Interview Series: Four Questions With … Dean Robertson

I took a brief hiatus from my series of interviews with “connected systems” thought leaders, but we’re back with my 39th edition. This month, we’re chatting with Dean Robertson who is a longtime integration architect, BizTalk SME, organizer of the Azure User Group in Brisbane, and both the founder and Technology Director of Australian consulting firm Mexia. I’ll be hanging out in person with Dean and his team in a few weeks when I visit Australia to deliver some presentations on building hybrid cloud applications.

Let’s see what Dean has to say.

Q: In the past year, we’ve seen a number of well known BizTalk-oriented developers embrace the new Windows Azure integration services. How do you think BizTalk developers should view these cloud services from Microsoft? What should they look at first, assuming these developers want to explore further?

A: I’ve heard on the grapevine that a number of local BizTalk guys down here in Australia are complaining that Azure is going to take away our jobs and force us all to re-train in the new technologies, but in my opinion nothing could be further from the truth.

BizTalk as a product is extremely mature and very well understood by both the developer & customer communities, and the business problems that a BizTalk-based EAI/SOA/ESB solution solves are not going to be replaced by another Microsoft product anytime soon.  Further, BizTalk integrates beautifully with the Azure Service Bus through the WCF netMessagingBinding, which makes creating hybrid integration solutions (that span on-premises & cloud) a piece of cake.  Finally the Azure Service Bus is conceptually one big cloud-scale BizTalk messaging engine anyway, with secure pub-sub capabilities, durable message persistence, message transformation, content-based routing and more!  So once you see the new Azure integration capabilities for what they are, a whole new world of ‘federated bus’ integration architectures reveal themselves to you.  So I think ‘BizTalk guys’ should see the Azure Service Bus bits as simply more tools in their toolbox, and trust that their learning investments will pay off when the technology circles back to on-premises solutions in the future.

As for learning these new technologies, Pluralsight has some terrific videos by Scott Seely and Richard Seroter that help get the Azure Service Bus concepts across quickly.  I also think that nothing beats downloading the latest bits from MS and running the demo’s first hand, then building their own “Hello Cloud” integration demo that includes BizTalk.  Finally, they should come along to industry events (<plug>like Mexia’s Integration Masterclass with Richard Seroter</plug> 🙂 ) and their local Azure user groups to meet like-minded people love to talk about integration!

Q: What integration problem do you think will get harder when hybrid clouds become the norm?

A: I think Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) will be the hardest thing to consolidate because you’ll have integration processes running across on-premises BizTalk, Azure Service Bus queues & topics, Azure web & worker roles, and client devices.  Without a mechanism to automatically collect & aggregate those business activity data points & milestones, organisations will have no way to know whether their distributed business processes are executing completely and successfully.  So unless Microsoft bring out an Azure-based BAM capability of their own, I think there is a huge opportunity opening up in the ISV marketplace for a vendor to provide a consolidated BAM capture & reporting service.  I can assure you Mexia is working on our offering as we speak 🙂

Q: Do you see any trends in the types of applications that you are integrating with? More off-premise systems? More partner systems? Web service-based applications?

A: Whilst a lot of our day-to-day work is traditional on-premises SOA/EAI/ESB, Mexia has also become quite good at building hybrid integration platforms for retail clients by using a combination of BizTalk Server running on-premises at Head Office, Azure Service Bus queues and topics running in the cloud (secured via ACS), and Windows Service agents installed at store locations.  With these infrastructure pieces in place we can move lots of different types of business messages (such as sales, stock requests, online orders, shipping notifications etc) securely around world with ease, and at an infinitesimally low cost per message.

As the world embraces cloud computing and all of the benefits that it brings (such as elastic IT capacity & secure cloud scale messaging) we believe there will be an ever-increasing demand for hybrid integration platforms that can provide the seamless ‘connective tissue’ between an organisations’ on-premises IT assets and their external suppliers, branch offices, trading partners and customers.

Q [stupid question]: Here in the States, many suburbs have people on the street corners who swing big signs that advertise things like “homes for sales!’ and “furniture – this way!” I really dislike this advertising model because they don’t broadcast traditional impulse buys. Who drives down the street, sees one of these clowns and says “Screw it, I’m going to go pick up a new mattress right now.” Nobody. For you, what are your true impulse purchases where you won’t think twice before acting on an urge, and plopping down some money.

A: This is a completely boring answer, but I cannot help myself on  If I see something cool that I really want to read about, I’ll take full advantage of the ‘1-click ordering’ feature before my cognitive dissonance has had a chance to catch up.  However when the book arrives either in hard-copy or on my Kindle, I’ll invariably be time poor for a myriad of reasons (running Mexia, having three small kids, client commitments etc) so I’ll only have time to scan through it before I put it on my shelf with a promise to myself to come back and read it properly one day.  But at least I have an impressive bookshelf!

Thanks Dean, and see you soon!

Author: Richard Seroter

Richard Seroter is Director of Developer Relations and Outbound Product Management at Google Cloud. He’s also an instructor at Pluralsight, a frequent public speaker, the author of multiple books on software design and development, and a former editor plus former 12-time Microsoft MVP for cloud. As Director of Developer Relations and Outbound Product Management, Richard leads an organization of Google Cloud developer advocates, engineers, platform builders, and outbound product managers that help customers find success in their cloud journey. Richard maintains a regularly updated blog on topics of architecture and solution design and can be found on Twitter as @rseroter.

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