Thoughts on the Microsoft Integration Roadmap

Microsoft has finally released an integration roadmap. For the past several years there has been concern over the future of BizTalk and Microsoft's integration strategy. For many BizTalk developers, the perception was that BizTalk was no longer a strategic product and that Microsoft was just putting in the minimum effort necessary to keep it running on the current version of the Windows. At the same time there was confusion over how BizTalk Server, Azure BizTalk Services and now Logic Apps all fit together in Microsoft's future integration plan. This roadmap finally gives us a clear view of where Microsoft is going with their integration products.

Continuing Support for BizTalk Server

From the roadmap, it looks like rumors of the death of BizTalk Server have been greatly exaggerated. In Q4 of 2016 Microsoft will be releasing a new version of BizTalk Server. Along with the usual platform alignment and bug fixes, Microsoft will be adding key new features to the product. The most important feature in my opinion is the coming support for SQL Server Always on Availability Groups. This support will also enable support for BizTalk high-availability configurations running in Azure IaaS. This is a really big deal for anybody who has struggled to set up a high-availability solution for BizTalk. Currently, log shipping is the only supported disaster recovery scenario for BizTalk Server and even that is not supported if you try and run BizTalk on Azure. It is not clear from the roadmap but I am hoping this means BizTalk will be dropping the dependency on the Distributed Transaction Coordinator.

The other new BizTalk Server feature I am eager to learn more about is the Azure API connector support. I am very interested to see what this looks like and how it may tie into Azure Logic Apps. I am curious to see if the API connectors will be included in some form of on-premises solution that will run inside BizTalk or if this will be a special adapter that interface with Logic Apps. The roadmap does not provide any details on this yet, so we will have to wait for Microsoft to release more information later this year.

A Vision for Integration

The roadmap breaks Microsoft's integration vision into two key pillars. The first pillar is Modern Integration and this encompasses Azure Logic Apps. The second is Enterprise Integration and involves a mix of BizTalk Server and Azure Logic Apps. Modern Integration will target the "Citizen Integrator", individuals who are not integration specialists. This will likely be a mix of web and mobile developers and even some power users. The driving force is to make building integration solutions simpler without requiring a developer with special skills. One of the biggest drawbacks to using BizTalk and other middleware platforms is the steep learning curve and the time it takes to become effective with the tools. Microsoft is directly addressing this problem in the Logic Apps platform. Initially Logic Apps will target SaaS and web-centric solutions, and some hybrid scenarios but there are plans to make Logic Apps part of the Azure Stack which will make it available for on-premises development too.

The target audience for the Enterprise Integration pillar will be integration specialists. This will look at more traditional integration problems like working with legacy systems and exchanging data between companies using EDI and HL7 standards. These are areas where specialized knowledge is required and it makes sense to have a specialist developer involved in building a solution. These types of solutions generally have more stringent requirements around performance and availability that are best addressed by an integration expert. In the short term, BizTalk Server will be the primary choice for building on-premises integrations between legacy systems and can be used for hybrid integrations as well. Long term Microsoft will be adding more enterprise connectors to Logic Apps to give it feature parity with Azure BizTalk Services. Eventually these two pillars will converge into a single integration platform in the form of Logic Apps.

Conclusion

This roadmap has provided some much-needed clarity around Microsoft's integration strategy. While it is going to take some time to get there, we now know where Microsoft is headed with their integration platforms and their eventual convergence into Logic Apps. I applaud Microsoft's intentions to simplify the development of integration solutions and make them make them more agile. I am excited to see what they do in this area.

This is what I am taking away from this roadmap:

  • BizTalk Server is going to be around for a while. It will continue to be the first choice for on-premises integration projects. BizTalk is a mature product and it is going to take some time to implement equivalent functionality in Logic Apps. The new HA features in BizTalk Server 2016 will make it easier to sell to enterprise customers who are already using SQL Server Always On with their other applications.
  • The writing is on the wall for Azure BizTalk Services. While I would not be in a rush to move any existing applications off of BizTalk Services, I would not plan on starting any new projects with it either. Eventually the functionality of BizTalk Services will be made available in Logic Apps.
  • Logic Apps is the go-to tool for building cloud-based integration solutions. It already has a large library of connectors to the most popular SaaS and web applications and has the tools to make it easy to work with web APIs.
  • We are going to continue hearing more about the democratization of integration. Similar pushes are showing up in the BI and application development space with PowerBI and PowerApps. This probably is not the best news for the developers and consultants who are heavily invested in BizTalk, but I am hoping this will increase the available talent pool for integration developers.
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