Integrate 2014 – Impact on Integration Consultants

Like a lot of fellow integration consultants I attended Integrate 2014, the integration summit on the Microsoft campus in Redmond. The event was organized by BizTalk360 and they did a great job.

It was the first time I attended a BizTalk event abroad, but I heard something new was to be announced so I registered early. Although it is quite a trip, for a couple of days, all the way from Amsterdam to Seattle, it definitely was worth the jetlag.

I’m not going to describe the sessions, because that has already been done, for example in these great posts:

Like with many such events, the sessions are interesting but the most interesting part is meet new people and discuss with fellow enthusiasts what the impact of the announcements is. Besides the discussions, it is away nice to shake hands with community leaders. Sometimes I only knew them from Twitter or Blogs.

Although some very interesting new things were announced, we as integration consultants mainly need to work with what’s available today. So in this post I’ll focus on the impact on our day-to-day work and the near future.

My takeaways from Integrate 2014, regarding this topic are mainly that:

  • BizTalk is going to stay around
  • There is a real and major shift towards the cloud
  • It will take some time for Microsoft to be feature complete
  • Microsoft Windows Azure BizTalk Services (MABS) will be discontinued, but migration will be possible

Although the announced changes have huge impact for the BizTalk community, BizTalk itself will stay around for many years. Microsoft pointed out again their release cadence regarding BizTalk with a major release every 2 years and a platform alignment every alternate year. For 2015 there is a major release scheduled, but the worrying thing is that Microsoft has not shown a clear picture on what the ‘major’ enhancements will be. Actually I think Microsoft will only do platform alignment (make BizTalk ready for latest Windows/SQL/Visual Studio versions) and maybe add one or two features to improve cloud connectivity or adapt new standards (like happened with REST) but nothing new and innovative will be added to the current BizTalk platform. This in fact means a stand-still from an innovation point of view, so don’t expect any new investments in for example BAM or the workflow engine.

After one of the sessions I had a chat with one of the Program Manager on the BizTalk team and he explained that all of their 800 developers are working on the new stuff to get it ready for the announced preview. This leaves with few resources to do work on BizTalk Server 2015 and also makes very clear where Microsoft’s focus is at the moment. He also mentioned there will be a shared codebase between BizTalk on-premise and BizTalk-in-the-cloud. Later during Integrate it became clear that this actually meant that Microsoft will only build for the cloud and make that available on-premise in form of a private cloud (delivered via Azure Pack for Windows Server). Looking at it from that perspective, it makes sense there will be a single codebase and feature parity between on en off-premise because they’re exact the same product. The only difference is the datacenter it will be deployed, public cloud of private cloud. One important thing regarding private cloud though. Like mentioned before Microsoft will provide Azure BizTalk via the Azure Pack for Windows Server, but this pack currently doesn’t provide what’s available in Azure. So a lot of work needs to be done there as well.

This focus on the cloud leads to the conclusion that there will be minimal development on the current on-premise version of BizTalk Server, and that it will become a different track in the integration space. By that I mean we’ll see exactly the same as happened with ASP and ASP.NET: There will be developers doing ‘classic’ BizTalk and others doing ‘Azure’ BizTalk. Although they functionally do the same work, the technology is way different. This also means different design skills will be needed. In case of Azure, for the first time BizTalk developers will need to really include cost efficiency in their considerations.

I don’t think this separation will happen in the next few years, but it will eventually. The preview of Azure BizTalk (which isn’t an official term by the way) is scheduled for Q1 2015. The demo’s shown on Integrate made me think the first preview is nice to play with, but far from feature complete. For the Azure Integration Services (which is an official term from the slides) in an update cadence of 3 months new features will be added, starting with the features to be able to implement some content/context based routing scenarios. For enterprise solutions with complex orchestrations this will be a different story. Microsoft actually hopes these orchestrations can be broken down into a (large) set of (BizTalk) microservices, but we’ll have to see whether that is actually the case. This is also one of the concerns I have regarding migration of existing solutions. Some solutions will need to be redesigned, because they can’t be migrated.

One of the sessions was about cloud integration at Microsoft itself. They currently heavily invest in moving their integration to MABS, although they know that MABS will be discontinued in favor of the new platform. That means that they’re very confident in the migration path; like Kannan C. Lyer answered on the same question from the audience. As far as I know here in The Netherlands MABS isn’t used very often (if at all?), but in the USA it is used mainly for B2B where it is a suitable solution looking at the current capabilities.

To conclude my view on the new announcement: these are exciting times for integration consultants. For the first time in about 10 years things are really going to change for us and you have to decide for yourself whether you want to stay the ‘classic’ BizTalk consultant or add ‘Azure’ BizTalk to your skillset. The classic BizTalk consultant will be around for at least 10-15 years (lots of customers still use BizTalk 2006 or older, and the end-of-life of BizTalk 2013 R2 is in 2023), so plenty of time to make up your mind.

Didago IT Consultancy