Monday, October 29, 2007

Architect Forum: BizTalk Services - The Internet Service Bus (slides)

The slides  of the presentation can be downloaded from here. Note that they are in portuguese, and that they are ~10Mb in size (PDF).

Saturday, October 27, 2007

TechEd 2007 Barcelona

This year will be my 3rd presence at TechEd, this time again in Barcelona. Apparently there's almost 80 people coming from Portugal, which is more than last year. My personal focus will be on the "SOA and Business Process" and "Architecture" tracks.

People who didn't yet attend one of these events tend to see almost as a vacation. The reality is that there's in general very little free time, and you get back NEEDING vacation. There are also several side events, including the mandatory networking dinners: monday, the CSD Influencers; tuesday, the MVP's; wednesday, the country dinner. The networking is one of the most valuable aspects of these conferences, as you get to meet the people you know only from blogs or the net.

This year there are no big news expected at TechEd, although I'd bet there will probably be some announcements. Either at Somasegar's keynote, or at the GEN01 General session in the last day, which has a vague description and is the only session at that time slot.

To those using Vista, there's a nice TechEd countdown gadget available here.

The only unfortunate thing is that Microsoft decided to stack up conferences: the SOA & Business Process Conference happens next week in Seattle (just check the speaker list), and TechEd right after that.  There will probably be sessions at SOA&BP that will not happen at TechEd because they're back to back, which is unfortunate (and UNFAIR!).

See you in Barcelona.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Architect Forum: BizTalk Services - The Internet Service Bus

This last Wednesday I presented a session at the Microsoft Architect Forum 2007, held at the Lisbon Casino (a great venue), with ~100 architects attending. The overall topic of the event was S+S, with a general introduction about the topic being done by Beat Schwegler. My session, following Beat, was about the «S for Services», the S after the plus (S+S), and José António Silva wrapped up with a talk about the «S for Software».

My presentation was divided in two parts. The first was a general introduction to the topic of Services, SOA, SaaS and S+S. The second, and most provocative part, aimed at introducing a different paradigm of looking at the way software is developed, the notion of having it completely hosted in «The Cloud». Very specifically, I talked about the concept of the Internet Service Bus, materialized (I wonder if this is the best word, since there's no box to buy) in BizTalk Services, under development by Microsoft, and based on WCF technology.

I described its three main current components: Identity&Access Control, Connectivity, and Workflow (still to be made available). The first two are the essential parts of the platform, allowing for universal secure connectivity. It is perhaps not obvious that Ms should start with these two, but if you want to put up software in the cloud, you do have to make sure that people can both reach it, and reach it in a secure way, so it makes sense.

I had to ask people for their "suspension of disbelief", however, to make a parallel between Facebook and BizTalk Services. Facebook is a social community site, and what I find most amazing in it is that there are over 6500 apps in its directory. Six thousand! This is an amazing figure.

Now imagine you had the same, in terms of services and enterprise services. Imagine you wanted an portfolio of services to handle HR, clicked "Add" in some kind of marketplace site (will there be one?), and BAM!, here you have it. You want an accounting app? just pick one and click "Add". Not working as you want? click "Remove", etc. This would be S+S-nirvana, and maybe we'll have it one day.

I hope it is now clear why I asked people to suspend the disbelief :-)

At the end of the session I did a small demo. This was the scenario: a global company has a set of distributed warehouses, and wants its business users to be able to monitor remotely what merchandise goes out. The tracking of the merchandise was done using Rfid tags and BizTalk Rfid, which sent events to BizTalk Services, and these were consumed by a client app developed in WPF/.Net 3.0.

Here's how we did it: in BizTalk RFID, I created an app with two event handlers: the first removes duplicated tag reads; the second connects up to the ISB using usn/pass authentication, and sends a notification with the tag id read. I used the Phidgets RFID device. On the other end, the client app(s) just connects to the ISB and subscribes to that notification. Every time a tag is read, its photo is displayed in the Rfid Dashboard.

I developed the BizTalk RFID part, Raúl did the BizTalk Services bit based on the Multicast sample in the SDK, and André did the WPF app (great work, guys!). The scenario supports several publishers and several consumers.

I did a recording of the demo, so if you want to check it out you can download it from here (2 minutes, 5 mb):

BizTalk RFID + BizTalk Services + WPF demo

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

«Hope, Unfortunately, has never been a very effective strategy»

You have to love that sentence, in an article about IT and its challenges.

The article is titled "The Trouble With Enterprise Software", by Cynthia Rettig, and - much in the same vein as "Does IT matter?" - it talks about the "failure" of enterprise software (ERP-like software, but not limited to), the complexity of software, the problems with data quality, the mis-alignment of business executives with IT, and the promise of SOA:

The timeline itself for this kind of transformation may just be too long to be realistically sustainable and successful. The dynamic business environments of today, where whole industries and markets can undergo radical changes in a matter of a few years and the horizon for corporate strategies has shrunk from 10 years to three to five, makes it questionable whether companies can actually maintain a focused strategy long enough to align their core business processes with IT.

The article includes very interesting data, and unfortunately it proposes no solutions. Software, in it's "infinite" flexibility, is a complex beast to tame, and not all (most?) the promises it made materialized.

The average professional coder makes 100 to 150 errors for every 1,000 lines of code

The view that ERP software, by its size and unicity, tries to avoid the difficulties of integrating distinct [fractal-like] modules and applications, is an interesting one. But apparently, if...

75% of ERP implementations were considered failures

... that may not be the way. But Gregor Hohpe reminds us, in Enterprise Integration Patterns, that developing loosely coupled asynchronous systems (today's fad) implies more complex development and debugging, that basically means we (IT) really have a tough problem.

[...] the way most large organizations actually process information belies that glorious vision and reveals a looking-glass world, where everything is in fact the opposite of what one might expect. Back office systems — including both software applications and the data they process — are a variegated patchwork of systems, [...] installed over decades and interconnected by idiosyncratic, Byzantine and poorly documented customized processes. To manage this growing complexity, IT departments have grown substantially: As a percentage of total investment, IT rose from 2.6% to 3.5% between 1970 and 1980. By 1990 IT consumed 9%, and by 1999 a whopping 22% of total investment went to IT. Growth in IT spending has fallen off, but it is nonetheless surprising to hear that today’s IT departments spend 70% to 80% of their budgets just trying to keep existing systems running.

The Red Queen hypothesis, usually applied to Human evolution, states that

For an evolutionary system, continuing development is needed just in order to maintain its fitness relative to the systems it is co-evolving with. (from wikipedia)

I wouldn't be surprised if these same words also applied to IT and business environments.

The Red Queen in Lewis Carrol's "Through the Looking-Glass" says:

Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.

There's some comfort in the following sentence, however:

If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!

Windows Live now Supports CardSpace

According to a post in Kim Cameron's blog,

You can now use Information Cards at Hotmail and all the other MSN/Windows Live sites. 

Just go here to associate an Information Card with your existing account.

It's the start... of the end of the road, for password-multiplication. Very welcome news, this one.