Deploying BizTalk360 within your organization

Deploying BizTalk360 within your organization

In this blog post, we will explain how different stakeholders within your organization can be involved in operating the BizTalk environment and managing BizTalk interfaces, by smartly, but safely deploy BizTalk360.

The BizTalk Administrators – the primary users of BizTalk360

Primarily, BizTalk360 will mainly be used by BizTalk administrators. They will use the product in their day to day operations and will probably be the ones who firstly receive notifications of threshold violations and daily health check reports.

These administrators are responsible for the day to day operations of the BizTalk group(s) and will be the main group of users of BizTalk360. Therefore, they need all the authorizations so they will have Super User accounts in BizTalk360. They will also be responsible for creating and maintaining User Access Policies.

After installation of the product, they will set up alarms for the BizTalk platform and the BizTalk applications it contains and receive notifications which are generated by the alarms.

The way they configure monitoring of their BizTalk environments with BizTalk360, might evolve like this:

  • Basic Threshold/Health Check monitoring with email notification
    • BizTalk Platform – Monitor platform components like Host Instances, SQL Server jobs, NT Services, BizTalk Health Monitor
    • BizTalk Applications – Monitor application artifacts like Receive Locations, Orchestrations, Send Ports, Instance states
  • Advanced Environment Monitoring
    • Endpoints – Monitor web services, queues, file shares, FTP sites, Azure services
    • Data monitoring – Monitor interface processing, automate resuming and terminating of service instances
    • Enterprise notification channels – Receive notifications via HP Operations Manager, Slack, ServiceNow, Microsoft Teams, Webhook, PowerShell

In case of any issues, the (team of) BizTalk administrators will fix these issues themselves, or they contact other stakeholders to discuss how the issues need to be fixed.

Improve your business processes by extending the reach of BizTalk360

The power of BizTalk360 lies in the fact that it provides a rich user interface with many different dashboards for many different purposes, both from a technical and a functional perspective. In contrast with the tools which come out-of-the-box with BizTalk Server, all the capabilities in BizTalk360 are protected by User Access Policies and Auditing. This enables you to give any person exactly that set of permissions that they need to be able to do their job.

When the BizTalk administrators feel comfortable with the product and with BizTalk administration in general, or when the organization requires it, BizTalk360 can be deployed to other parts of the IT department or business departments.

Involve stakeholders by sending notifications and providing access to BizTalk360

By sending alerts to stakeholders directly, you improve information management as your BizTalk Administrators don’t need to send separate emails or contact these stakeholders based on issues that have occurred.
Although in many cases, email will be the primary means of sending notifications from BizTalk360, the product also contains the following Notification channels:

• Microsoft Teams
• ServiceNow
• Slack
• PowerShell
• Webhook

These channels can be configured on each BizTalk360 alarm and enable you to receive the notifications where it is most convenient for you. You can also use a simple to use SDK to develop your own custom Notification channel. Read more about Notification channels in our Documentation Portal.

But you can go even further, BizTalk360 allows you to give stakeholders secure and limited access to BizTalk360. This kind of access can reach from read-only access to particular parts of the BizTalk platform to the capability to act on certain issues.

Deployment of BizTalk360 to your organization can be done in the pace you and your organization feel comfortable with. By sending notifications to the stakeholders and provide access to BizTalk360, you can keep the stakeholders informed of any issues, improve the availability of your business processes and meanwhile spreading the workload between all the stakeholders.

Think of the following scenarios which could be achieved:

  • Sending alerts to the help desk – This enables the help desk engineers to analyze any issues at hand and take countermeasures
  • Informing your administrators directly of any issues – Think of your System Administrators or DBA’s who receive alerts about server or database issues
  • Automated creation of support tickets in your ticketing system – This takes away the need to have an administrator to do it manually
  • Inform business users of issues – Think of batches which are not processed (non-events) or faulty processing of their messages
  • Provide access to dashboards/portals – Give your stakeholders access to portals like the BAM portal, ESB portal, Business Rules Composer, (Data) Monitoring/Analytics dashboard, etc. etc.

Identifying stakeholders

When it comes to deploying BizTalk360 throughout an organization, you can identify the following roles:

  • IT Support personnel
  • SQL Server DBA’s, System Administrators and BizTalk developers
  • Business Users

Let’s have a look at the roles mentioned above and their potential responsibilities with regards to BizTalk Server/BizTalk360.

IT Support personnel

To have a good eye watching on your BizTalk environment, you could involve the IT Support staff of your organization. Depending on your organization, they might be available 24/7. So it makes sense to send notifications of unexpected behavior happening on the platform level, as they might be able to act before BizTalk Administrators can. Besides sending them notifications, you could give the IT Support staff read-only access to BizTalk, so they can explore any issues and maybe help you fix them, while you might be at home, having weekend.

SQL Server DBA’s, System Administrators and BizTalk developers

Since operating BizTalk involves more than just the BizTalk Server product itself, but also components like SQL Server databases and all kind of Windows Server components, you might consider involving System Administrators and SQL Server DBA’s in BizTalk operations by sending them notifications which might be relevant for them.

A few examples are:

  • SQL Server Administrators can receive notifications in case the BizTalk related SQL Server jobs fail
  • System Administrators can receive notifications when the BizTalk servers are running out of disk space
  • BizTalk Developers can receive notifications in case issues arise with upgraded or newly deployed BizTalk applications

As a next step, you might give these administrators and developers access to BizTalk360. This ranges from providing read-only access to particular features to giving them full operational access to the parts of their interest.

If you give any of the stakeholders access to BizTalk360, it is also helpful to use the BizTalk360 Knowledge Base. When you properly maintain the Knowledge Base, your support people will have the help they need at their fingertips and be able to solve known issues quickly.
The Knowledge Base associates Knowledge Base articles to Service Instances, EventLog entries, ESB Exceptions, and Throttling data. Read more about its capabilities in our Documentation portal.

You might consider providing System Administrators, SQL Server DBAs and BizTalk developers with the following authorizations:

  • System Administrators
    • Advanced Event Viewer
    • BizTalk Health Monitor
    • Topology
    • Host/Host Instances
    • BizTalk/SQL Servers
    • Manage BizTalk/SQL NT Services
    • Tracking Manager
    • Adapters
    • Backup/DR Visualizer
  • SQL Server DBA’s
    • Secure SQL Queries
    • Advanced Event Viewer
    • BizTalk Health Monitor
    • Message Boxes
    • SQL Servers
    • Manage SQL NT Services
    • SQL Server Instances
    • Manage SQL Jobs
    • Backup/DR Visualizer
  • BizTalk developers
    • MessageBox queries (with/without access to content/context)
    • Tracking Queries
    • Advanced Event Viewer
    • Tracking Manager
    • Secure SQL Queries
    • BAM portal
    • ESB Exception portal
    • EDI Reports
    • Messaging Patterns

Business Users

This category of users might exist both inside as outside your organization. Depending on that, it will differ how they are involved in managing the interfaces. Normally, they will not take part in managing the BizTalk platform itself.

Internal business users can be informed about the processing, by providing them with notifications of disruptions in the processing of their interfaces, i.e., inform them of suspended instances, transmission failures, and failing process monitoring.

When you want to give business users access to BizTalk360, you can think of the following features:

– Specific BizTalk applications
– Message Box (Queries)
– Graphical Flow (Tracking)
– Business Rules Composer
– EDI Reports, parties and agreements
– ESB Portal
– Business Activity Monitoring
– Messages Content/Context
– Secure SQL Queries

In case external business users are involved in certain interfaces, you might send them the same notifications as internal business users. As the external business users will be outside your organization, you normally will not give them access to the BizTalk360 User Interface.

Conclusion

We often see, that BizTalk Server is considered as a black box and deep BizTalk knowledge is needed to be able to find out what’s all happening inside that box. By using BizTalk360, we make it easy to gain that insight, even with little BizTalk expertise. Furthermore, by deploying BizTalk360 outside the BizTalk administrators team, you can give your middleware a face and achieve much more transparency about all the processing taking place in your BizTalk environment.

By using BizTalk360 outside the admin team, it is easier to notify other stakeholders by sending them notifications directly from BizTalk360. Even further, besides sending notifications to these stakeholders within (or outside) your organization, you can give people (limited) access to BizTalk360. This way they can view for themselves how all the processing is taking place or check the wellbeing of the environment, without the need of contacting the BizTalk Administrators team.

All in all, it must be clear, that by extending the use of BizTalk360 outside the admin team, you will have a better ROI of the product. If you would like to know more about how BizTalk360 can help your organization to manage your BizTalk Server middleware platform, feel free to contact us.

Author: Lex Hegt

Lex Hegt works in the IT sector for more than 25 years, mainly in roles as developer and administrator. He works with BizTalk since BizTalk Server 2004. Currently he is a Technical Lead at BizTalk360.

BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 3

BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 3

In this blog post we will update you on which new capabilities came with BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 3. Earlier, we have also written about Feature Pack 1 and 2. You can find these articles here:

Introduction to BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Packs

In 2017, Microsoft started releasing so-called Feature Packs for BizTalk Server 2016. The concept of releasing these Feature Packs is that Microsoft doesn’t want their BizTalk Server customers to wait for new features, until a new release of BizTalk Server arrives. Instead, they want their customers to enjoy these new features, as soon as possible once they have been developed and are ready to go to market. As these Feature Packs contain non-breaking features, there is little risk that a BizTalk customer runs into issues as a result of installing such Feature Packs. These Feature Packs are only available with the Enterprise and Developer edition of BizTalk Server 2016.

Since Microsoft started with this strategy, they have released 3 Feature Packs:

The BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Packs are cumulative. This means that once you installed, for example, Feature Pack 3, you can also enjoy the features which were brought in Feature Pack 1 and 2.

You might have also noticed, that each Feature Update also contains a Cumulative Update. It is also possible to install these Cumulative Updates without the new capabilities which are provided by the Feature Packs. To check the most recent releases of these Cumulative Updates, please check this web site:

What’s new with BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 3

This Feature Pack brings improvements in below mentioned areas:

  • Compliance
    • Compliance with US government accessibility standard
    • Privacy – Compliance with FIPS and GDPR
    • SQL Server 2016 SP 2 – Deploy multiple databases per instance of an Availability Group
  • Adapters
    • Office365 Outlook Email – Send and Receive messages using Office365 e-mail
    • Office365 Outlook Calendar – Create appointments using Office365 schedules
    • Office365 Outlook Contact – Create Office365 contacts
    • Web Authentication – Authenticate with Azure AD and OAuth using Microsoft Enterprise Single Sign-On
  • Administration
    • Advanced Scheduling – Set up recurrence on Receive Locations with greater precision

Compliance with FIPS and GDPR

As of this Feature pack, BizTalk Server is compatible with FIPS (Federal Information Processing Standard) and GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

FIPS is a standard developed by the US federal government for use in computer systems by non-military government and agencies. The specification comes with standards for among others:
  • Codes – country, region and state codes, weather conditions, emergency indications
  • Encryption – Data Encryption Standard, Advanced Encryption Standard

In case of BizTalk Server, this relates to how data becomes encrypted and decrypted in SQL Server. FIPS-compliance is enabled in the Operating System, under Local Policies; refer to the screenshot below. Once enabled, SQL Server will enter the FIPS compliant mode, thereby using cryptographic standards as defined in FIPS 140-2.

BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 3: Local policies

GDPR is a European law on data protection which intends to regulate the privacy of individuals in the European Union. This new law supersedes Data Protection Directive 95/46/EC from 1995.

If you want to read more about BizTalk and GDPR, there are few resources written by Sandro Pereira on this topic:

Multiple databases in Availability Groups SQL instances

Also SQL Server 2016 SP 2 is supported from Feature Pack 3. This is especially good news when you are running SQL Server Availability Groups. Because this allows you to have multiple BizTalk databases in the same SQL instance. As this was not possible earlier, this made setting up BizTalk Server in Availability Groups complex and expensive. The reason for that, is because you needed to have multiple SQL Server instances than without Availability Groups and more expensive as you need to license each SQL Server instance in the Availability Groups.

New Adapters for Office365 connectivity

Few other interesting features of this Feature Pack are the adapters for Office365 Email, Calendar and Contacts. These adapters allow you to use Office365 accounts for receiving and transmitting emails, creating and updating calendar items and creating contacts.

The Office365 Email adapter

This adapter can be uses both for receiving as for transmitting messages. In BizTalk terms, you can use this adapter both on Receive Locations as on Send Ports.

On the receive side the adapter enables you to:

  • Select a folder from which to retrieve email

  • Select a timestamp from which you want to receive emails

  • Retrieve unread emails only

  • Select an action after the email has been read, like marking the email as read or deleting the email

When transmitting emails via a Send Port, you can set the following properties:

  • To – separate email addresses with a semicolon (‘;’), maximum 256 characters

  • CC – separate email addresses with a semicolon (‘;’), maximum 256 characters

  • Subject – enter maximum 256 characters

  • Importance – select Low, Normal or High from the drop down  in the Send Port

Also, it is important to realize that you can only send plain text messages.

Once you receive an email on a Receive Location, the Receive pipeline adds promoted properties, which you can use for routing the emails. These promoted properties are:

  • Importance

  • Subject

  • SenderName

  • SenderAddress

  • HasAttachments

The Office365 Calendar adapter

You can use this adapter both for receiving events as for transmitting events. To be able to receive/send events you need to have the XSD schemas for both operations. You will find these schemas here:

Program Files (x86)Microsoft BizTalk Server 2016SDKSchemas

Related to calendars, this folder contains the following schemas:

The advantage of having these schemas is, that you can determine yourself which elements you will promote for routing purposes.

When you want to receive calendar items, you can select a calendar from an Office365 Outlook account. Next, you can configure that you want to receive events which are starting within a particular time frame.

You can also use the adapter to create events from BizTalk Server. Therefore, you can, populate a message according the above mentioned Send schema. Yet, some event properties can also be set on the Send Port. The properties you can set on a Send Port are:

The Office365 Contact adapter

You can use the Contact Adapter for creating contacts in Office365. For this adapter too, Microsoft has provided a schema. You will find this schema in the same location as the Calendar schemas and has the following name:

Office365OutlookContactSend.xsd

Again, because you can add this schema to your BizTalk solution, you can determine yourself which fields you would like to promote. The Send Port configuration only allows you to sign in with an Office365 account. You cannot configure any contact properties on the Send Port.

Note: To be able to use the Office365 adapters from BizTalk, besides Feature Pack 3, you need to install TMS. This service refreshes the Office OAuth tokens which BizTalk uses. After installation of the Feature Pack, navigate to the installation folder of BizTalk Server (Program Files (x86)Microsoft BizTalk Server 2016).  There you will find BizTalkTMS.msi, which you must install.

Read this article for more details about the Office365 adapters for BizTalk Server 2016.

Advanced Scheduling of Receive Locations 

Scheduling Receive Locations has always been hard with the out-of-the-box capabilities of BizTalk Server. Often people used the open source Scheduled Task Adapter which exists since BizTalk Server 2004. Currently, Sandro Pereira maintains this adapter on GitHub.

The open source Scheduled Task Adapter does a good job. But, organisations might prefer not to go for open source software, but still they might have a need to schedule Receive Location(s). Microsoft has listened to their requests and introduced Advanced Scheduling of Receive Locations with Feature Pack 3!

Below screenshots show how the scheduling capabilities of a Receive Location look like, before and after installation of Feature Pack 3.

BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 3: Scheduling before Feature Pack 3BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 3: Scheduling with Feature Pack 3


In case of the Feature Pack 3 scenario, the upper part of the screen
is extended with capabilities to select a time zone and to configure automatic adjustment for Daylight Saving Time (DST).

The ability of setting the time zone can help in case your integration partner(s) live in different regions of the world. Using the Time Zone drop down will make it easier to configure when Receive Locations will pick up messages according the partner’s time zone.

Daylight Saving Time, also mentioned Summer Time, is a practice which is done in a number of countries in the Northern and Southern hemisphere. During DST, the clock becomes advanced one hour close to Spring and adjusted backwards in Autumn. This way daylight lasts longer in the evening. These adjustments might effect the proper working of your interfaces. That’s why Microsoft introduced the ability to automatically adjust the schedule of your Receive Locations, according DST.

By the way: did you know that the Data Monitoring features in BizTalk360 are also compliant to Daylight Savings? Our colleague Mekala wrote an article about it. Here you have the link to that article:

Especially the Service Window capability of Receive Locations are improved hugely. The original ability to configure just a Start and a Stop time has been extended with the following recurrence features:

  • Daily – configure the number of recurring days and from which date the recurrence will be active

    BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 3: Daily Service Window

  • Weekly – configure the number of recurring days, from when the recurrence will be active and on which weekdays the recurrence must be active

    BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 3: Weekly Service Window

  • Monthly – configure which months and which days the recurrence should take place
    BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 3: Monthly Service WindowBizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 3: Monthly Service Window

Conclusion

With BizTalk Server 2016 Feature Pack 3, Microsoft has released many useful features for BizTalk Server 2016. The Office365 adapters, the improved scheduling capabilities and the support of SQL Server 2016 SP2 (because of simplification of  Availability Groups) can be considered as the most useful ones.

Meanwhile, the community is also waiting for the release of BizTalk Server vNext which has been announced recently. This version of BizTalk underlines the on-going commitment of Microsoft in the platform. The new version of BizTalk will, amongst others, contain all the release Feature Packs for BizTalk Server 2016.

You can receive this kind of announcements and many other interesting articles in the Microsoft Integration space directly in your email box, by subscribing to our monthly Integration Newsletter. You can find the August edition of this newsletter, which provides more information about BizTalk vNext, here.
Why did we build ESB Management Portal?

Why did we build ESB Management Portal?

Why do we need this feature?

One of the tools which come with BizTalk Server is the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) Toolkit. Although the ESB Toolkit is a collection of tools that extend the service-oriented capabilities of BizTalk, the Exception Management capability is one of the most widely used features of the ESB Toolkit. This feature allows you to perform Exception Management in a centralized manner, which can be a great benefit.

What are the current challenges?

See below for a list of challenges while using the out-of-the-box ESB Toolkit portal, which comes with BizTalk Server:

  • Bad quality portal
  • Lack of statistic information
  • No security/auditing
  • No monitoring

Bad quality portal

Even though the Exception Management framework is very robust and strong, the Exception Management Portal that comes out of BizTalk Server is not that easy to configure (takes about 1 or 2 days to configure the default portal successfully).

Besides the quality of the portal, the ESB portal is yet another portal, users need to be aware of in their day to day operations with BizTalk Server.

Lack of statistic information

Further, the ESB Toolkit gives no overview of for example the amount of ESB Exceptions that occurred, the number of itineraries processed or the number of resubmissions. This kind of information can be of vital value to know if the processes are all in a healthy state.

No security/auditing

Also, no security and auditing is in place for this portal. Anybody with access to the portal can view the exceptions, edit messages and resubmit them, which exposes its own risks.

No Monitoring

To be able to keep an eye on the ESB processes, it is handy to monitor these processes. Unfortunately, with the ESB Toolkit, no such capability exists.

How BizTalk360 solves this problem?

BizTalk360 addresses these challenges in a number of ways. Firstly, the portal from the ESB Toolkit is replaced with a portal within BizTalk360. As with all features within BizTalk360, this portal is protected with security and auditing. The following policies are available:

  • Using the portal
  • Being able to resubmit messages

To be able to repair ESB Faults, there is an Edit and Resubmit feature. To make repair even easier, you can write and associate Knowledge Base articles to the ESB Faults. So in case of recurring problems, you can simply document the solution in such a KB article and associate it with the ESB Fault, thereby making repairs in the future easier.

BizTalk360 ESB Management PortalFor having a good overview of the ESB processes, BizTalk360 provides a customizable ESB Dashboard. You can create dashboards based on different categories of widgets, which are:

  • ESB Fault count
  • ESB Resubmission
  • ESB Itineraries

BizTalk360 ESB Dashboard

Besides the ESB Dashboard, there is also the Data Monitoring feature in BizTalk360. In case of ESB, this will help you in making sure all the ESB processes run like expected.

ESB Data Monitoring

With the ESB Exception Portal and all the other ESB focussed features, we think that we have brought another good feature to the product, taking away the need to use the out-of-the box features, while empowering the users with relevant other features.

Author: Lex Hegt

Lex Hegt works in the IT sector for more than 25 years, mainly in roles as developer and administrator. He works with BizTalk since BizTalk Server 2004. Currently he is a Technical Lead at BizTalk360.

Why did we built EDI Dashboard?

Why did we built EDI Dashboard?

Why do we need this feature?

Many customers use their BizTalk platform to exchange EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) messages with their partners. BizTalk Server contains a number of features for EDI like Interchange processing, Batch processing and Trading Partner Management.

From an operational viewpoint, all kind of features exist in BizTalk Server and many have found their way to BizTalk360 as well. However, besides querying for running processes, there is no feature which shows the EDI processes from a statistical viewpoint.

What are the current challenges?

Often, BizTalk Server is considered as a black box and organizations with little knowledge of the product, sometimes prefer not to touch it. This behaviour can be quite dangerous as the (EDI) processes in BizTalk Server might not run as expected. So, insight into these processes is required to be able to guarantee everything is okay.
Information like the number of AS2 messages or the transaction count by transaction type or by partner id over a certain period is very useful to determine the well-being of the processes, but cannot be revealed from BizTalk Server.

How BizTalk360 solves this problem?

BizTalk360 tries to breach this black box behaviour by bringing a platform which makes BizTalk Server environments easier to understand and safe to operate on.

Related to EDI, we bring a couple of features:

  • EDI Dashboards
  • EDI Status Reports
  • Reporting Manager
  • Parties and Agreements

EDI Dashboards

The EDI Dashboard is one of the features which enables the BizTalk user to get insight in what’s going in BizTalk. As the other dashboards in BizTalk360, also the EDI Dashboard is customizable and consists of widgets from different categories. In case of the EDI Dashboard, the following categories exist:

  • EDI Interchanges – widgets exist for
    • Interchange count by Partner Id/Name
    • Agreement
    • Encoding (X12/EDIFACT)
  • EDI Transaction Sets – widgets exist for
    • Transaction count by Partner Id/Name
    • Transaction type (filtered by Partner Id)
    • ACK Status (filtered by Partner Id)
  • EDI AS – widgets exist for
    • Number of messages by Partner Id
    • Number of messages by Partner Id and MDN status
    • Number of messages by MDN status

Below you can view some examples of EDI Dashboards you can create in BizTalk360.

The EDI Dashboard

The EDI Dashboard

The EDI Dashboard

EDI Reports

Comparable to the EDI query features in the BizTalk Administration Console, BizTalk360 brings a Reporting feature. On top of the set of queries you might know from the Admin console, BizTalk360 also provides a Functional ACK Status report.

EDI Reporting Manager

For easy configuration of your EDI reports, BizTalk360 brings the EDI Reporting Manager. See below for a screen print of that feature.

Parties and Agreements

Also the parties and agreements can be viewed in BizTalk360. See below for a screen print of that feature.

By bringing all these features, BizTalk360 gives good visibility of the EDI processes.

Author: Lex Hegt

Lex Hegt works in the IT sector for more than 25 years, mainly in roles as developer and administrator. He works with BizTalk since BizTalk Server 2004. Currently he is a Technical Lead at BizTalk360.

Why did we build EDI Dashboard?

Why did we build EDI Dashboard?

Why do we need this feature?

Many customers use their BizTalk platform to exchange EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) messages with their partners. BizTalk Server contains a number of features for EDI like Interchange processing, Batch processing and Trading Partner Management.

From an operational viewpoint, all kind of features exist in BizTalk Server and many have found their way to BizTalk360 as well. However, besides querying for running processes, there is no feature which shows the EDI processes from a statistical viewpoint.

What are the current challenges?

Often, BizTalk Server is considered as a black box and organizations with little knowledge of the product, sometimes prefer not to touch it. This behaviour can be quite dangerous as the (EDI) processes in BizTalk Server might not run as expected. So, insight into these processes is required to be able to guarantee everything is okay.
Information like the number of AS2 messages or the transaction count by transaction type or by partner id over a certain period is very useful to determine the well-being of the processes, but cannot be revealed from BizTalk Server.

How BizTalk360 solves this problem?

BizTalk360 tries to breach this black box behaviour by bringing a platform which makes BizTalk Server environments easier to understand and safe to operate on.

Related to EDI, we bring a couple of features:

  • EDI Dashboards
  • EDI Status Reports
  • Reporting Manager
  • Parties and Agreements

EDI Dashboards

The EDI Dashboard is one of the features which enables the BizTalk user to get insight in what’s going in BizTalk. As the other dashboards in BizTalk360, also the EDI Dashboard is customizable and consists of widgets from different categories. In case of the EDI Dashboard, the following categories exist:

  • EDI Interchanges – widgets exist for
    • Interchange count by Partner Id/Name
    • Agreement
    • Encoding (X12/EDIFACT)
  • EDI Transaction Sets – widgets exist for
    • Transaction count by Partner Id/Name
    • Transaction type (filtered by Partner Id)
    • ACK Status (filtered by Partner Id)
  • EDI AS – widgets exist for
    • Number of messages by Partner Id
    • Number of messages by Partner Id and MDN status
    • Number of messages by MDN status

Below you can view some examples of EDI Dashboards you can create in BizTalk360.

The EDI Dashboard

The EDI Dashboard

The EDI Dashboard

EDI Reports

Comparable to the EDI query features in the BizTalk Administration Console, BizTalk360 brings a Reporting feature. On top of the set of queries you might know from the Admin console, BizTalk360 also provides a Functional ACK Status report.

EDI Reporting Manager

For easy configuration of your EDI reports, BizTalk360 brings the EDI Reporting Manager. See below for a screen print of that feature.

Parties and Agreements

Also the parties and agreements can be viewed in BizTalk360. See below for a screen print of that feature.

By bringing all these features, BizTalk360 gives good visibility of the EDI processes.

Author: Lex Hegt

Lex Hegt works in the IT sector for more than 25 years, mainly in roles as developer and administrator. He works with BizTalk since BizTalk Server 2004. Currently he is a Technical Lead at BizTalk360.

Why did we build Business Rules Composer?

Why did we build Business Rules Composer?

Business Rules Composer BizTalk360

This blog is a part of the series of blog articles we are publishing on the topic “Why we built XYZ feature in BizTalk360”. Read the main article here.

Why do we need this feature?

Although in our experience many BizTalk Server customers are using the BizTalk Rules Engine, many others are not using it. This is a pity because the BizTalk Rules Engine (BRE) can be very beneficial and can reduce the costs of BizTalk development.

The concept behind the BRE, is to empower business users to create and maintain business rules, which can be accessed by their BizTalk processes.
In case such business rules need to be changed, this can be done via the so-called Business Rules Composer, by the business user.

A simple example on how to use the power of the Business Rules Engine, is a business user who works in retail and would like to, temporarily, apply some discounts to certain product groups.

Without the BRE, the user would have to implement a change in his BizTalk solution, which can be time-consuming and rather costly. Especially, as the discounts will have to be reverted after some time.
With the BRE, the user can use the Business Rules Composer to make that change by himself.

The Business Rules Composer tool comes with BizTalk Server and as demonstrated, using this tool is far more cost efficient than having to line up a development team to make the needed change in the BizTalk process, while maybe having to revert the change after short period of time, like we have seen in case of temporarily discounts.

Besides being able to modify business rules with the Business Rules Composer, it is obvious that it is also possible to just view the business rules to gain insight how the business rules are set up.

What are the current challenges?

As mentioned, the BizTalk Server Business Rules Composer enables to view, modify and deploy business rules. There are however a few challenges with the Business Rules Composer:

  • It is too technical
  • It has no security and auditing

Business Rules Composer is too technical

In most cases the Business Rules Composer is just installed on the BizTalk server(s). Although, from a technical perspective, it is possible to install the Business Rules Composer on a normal desktop computer.
But, even when the business user does have access to the Business Rules Composer, we’ll explain that the Business Rules Composer is too technical in the hands of a business user.

Let’s briefly describe a bit about Business Rules. These rules consist of the following parts:

  • Policies – a policy is a collection of one or more business rules. Policies can be created, edited, deleted, versioned, published and deployed. Once a policy is deployed, no more changes can be made to the policy. If changes are needed, a new version of the policy will have to be created.
  • Business rules – a business rule can be constructed based on conditions, which will be evaluated by the Business Rules Engine. To construct these business rules, elements of the below mentioned vocabularies can be used.
  • Vocabularies – vocabularies contain the components which can be used in the policies. These components can be elements/attributes in a XML schema, fields in a database table or elements in a .NET class.  For ease of use, these components can be provided with a friendly (business) name. Just like policies, vocabularies can be versioned and published.

After vocabularies and policies have been created, they can be saved, published and deployed from the Business Rules Composer as well.

It must be quite clear now, that the Business Rules Composer is a powerful tool, but is quite complex at the same time. The tool is suited better for technical people who are well aware of the technical insides. As business users don’t have that knowledge, it will make it hard for business users to use the original Business Rules Composer.

Business Rules Composer has no security and auditing

In the Business Rules Composer which comes with BizTalk Server, there are no security and auditing features. So, once somebody has access to the tool, they have access to all the business rules of the BizTalk environment and can make any kind of changes, without leaving a trace. We think that this is an unacceptable situation.

How BizTalk360 solves this problem?

BizTalk360 offers a web-based counterpart of the Business Rules Composer. As BizTalk360 is web-based, the Business Rules Composer is easier to access than the software which comes with BizTalk Server, as it is quite often just installed on the BizTalk Server.

BizTalk360 Business Rules ComposerFrom the BizTalk360 Rules Composer, users can for example:

  • Add, edit and remove policies
  • Add, edit, test and delete rules
  • Publish, deploy and undeploy policies

Security

Once a user has access to BizTalk360, the user can have different authorizations for the Rules Composer of BizTalk360. These authorizations are:

  • View rules only
  • Create/Save rules
  • Deploy/Publish rules

Besides security settings, there is also auditing of activity around business rules in BizTalk360.

By hiding irrelevant technical stuff in the BizTalk360 Business Rules Composer, this tool is better suited for business users than the one from BizTalk Server. Therefore, we only show the Policies and Vocabularies.

Additional features

We also brought some features to the BizTalk360 Business Rules Composer which do not exist in the original tool. Think of for example:

  • a Where function – this can be used to query database tables and retrieve the information
  • If, Else, Else If – these statements can be applied to the Actions part of the business rule, to be able to create more complex rules
  • Date Time Picker – to minimize errors while creating rules, we provide a date time picker for any function that involves picking a date/time
  • Download Test Result – besides testing of policies, you can also download XML files, which are modified as result of testing these policies

Conclusion

All in all, the BizTalk360 counterpart of the Business Rules Composer provides similar features as the one from BizTalk Server, while providing easier access, usage and security. By bringing few additional features, we make the feature even more powerful.

Do you want to know more about the Business Rules Composer in BizTalk360? You can read more on our documentation portal:

https://docs.biztalk360.com/docs/web-based-bre-composer-in-biztalk360

Get started with a Free Trial today!

Download and try BizTalk360 on your own environments free for 30 days. Installation will not take more than 5-10 minutes.

BizTalk360 30 Days Free Trial

Author: Lex Hegt

Lex Hegt works in the IT sector for more than 25 years, mainly in roles as developer and administrator. He works with BizTalk since BizTalk Server 2004. Currently he is a Technical Lead at BizTalk360.

Why did we built dedicated dashboard pages for BizTalk and SQL Servers?

Why did we built dedicated dashboard pages for BizTalk and SQL Servers?

Why do we need this feature?

The BizTalk and SQL servers are the heart and the bones of a BizTalk environment. Where the SQL Servers take care of all the database handling for BizTalk, the BizTalk servers take care of the actual message processing.
When something is wrong with one of these servers, changes are that this will affect the overall health of your BizTalk environment. So, it’s obvious that the well-being of the servers has to be considered for the overall well-being of the BizTalk environment. For that reason, administrators need to login to the servers to check the health of the distinct servers and come into action when needed.

What are the current challenges?

To be able to login to all the servers, the administrator needs to set up Remote Desktop connections to all these servers. Logging in, checking all the needed consoles and actioning when needed, can be time-consuming. Besides that, in highly secured environments, the administrator might not have access to the servers, from remote locations.

How BizTalk360 solves this problem?

Given the One platform philosophy after BizTalk360, we made access to the BizTalk and SQL servers from a BizTalk environment easy and secure. As the product retrieves the BizTalk servers of BizTalk environments from their Management database, it can provide easy access to these servers via the UI of BizTalk360. Also the SQL servers can be accessed and actioned from BizTalk360.

Overview BizTalk serverOverview SQL server

For each server, a number of the key components are shown, so you immediately have an idea on topics like CPU/Memory configuration and usage, installed server products and BizTalk Host configuration.
When you click on the orange strip, you get more detailed information of the server. In case of BizTalk servers you will have access to:

  • CPU Usage
  • Memory usage
  • Server products
  • Host Instances
  • Event Viewer (Application Log)
  • NT Services

You can Stop/Start and Enable/Disable Host Instances. NT Services can be stopped, started and restarted.

For the SQL servers you’ll have access to:

  • CPU Usage
  • Memory usage
  • Server products
  • NT Services

NT Services can be stopped, started and restarted.

Detailed view BizTalk server

By providing dedicated dashboards for the BizTalk and SQL servers of your BizTalk environment, you have easy access to important server aspects, without the hassle of having to use Remote Desktop connections.

Author: Lex Hegt

Lex Hegt works in the IT sector for more than 25 years, mainly in roles as developer and administrator. He works with BizTalk since BizTalk Server 2004. Currently he is a Technical Lead at BizTalk360.

Why did we built Message Box Viewer (MBV) / BizTalk Health Monitor (BHM) Monitoring?

Why did we built Message Box Viewer (MBV) / BizTalk Health Monitor (BHM) Monitoring?

Why do we need this feature?

The BizTalk Health Monitor (BHM) and its predecessor MessageBox Viewer (MBV) are important tools to learn about the overall health of BizTalk environments.
The tools are developed and maintained by Microsoft and firstly used by their Premier Field Engineers, to help them identify problems with BizTalk environments. Later, the tool became publicly available, enabling BizTalk administrators to run the tool themselves as well. Since that time, we have seen many updates of the tools, although MBV is deprecated for few years now.

The BizTalk Health Monitor can be downloaded here:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=43716

The best practice is to run BHM frequently, say once per day at a quiet time, to be aware of overall health and check for any critical issues.

MBV did not offer a built-in scheduler, so you had to schedule it yourself with Windows Scheduler. With the introduction of BHM, the tool came with a plugin, to use it from the BizTalk Server Administration console and it also came with scheduling features.

Once scheduled, you’ll receive the output in the configured mailbox. So you have the fully detailed report easily at hand.

What are the current challenges?

Although it’s good to have the output of MBV/BHM runs in your mailbox, we think that the overall experience still can be improved.

In your day to day activities as a BizTalk administrator, you might receive many notifications in your mailbox. If not setup properly, the amount of notifications might be overwhelming, which might result in starting to ignore the notifications, thereby risking to miss important notifications.

So, you will want to focus on just the notifications which indicate something needs to be taken care of. In case of the MBV/BHM output, you will only be interested in critical and non-critical errors on which some actions must be taken. In other words, if all is healthy, you might not be interested to receive that output at all.

With BHM you will always receive the output, regardless if all is healthy or some (non-)critical issues exist. No clear notification can be received, in case something serious is going on.

Besides that, MBV/BHM is another tool/console you need to be aware of to consider the overall health of a BizTalk environment. As we want to apply our One Platform philosophy as much as possible, we brought integration with MBV/BHM to BizTalk360.

In the next section of this article, we’ll show you how BizTalk360 helps you to improve the experience of BHM and how you can have monitoring on the output of MBV/BHM runs.

How BizTalk360 solves this problem?

BizTalk360 has integration with MBV/BHM for many years. This integration enables the BizTalk360 user to schedule MBV/BHM and view the output of the different runs of the tool directly from within BizTalk360.

Schedule BHM runs

This makes it easy to run MBV/BHM and view its output in BizTalk360, instead of delivering the output of each run to the mailbox of the user.

However, this does not yet solve the problem of just being notified in case of critical errors. To achieve that, you can simply add the BizTalk Health Monitor to a BizTalk360 alarm. In BizTalk360, you can do this by navigating to Monitoring => Manage mapping => BizTalk Environment => BizTalk Health Monitor. Here you can configure how many critical or non-critical may occur in the output of BHM, before a notification is being sent.

Monitor BHM output

As you can see from above screenshot, under Error Threshold, you can configure how many critical/non-critical errors may exist, before a notification is being sent. From the Current Configuration of the screen, you can see that in the last report there were 2 critical and 20 non-critical errors. So, in above scenario, the error thresholds have been met and a notification will be send.

If you want more fine-grained monitoring of the BHM output, BHM offers you the option to store the output of the BHM runs in a database. Say, you want to monitor on specific categories like Tracking or the BizTalk jobs, you could achieve that with Database query monitoring.
When you would like to know more on how to set this up, feel free to contact us (support@biztalk360.com) and we are happy to work with you on the scenario at hand.

Conclusion

The integration of MBV/BHM with BizTalk360 adds to the One platform philosophy. By also bringing monitoring of the output of MBV/BHM, we remove some of the clutter which appears in the mailbox of the user, providing good focus on the topics which really matter. With some customization, you could have even more fine-grained monitoring on the output of BHM.

There are some more articles on MBV/BHM integration. Check them out here:

Get started with a Free Trial today!

If you would like to try BizTalk360, why not give it a try. It takes about 10 minutes to install on your BizTalk environments and you can witness and check the security and productivity on your own BizTalk Environments. Get started with the free 30 days trial.

Author: Lex Hegt

Lex Hegt works in the IT sector for more than 25 years, mainly in roles as developer and administrator. He works with BizTalk since BizTalk Server 2004. Currently he is a Technical Lead at BizTalk360.

Why did we built Message Box Viewer (MBV)/ BizTalk Health Monitor (BHM) Integration?

Why did we built Message Box Viewer (MBV)/ BizTalk Health Monitor (BHM) Integration?

This blog is a part of the series of blog articles we are publishing on the topic “Why we built XYZ feature in BizTalk360”. Read the main article here.

Why do we need this feature?

The BizTalk Health monitor (BHM) is the successor of the Message Box Viewer (MBV). Both tools have been developed by Microsoft for health analysis of BizTalk environments. Despite its (former) name Message Box Viewer, the tool checks many more parts of BizTalk Server than just the Message Box database(s).
For example, the tool checks whether:

  • the latest Cumulative Updates are installed
  • relevant hotfixes are installed
  • all kind of configuration (Windows, BizTalk, SQL) is conform best practices, think of
    • Correct Host Configuration
    • Auto-growth settings of your BizTalk databases
    • Unnecessary Tracking switched on
  • your BizTalk databases are in good health
  • the well-being of your BizTalk related SQL jobs
  • there are (relevant) Event Log errors

After Microsoft deprecated the Message Box Viewer software few years ago, they introduced the BizTalk Health Monitor (or BHM). BHM uses the same engine as the Message Box Viewer, but also comes with some improvements. These improvements are mainly related to:

  • Visibility – the BHM software comes with a MMC snap-in, which allows you to have both the BizTalk Server Administration console and the BizTalk Health Monitor software in a single MMC snap-in
  • Scheduling – you can now setup runs of BHM directly in the tool itself. In the background BHM still uses the command line version of the tool and the Windows scheduler to perform the runs. By creating multiple profiles, you can even perform runs for different BizTalk Server environments, from the same instance of BHM.

Just like with the Message Box Viewer, it is advised to run BizTalk Health Monitor on a regular basis. The tool comes with most recent versions of BizTalk Server and needs to be installed on the BizTalk Server. The tool can also be downloaded here:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=43716

Once you have installed BHM, you can setup scheduling so you will automatically retrieve health reports in your mailbox.

What are the current challenges?

Although BHM contains important information on the health of your BizTalk environment, it is yet another console you must be aware of. Especially organizations with less knowledge of all the consoles needed to support BizTalk Server, this one can easily be overseen or forgotten, with potentially, catastrophic results.

To be able to access BHM, be it for configuration of the runs of BHM or viewing (historic) reports, you need Remote Desktop access to the BizTalk server on which the BizTalk Health Monitor software is installed. Logging in to the BizTalk server repeatedly is time-consuming and can prevented by using the MBV/BHM integration which is discussed in the next paragraph.

How BizTalk360 solves this problem?

As you probably know, the vision behind BizTalk360 is to provide One platform for BizTalk Server. By providing One platform, aka one user interface, we bring all the different consoles, a BizTalk administrator might need to be able to do his job, under one hood.
For that reason, we already brought integration with Message Box Viewer years ago and updated the integration to support the BizTalk Health Monitor. This integration exists of the following features:

  • Schedule runs of BHM
  • Run BHM profiles
  • Manually run BHM
  • View reports of BHM
  • Monitor the results of BHM runs

Schedule runs of BHM

For many years, BizTalk360 already had integration with the predecessor of BizTalk Health Monitor, being Message Box Viewer. This integration included the scheduling capability, which was brought by BHM, when the tool became available, as well.
So, when we replaced MBV integration with BHM integration, of course we made sure that you would be able to setup BHM schedules from BizTalk360 as well.

Schedule BHM runs

Run BHM Monitoring profiles

BHM allows users to create specific so-called Monitoring profiles, which can be used to execute a subset of all the available queries and rules. This can be used, for example, to monitor just specific components or artifacts.
BizTalk360 allows you to run or monitor on such a profile, by creating such a profile in BHM and manually copying it to the BizTalk360 installation folder. If you want to read more about this capability, read below article:

Getting BizTalk360 to run a BHM Monitoring profile

Manually run BHM

Besides being able to run BHM based on a schedule, as shown in the previous paragraph, you can also run the tool immediately from BizTalk360. By clicking the ‘Run BHM Now’ button (see the picture below), BizTalk360 schedules a run immediately and the results can be checked after the run has been processed.

View reports of BHM

The reports of all the different runs of BHM can be viewed directly in BizTalk360. The screenshot below shows the dropdown from where you can select, which report you would like to see. The most recent report is shown on top.

Storing the output of BHM runs
The BHM reports are stored in the BizTalk360 database and can reside there for a configurable time frame. By default, this time frame is 5 days, but you can choose values between 1 day until any number of days/weeks/months you prefer. Of course, it is wise to not to keep the date for too much time, as this will affect the size of the BizTalk360 database.
After the time frame expired, BizTalk360 will automatically delete the expired reports.

View BHM output

Monitor the results of BHM runs

Besides running and viewing the output of BHM, you can also setup monitoring on the output. This way you can get notified easily of critical and non-critical errors which might be found by BHM.

Monitor on BHM output

In another article of the `Why we built XYZ feature in BizTalk360` series, we`ll explain monitoring of BHM output in more detail.

Conclusion

By executing BizTalk Health Monitor runs, the tool reports about important topics on all kind of health and best practice related stuff. Having MBV/BHM integration in BizTalk360, the product makes it easier to schedule runs of BHM and provides you with easy access to the output of the BHM.

Get started with a Free Trial today!

Do you prefer to setup your BHM schedules and view BHM output in BizTalk360, instead of setting up RDP connections to your BizTalk server? Why not give BizTalk360 a try! Installation takes about 10 minutes on your BizTalk environment. Get started with the free 30 days trial.

Author: Lex Hegt

Lex Hegt works in the IT sector for more than 25 years, mainly in roles as developer and administrator. He works with BizTalk since BizTalk Server 2004. Currently he is a Technical Lead at BizTalk360.

Why did we built Advanced Tracking Manager for BizTalk Server?

Why did we built Advanced Tracking Manager for BizTalk Server?

This blog is a part of the series of blog articles we are publishing on the topic “Why we built XYZ feature in BizTalk360”.

Advanced Tracking Manager for BizTalk Server

Why do we need this feature?

Being able to track messages and processes in middleware software like BizTalk Server can be used for few reasons, amongst them are:

  • be sure all processes run like expected
  • analysis of issues
  • debugging during development/test phase

However, especially for live environments, the best practice is that only limited tracking should be turned on, to prevent a performance penalty. Therefore, there needs to be a balance between the amount of tracking which is turned on and the ability for the BizTalk administrator to be able to do his job when it comes to analysis of issues.

In general, when no message context/content tracking is turned on and only the default tracking is switched on, you should be good.

To prevent performance penalties, it is obvious that it helps to have a good overview of all the tracking settings of the BizTalk environment.

What are the current challenges?

All BizTalk Server related tracking settings can be maintained in the BizTalk Server Administration console. However, the tracking settings are found in different parts of the console. For example:

  • the Group Level Tracking property is found  in the BizTalk Group Settings Dashboard
  • the BizTalk artifact settings are found at application/artifact level
  • Each artifact like (receive ports, send ports, orchestrations, pipelines etc) all come with their own UI to manage tracking.

This results in not having a good overview and easy maintenance of the tracking settings with the standard BizTalk Server Administration console.

How BizTalk360 solves this problem?

At BizTalk360 we decided to design one screen, which can be used for all tracking settings, enabling to have a good overview of all the tracking settings, meanwhile working as a central hub to configure all these settings.

We came up with the Tracking Manager screen, which can be found in BizTalk360 under Operations / Infrastructure setting.

As you can see from the screen, it contains an overview of all tracking settings. On a high level, the screen is divided into two parts:

  • Quick actions
  • Applications and Rules

The Quick actions allow you to easily turn on/off tracking on a global level for the BizTalk artifact types, but also to turn on/off group level tracking.

The second part of the screen allows you to view/configure tracking until the application level. If a more fine-grained configuration is needed, you can simply click on the application and set the desired tracking for one or multiple artifacts at once. The overall result of the settings will be reflected in above screen.

Also, maybe less familiar, Business Rules can be tracked. BizTalk360 enables you to easily configure these settings from the Rules tab page.

All in all, we can conclude that the Tracking Manager in BizTalk360 gives easy access and maintenance to all the tracking settings for BizTalk Administrators.

Get started with a Free Trial today!

Download and try BizTalk360 on your own environments free for 30 days. The installation will not take more than 5-10 minutes.

Author: Lex Hegt

Lex Hegt works in the IT sector for more than 25 years, mainly in roles as developer and administrator. He works with BizTalk since BizTalk Server 2004. Currently he is a Technical Lead at BizTalk360.