Charles Young

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Sunday, September 25, 2011 #

At last, I can announce that ‘BizTalk Server 2010 Unleashed’ has been published and is available through major booksellers in both printed and electronic form. The book is not a new edition of the old ‘BizTalk Server 2004 Unleashed’ book from several years ago, although Brian Loesgen, our fearless team leader, provided continuity with that title. Instead, this is entirely new content written by a team of six authors, including myself.
 
 
 
BizTalk Server is such a huge subject. It proved a challenge to decide on the content when we started our collaboration a couple of years back (yes, it really was that long ago!). We quickly decided that the book would principally target the BizTalk development community and that it would provide a solid and comprehensive introduction to the chief artefacts of BizTalk Server 2010 solutions – schemas, maps, orchestrations, pipelines and adapters. Much of this content was written by Jan Eliasen and forms part 1 (“The Basics”) of the book.
 
On the day my complimentary copies were delivered, I was working on the implementation of a pipeline component, and had an issue to do with exposing developer-friendly info in Visual Studio. I used this as a test-run of Jan’s content, and sure enough, discovered that he had clearly addressed the issue I had, including sample code. Jan’s contribution is succinct and to the point, but is also very comprehensive (he’s even documented things like creating custom pipeline templates!). I particularly appreciate the way he included plenty of guidance on testing individual artefacts.
 
My contributions to part 1 is a chapter on adapters (the ‘adapter chapter’ as we fondly called it). This explores each of the ‘native’ adapters and the family of WCF adapters. There is also some content on the new SQL adapter which is part of the BizTalk Adapter Pack. In that respect, it overlaps with ‘Microsoft BizTalk 2010 Line of Business Systems Integration’ which I reviewed recently, and also in respect of the SharePoint adapter. However, ‘Microsoft BizTalk 2010 Line of Business Systems Integration’ provides a whole lot more information on a range of LoB adapters. It is written in a different style to BizTalk Server 2010 Unleashed and is highly complementary.
 
Although the original plan was to include content on custom adapter creation, this didn’t, in the end, get covered in any depth. One reason for this is that, going forward, most custom adapter development for both BizTalk and Azure Integration Services (still some way off) is likely to be done using the WCF LoB Adapter SDK. That suggested that we would have had to document two distinct adapter frameworks in order to do the job properly, and this proved a little too much to tackle. Room there for another book, methinks.
 
Part 1 accounts for about half the content of the book. Beyond this, we wanted to add value by covering more advanced topics, including the use of BizTalk Server alongside WCF and the emerging Azure platform, new features in BizTalk Server 2010 and topics that have been only partially covered elsewhere. So, for example, Anush Kumar was contributed an entire section (part 4) on RFID including the new RFID Mobile Framework. Anush is well-known in the BizTalk community due to his involvement in the development of RFID Server. Between Jon Flanders and Brian Loesgen, the book includes content on exploiting WCF extensibility in BizTalk, integrating via the Azure service bus (please note that this content was written before the advent of topics/subscriptions or Integration Services), the BAM framework and the ESB toolkit.
 
There is also a whole section (part 3) written by Scott Colestock that introduces the Administration Console and describes deployment approaches for BizTalk solutions.
 
Rules
That leaves one more subject for which I was responsible. One of the main reasons I was asked to contribute to the book was to document rules processing. Although there is some great content out there on the use of the BRE, I have long felt there is a need for a more comprehensive introduction. Due to some early confusion, I originally intended a total of seven short chapters on rules, but this content was refactored into two longer chapters. The first chapter introduces the Business Rules Framework. My idea was to emphasise the entire framework up front, rather than simply explore the rules composer and other tools. I also tried to explain the typical ‘feel’ of rules processing in the context of a BizTalk application, and the relationship between executable rules and higher-level business rules.
 
The second chapter investigates rule-based programming. It attempts broadly to achieve two related goals. The first is to explain rules programming to developers, to demystify the model, explain the techniques and provide insight into how to handle a number of common issues and pitfalls that rules developers face. The second is to provide a solid theoretical introduction to rules processing, including concepts that are not generally familiar to the average developer. I resisted the temptation, though, to provide an in-depth explanation of how the Rete Algorithm works, which I’m sure will be a relief :-) You can read the Wikipedia article on that.
 
Conclusions
So there you have it. BizTalk Server 2010 is a mature enterprise-level product which, although it has a long future ahead of it, won’t change fundamentally over time. Microsoft has publically stated that their future major investments in EAI/EDI will be made in the Azure space, although new versions of BizTalk Server will continue to benefit from general improvement and greater integration with the evolving Azure platform. So, hopefully, our content will serve for some time as a useful introduction to BizTalk Server, chiefly from a developer’s perspective.