2010, and then they re-branded it to Cumulative Updates (CU1, CU2, CU3 etc) around April 2010. The SP’s and CU’s are mainly provided to address some critical bugs and security patches reported by the customers after the product is shipped.
There is a major difference between Cumulative Update and the Feature Pack. The Feature Pack will have brand new functionality that was not originally shipped with the product. It’s not just bug fixes and security updates (that’s the case with CU’s). This gives Microsoft the agility they need to add new functionalities to the product at a faster pace.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the common questions that arise with BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1.
Who are all eligible to use Feature Pack? – The Feature Pack is only available to BizTalk Server Enterprise license customers (also for developer license). Unfortunately, BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1 is not available for BizTalk Server Standard Edition customers. In addition, the customers should also have an active software assurance in place. You are also eligible for BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1 if you are running BizTalk Server 2016 in Azure under Enterprise Agreement. If you do not meet these criteria, you cannot utilize Feature Pack.
Will there be breaking changes in Feature Pack? – No. Even though the Feature Pack is going to ship with brand new functionalities/features, Microsoft has made conscious decision not to introduce any breaking changes. They want to make sure it’s safe to install Feature Pack
Will Microsoft stop shipping new versions of BizTalk Server? – No. Microsoft will continue shipping major versions of BizTalk Server (ex: BizTalk Server 2018 – not official or no definitive timelines) every 2 years once.
Will Feature Packs be available for the previous version of BizTalk Server? – No. Features Packs will be available for only the latest version of BizTalk Server, currently, BizTalk Server 2016. There are no plans to ship the features available in Feature Pack for older versions of BizTalk Server like 2013, 2013 R2 etc.
Where can I download Feature Pack 1? – You can download the executable from this link – BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1
Microsoft BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1.
Should I go and upgrade my production system today? – No, I’ll recommend you to install it on a QA environment first and then update production.
PS: For some of the features included in the Feature Pack, you’ll require Azure Gateway Service for accessing on-premise resources.
What’s available in BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1
In BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1, Microsoft is shipping the following features —
- Azure Application Insight for Tracking
- Advanced Scheduler for Receive Locations Service Window
- ALM Continuous Deployment Support with VSTS via Visual Studio
- Rest Management API’s
- Power BI Operational Template
Azure Application Insight for BizTalk Tracking
Moving metrics data to the cloud and using powerful analytics tools in the cloud like Power BI, Azure Operations Management Suite (OMS) is getting very popular. Azure Application Insight integration in BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1 is geared exactly towards that target. Currently, the tracking data in the BizTalk environments are stored on on-premise SQL DTA Tracking database, once you install Feature Pack than with few simple configuration via the BizTalk Admin Console you can start transmitting the tracking data to Azure Application Insight.
You can read the detailed blog on sending BizTalk tracking data to Azure Application Insights here.
Advanced Scheduler for Receive Locations Service Window
The following picture displays the schedule configuration in BizTalk Server 2016 before you install the Feature Pack.
You can notice that the options are very limited. The Time Zone value is picked up by default Windows configuration and the daily schedule windows are fixed for a set time period.
Whereas, if you look at the same screen after installing BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack, you can notice the option for selecting a specific Time Zone and more advanced daily, weekly and monthly schedule. This gives huge power in terms of when you want to allow messages to flow into your system.
ALM Continuous Deployment Support with VSTS via Visual Studio
For a very long time, BizTalk development didn’t have a good ALM story. Various organisations created their own strategies, custom scripts etc., to achieve their continuous integration and deployment. There is a good Integration Monday session by Bill Chesnut on this topic BizTalk Continuous Integration & Continuous Deployment published earlier this year explaining how companies are doing it today.
With the introduction of BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1, you’ll be able to achieve continuous build and deployment seamlessly. Once you install Feature Pack, you can add your BizTalk projects and configure for continuous integration and deployment.
You can read the detailed blog on the steps to deploy BizTalk Application deployment with VSTS here.
Rest Management API’s
This is another big step forward by Microsoft. Currently, if you want to do any programmatic management activities in BizTalk Server, you can achieve it by either using the BizTalk ExplorerOM.dll or via the Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) interface. BizTalk Server was missing REST based web management interfaces, and that’s now been resolved with BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1.
When we started building BizTalk360 five years ago, not having a web management interface was a drawback and we ended up building our own API layer on top of ExplorerOM, WMI and BizTalk databases. From version 8.0 onwards, we also documented and exposed our API so that BizTalk Server customers can take advantage of it.
Now in BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1, you have REST based API for pretty much for any management activities like retrieving Applications, Hosts, Send Ports, Receive Ports, Receive Locations, Orchestrations, Schemas, Maps, EDI specific things like Agreements, Batches, Parties, Policies, and so on.
On top of that, you will have REST based API access for operational data and actions like pulling messages, subscriptions, service instances, terminating, resuming, suspending and so on.
You can view the full BizTalk Management REST API Reference.
You can read the detailed blog on Management REST-API Service here.
Power BI Operational Template
Now that the management and operations data is exposed as REST API’s, you can visualize the BizTalk Server operational data in a rich Power BI interface. When you install the BizTalk Server Feature pack, it comes with a predefined Power BI template file BizTalkOperationalData.pbit that shows out of the box graphs and charts.
Finally, BizTalk Server is getting the much-needed attention from Microsoft. The features that are packed in this release shows Microsoft’s commitment towards BizTalk Server. We will see more such Feature Packs coming.
DYK: You can get to see these in action??
Tord Glad Nordahl from Microsoft Product Group will be showcasing all these features in the upcoming Integration Monday session scheduled for May 8th, 2017.
Microsoft BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 1.