Wagner Silveira, Theta's principal integration architect, attended the conference. Here are some of his highlights.
Microsoft Integration Vision
The conference started with a keynote from Jim Harrer, Microsoft’s Cloud & Enterprise Group Program Manager. Jim shared the Microsoft vision for integration - a unified integration experience across on-premises and the cloud. This allows integration to be implemented where makes sense for each customer, and rectifies the current imbalance between on-premises and cloud integration efforts. This vision really matches the integration roadmap published at the end of last year and puts BizTalk and Logic Apps at the core of the integration efforts, showing that BizTalk is not dead, and Logic Apps is here to stay.
Those two technologies complement each other and the interaction between them will be made much simpler with the addition of a new Logic Apps Adapter in the next BizTalk Server 2016 preview (CTP2). And a new set of BizTalk managed connections will allow Logic Apps to discover elements implemented in a BizTalk Server 2016 running on-premises. Jon Fancey, Microsoft Program Manager for BizTalk, showed an early preview of that functionality - which seems to be based on a set of new Rest APIs interacting with the BizTalk Management Database.
The development experience for Logic Apps is also set to improve. Jeff Hollan and Kevin Lam, both Program Managers for Logic Apps, discussed some improvements in the technology, including the addition of a Scope concept, which will allow grouping of a series of actions for various purposes, like flow control and exception management. Flow controls will also follow the path of the decision action, being represented as actual shapes, instead of requiring changes in the code view. And the much anticipated Visual Studio support for Logic Apps is also being actively developed. The team shared some screenshots of the work in progress.
But the integration story doesn't stop with BizTalk and Logic Apps. There is also a whole suite of services hosted on the cloud that can be leveraged to enable integration scenarios, supporting the two engines:
- Azure Services - like Azure Functions, Cognitive service and Machine Learning - can be used to enrich workflows implemented in both technologies.
- API Management can create a layer of abstraction for public APIs, allowing routing to the various workflows and engines under single, curated API set.
- Azure Service Bus, which allows reliable message queueing and durable publishing/subscribing messaging.
- Managed Connectors, a standard way to connect to SAS products, Web Based Applications and communication protocols.
- ESB/EDI Enterprise components, providing the ability to enable core integration functions available today in BizTalk Server like a schema repository and a map catalogue, as well as EDI standards support.
ESB/EDI components will be the first premium add-on for Logic Apps, and will be enabled by the concept of Integration Accounts, flexible containers that can hold different types of artefacts, like maps, schemas and trade agreements. This in conjunction with enterprise connectors will allow a BizTalk-like experience in Logic Apps for message validations, transformations and EDI processing.
Another piece in the Microsoft strategy for cloud integration, managed connectors, offers a standard way to connect to the most common SaaS offerings. It also provides a standard way to communicate using industry standard protocols and the ability to consume your own custom APIs. The current list of connectors grows with each new development cycle, and will soon also include option to communicate with on premise services, although details of how this will work is still not clear.
Integration tools for all levels of expertise
The team also addressed the recently launched Microsoft Flow. This new technology, made available around two weeks ago, initially caused some confusion, as it seemed to overlap with Logic Apps. Charles Lammana - Principal Group Engineering Manager at Microsoft, discussed the new technology, showing its potential to create reusable workflows that automate common day to day tasks. The ability to publish existing workflows as templates creates a great way to share useful workflows - at this stage templates can be submitted by the community, but soon companies will be able to curate those templates, sharing them at the company level, instead of the whole community.
Charles also discussed some good practices about the boundaries between Logic Apps and Flow. According to him, if the workflow can be "developed in production" - e.g. flow changes or outages don't actually impact the business - then this is a good candidate for Flow. In all the other cases, a Logic App should be created. Since both technologies share the same core, if a Flow becomes so important that it should be managed and developed with more discipline, it can be transformed in a Logic App. The similarities also mean that functionality initially implemented for Flows - like its current debugging capabilities - can make its way to Logic Apps.
The announcements and new technologies highlighted during the conference showed once more a renewed commitment to integration. We saw products tailored for various types of requirements, from ad-hoc automation that supports day-to-day tasks, to modern integration and enterprise integration.
We also saw Microsoft’s recent integration roadmap validated, reinforcing the idea that integration should be supported where it makes sense for the customer, be it on-premises, in the cloud, or hybrid solutions leveraging the best of both worlds.