The summer is nearly over, but the “Four Questions” machine continues forward. In this 34th interview with a “connected technologies” thought leader, we’re talking with Ryan CrawCour who is a solutions architect, virtual technology specialist for Microsoft in the Windows Azure space, popular speaker and user group organizer.
Q: We’ve seen the recent (CTP) release of the Azure AppFabric Applications tooling. What problem do you think that this is solving, and do you see this as being something that you would use to build composite applications on the Microsoft platform?
A: Personally, I am very excited about the work the AppFabric team, in general, is doing. I have been using the AppFabric Applications CTP since the release and am impressed by just how easy and quick it is to build a composite application from a number of building blocks. Building components on the Windows Azure platform is fairly easy, but tying all the individual pieces together (Azure Compute, SQL Azure, Caching, ACS, Service Bus) is sometimes somewhat of a challenge. This is where the AppFabric Applications makes your life so much easier. You can take these individual bits and easily compose an application that you can deploy, manage and monitor as a single logical entity. This is powerful. When you then start looking to include on-premises assets in to your distributed applications in a hybrid architecture AppFabric Applications becomes even more powerful by allowing you to distribute applications between on-premises and the cloud. Wow. It was really amazing when I first saw the Composition Model at work. The tooling, like most Microsoft tools, is brilliant and takes all the guess work and difficult out of doing something which is actually quite complex. I definitely seeing this becoming a weapon in my arsenal. But shhhhh, don’t tell everyone how easy this is to do.
Q: When building BizTalk Server solutions, where do you find the most security-related challenges? Integrating with other line of business systems? Dealing with web services? Something else?
A: Dealing with web services with BizTalk Server is easy. The WCF adapters make BizTalk a first class citizen in the web services world. Whatever you can do with WCF today, you can do with BizTalk Server through the power, flexibility and extensibility of WCF. So no, I don’t see dealing with web services as a challenge. I do however find integrating line of business systems a challenge at times. What most people do is simply create a single service account that has “god” rights in each system and then the middleware layer flows all integration through this single user account which has rights to do anything on either system. This makes troubleshooting and tracking of activity very difficult to do. You also lose the ability to see that user X in your CRM system initiated an invoice in your ERP system. Setting up and using Enterprise Single Sign On is the right way to do this, but I find it a lot of work and the process not very easy to follow the first few times. This is potentially the reason most people skip this and go with the easier option.
Q: The current BizTalk Adapter Pack gives both BizTalk, WF and .NET solutions point-and-click access to SAP, Siebel, Oracle DBs, and SQL Server. What additional adapters would you like to see added to that Pack? How about to the BizTalk-specific collection of adapters?
A: I was saddened to see the discontinuation of adapters for Microsoft Dynamics CRM and AX. I believe that the market is still there for specialized adapters for these systems. Even though they are part of the same product suite they don’t integrate natively and the connector that was recently released is not yet up to Enterprise integration capabilities. We really do need something in the Enterprise space that makes it easy to hook these products together. Sure, I can get at each of these systems through their service layer using WCF and some black magic wizardry but having specific adapters for these products that added value in addition to connectivity would certainly speed up integration.
Q [stupid question]: You just finished up speaking at TechEd New Zealand which means that you now get to eagerly await attendee feedback. Whenever someone writes something, presents or generally puts themselves out there, they look forward to hearing what people thought of it. However, some feedback isn’t particular welcome. For instance, I’d be creeped out by presentation feedback like “Great session … couldn’t stop staring at your tight pants!” or disheartened by book review like “I have read German fairy tales with more understandable content, and I don’t speak German.” What would be the worst type of comments that you could get as a result of your TechEd session?
A: Personally I’d be honored that someone took that much interest in my choice of fashion, especially given my discerning taste in clothing. I think something like “Perhaps the presenter should pull up his zipper because being able to read his brand of underwear from the front row is somewhat distracting”. Yup, that would do it. I’d panic wondering if it was laundry day and I had been forced to wear my Sunday (holey) pants. But seriously, feedback on anything I am doing for the community, like presenting at events, is always valuable no matter what. It allows you to improve for the next time.
I half wonder if I enjoy these interviews more than anyone else, but hopefully you all get something good out of them as well!