BizTalk File Backup

Business or systemconstraints may force you to leverage BizTalk for File backups. BizTalk can actually handle this pretty well if it’s planned out carefully.
Here is a diagram of the overall design:

One way to implement this is to set up a receive port and locationto poll the original drop location of the files. This receivelocation will […]

TechDays Sweden 2010

TechDays Sweden 2010


That should read I was a speaker at the Swedish TechDays, since I am writing this post after the fact, although I’m backdating the post a bit to more closely match in time when I was supposed to have published it.

I did a session titled “The Future Roadmap of BizTalk Server” and I’m happy to say I drew a full room (not that the room was all that big, but all the same). Future in this case meant I covered both current and coming technology. The reasoning behind it was that a lot of people probably wouldn’t have BizTalk Server 2009. This turned out to be true since it was a clear minority of the people in the room that raised their hands when asked if they had had previous contact with BizTalk Server 2009. I covered ESB Toolkit 2.0 and Itinerary processing as well as connecting to Windows Azure Platform Service Bus. I was a little surprised here that as I asked for a raise of hands on how many were familiar with the Service Bus only a couple of hands went up. Either it’s a Swedish mentality thing – to not want to stand out – or there simply aren’t all that many people interested in it, yet. I went on to cover some of the news in 2009 R2 (which I learned had gotten renamed to 2010 the evening after my presentation). I couldn’t demo anything, but am quite satisfied with how the Powerpoint “Demo” I was able to do (yes, I know, you can kill a presentation, and other things, with Powerpoint, but I think I did ok). I also related some of the vision given by the team at PDC in November and subsequent WebCasts about vNext. The recorded session should be up soon at the TechDays site, however it will be in Swedish, so for an international audience it will be useless. The presentation will be availble soon as well, as a pdf.

Because I believe in sharing I’ve decided to make the presentation available through the blogical Downloads section, here. I have myself borrowed small parts and ideas from the presentation from elsewhere as you often do, but almost all slides and images are built from scratch. I’m sharing those under a “if you decide to use parts of it please at least tell me that you liked it and that it was useful to you through commenting this blog post” license. I’ve marked it as final, but it’s not copy protected or in pdf format or anything, it’s the pptx file itself. Enjoy.

Also BizTalk User Group Sweden was represented at TechDays as well.

(Not the best of pictures, with the backlight and all, but there we are From MPN Swedens photostream)

Windows Server AppFabric Architecture

Windows Server AppFabric Architecture

A long time ago, applications running on Windows Server were simply EXEs, where developers wrote a lot of custom code on top of the Operating System (OS) to interact with clients and other applications over the network. COM+ and Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS) were added to make it easier to write and host server-side applications and Internet Information Server (IIS) was added to make it easier to write and host Web applications. Application logic was typically written in native code and/or in scripts (CGI, ASP) back then.


In 2002 Microsoft shipped .NET 1.0 and IIS was extended to support ASP.NET enabling managed code Web applications to be hosted on Windows Server. In 2006, with .NET Framework 3.0, Microsoft released two new programming models designed to simplify development of application logic, namely: Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Workflow Foundation (WF). WCF enables service-orientation and interoperability and WF enables authoring and execution of long-running workflows. IIS was refactored in Windows Server 2008/Vista and WAS (Windows process Activation Service) was born to enable HTTP and non-HTTP activation of application hosting worker processes (w3wp.exe, also known as AppPool worker) even when the full IIS is not installed. While Windows Server 2008 and .NET 3.0 provided basic administration tools for applications written using WCF and WF programming models, there wasn’t out-of-the-box support for hosting long-running workflows (one had to self-host workflows or build a solution around WAS to ensure reliability and timer activation).

In the upcoming Windows Server AppFabric release we are evolving the application server capabilities in Windows Server to introduce enhanced application hosting and administration tooling (previously codename “Dublin”) for services written using WCF and WF programming models, and providing distributed cache capabilities (previously codename “Velocity”) for .NET applications. The high-level architecture overview of AppFabric is available at


In parallel, we were also working to elastically scale .NET applications and make them highly available, using commodity hardware. Out of this effort came the distributed in-memory cache (formerly known as Project “Velocity”) which helps cache frequently used data in-memory across multiple machines thereby increasing the performance and scale of these applications. In addition it can elastically scale up and down and replicates data to increase the availability of these applications. These capabilities make the distributed cache an ideal option to cache reference data such as catalogs, profile etc. and session data such as shopping cart.


In this blog post we go deeper into the AppFabric system and its inner workings.

Architecture Overview

The diagram below provides a high-level overview of the AppFabric system.



%u00b7         Apps are deployed into a farm of AppFabric servers that share Workflow Instance Stores and Monitoring Stores (Databases).

%u00b7         Distributed Cache provides unified data cache view to Apps while distributing and replicating data across multiple machines

Functional View

The diagram below illustrates key components of the AppFabric system and their functions from a single-machine view (one AppFabric Server view) in a typical setup.


Deployment and Configuration

Deploying and configuring an AppFabric application is as easy as deploying and configuring a Web application.

1.       An Administrator deploys and configures a Web application containing WCF and WF services.

a.       The Web application is developed using Visual Studio, and developers can easily add WCF services and WF workflow services to the application.

b.      The Web application can be packaged and deployed using MSDeploy just like any other Web application targeting IIS/WAS environment. MSDeploy is integrated with Visual Studio and IIS Manager and provides command-line scripting.

c.       AppFabric provides configuration tools for WCF and WF services via IIS Manager modules and PowerShell command-lets which enable tasks like setting application monitoring levels and configuring workflow persistence.

d.      Application artifacts are copied to a directory together with web.config and an <application> entry in %SystemRoot%\system32\inetsrv\config\applicationHost.config.

e.      WAS watches applicationHost.config and upon registering an <application> entry, notifies transport listeners and starts waiting for message traffic addressed to the application.


For WCF and WF services, AppFabric supports both on-demand activation and auto-start activation (Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2). On-demand activation improves resource utilization at the price of the first-request response time. Auto-start activation improves the first-request response time at the price of resource utilization.

2.       A message arrives and is dispatched to a code service or a workflow service for processing.

a.       When a first message arrives to the application via HTTP or via non-HTTP transport listeners, WAS activates a w3wp.exe worker process corresponding to the AppPool that the application is associated with.

b.      CLR AppDomains are created inside the w3wp.exe for each application.

c.       A ServiceHost object is created for each code service in the AppDomain.

d.      A WorkflowServiceHost object is created for each workflow service in the AppDomain.

e.      Both the ServiceHost and WorkflowServiceHost create endpoints and dispatch the received message for processing.

                                                               i.      Based on the instancing model declared on the service, the ServiceHost either creates an instance of the service or finds an existing in-memory instance and invokes the method corresponding to the received message.

                                                             ii.      Based on the message, WorkflowServiceHost either creates a new workflow instance or loads an existing workflow instance from the Instance Store and transfers execution to the workflow instance.

f.        After activation, subsequent messages are dispatched by WAS and transport listeners directly to endpoints established by ServiceHosts and WorkflowServiceHosts during activation.

g.       If the Web application is configured for auto-start activation, corresponding w3wp.exe process, AppDomain, ServiceHost and WorkflowServiceHost objects are created whenever WAS starts.

Monitoring and Troubleshooting

AppFabric provides visibility into running WCF and WF services in terms of 1) overall statistics such as # of errors, average response time per service, etc. and 2) individual events correlated across deployed services, messages and workflow activities.

3.       The application emits WCF and WF monitoring and troubleshooting events and the Event Collector Service uploads events to a Monitoring Store.

a.       Based on the monitoring configuration of the application and individual services, the WCF and WF runtimes emit events into an ETW (Event Tracing for Windows) session established by the Event Collector Service running on each machine.

b.      Reading monitoring store information from the application’s monitoring configuration, the Event Collector Service bulk-uploads events to the corresponding Monitoring Store.

c.       AppFabric provides an out-of-the-box SQL based Monitoring Store, with support for other database technology via an extensible provider model.

d.      Upon uploading to the store, events are shredded into type-specific tables (e.g. WCF MessageReceived event), and views are automatically updated. The views are designed to offer dashboard-like summaries as well as event correlation flows (such as a service-to-workflow-to-service flow of messages).

4.       An Administrator retrieves monitoring and troubleshooting information from the materialized views in the Monitoring Store.

Workflow Instance Persistence and Management

AppFabric enables long-running workflows by 1) saving workflow state in an instance store and 2) exposing administrative commands such as suspend, resume, terminate on long-running workflow instances.

5.       At some point a Workflow Service that is processing the message will reach a natural idle point (such as a Delay activity or a Receive activity in a workflow), which will trigger the WorkflowServiceHost to save workflow state in the Instance Store and unload the Workflow Service from memory.

a.       AppFabric provides an out-of-the-box SQL based Workflow Instance Store, with support for other database technology via an extensible provider model.

6.       An Administrator queries the Instance Store to retrieve a list of in-progress workflow instances and their status (such as Running, Idle, Suspended).

7.       An Administrator issues commands such as Suspend, Resume, Terminate against one or more workflow instances.

a.       Commands are written to the Instance Store.

8.       The Workflow Management Service monitors all Instance Stores in the system and looks for instance commands.

9.       The Workflow Management Service issues instance commands on the appropriate machine against the Instance Control Endpoint, which is automatically configured by the system on each WorkflowServiceHost.

a.       The WorkflowServiceHost executes a control command by either resuming workflow execution from last saved persist point, suspending the workflow in its current state or terminating the workflow and removing its state from the Instance Store.

b.      Results of the command execution are visible to the Administrator.

10.   The Workflow Management Service looks for timers and orphaned workflow instances.

a.       Upon reaching a Delay activity, workflow state will be saved along with an ActivateMeAt property.

                                                               i.      The Workflow Management Service looks for ActiveMeAt properties that are close to the current time and activates such instances.

b.      The AppDomain or w3wp.exe process can crash or recycle for various reasons such as unhandled exceptions, reconfiguration, memory leaks, resource contention among applications, etc. If a crash or recycle occurs while a workflow instance is in-memory doing work, it needs to be resumed from its last persist point.

                                                               i.      When the WorkflowServiceHost creates or loads a workflow instance it places an expiring lock on the instance. If the instance continues to work in-memory, the lock is renewed before its expiration.

1.       A locked instance cannot be loaded by the WorkflowServiceHost that does not own the instance.

2.       Workflow state cannot be saved by the WorkflowServiceHost that does not own the instance.

                                                             ii.      The Workflow Management Service looks for instances with an expired lock and considers them orphaned which results in the lock being cleared so that the instance can be loaded again.

11.   The Workflow Management Service resumes timer-due and orphaned workflow instances.

a.       For each workflow instance whose timer is due or whose lock was cleared, the Workflow Management Service calls the Service Management Endpoint to activate (load into memory) the required instance in the WorkflowServiceHost within an AppDomain in w3wp.exe.

b.      Upon activation, the WorkflowServiceHost loads the instance from the Instance Store and continues execution from the last persist point.

Distributed Cache

The cache provides a distributed, in-memory application cache for developing scalable, available, and high-performance applications.


12.   Applications can take advantage of in-memory distributed cache to improve performance, scale and high availability of applications data

a.       Any serializable CLR object created with .NET languages such ASP.NET, WCF or WF can use the distributed cache to Get/Put items from/into the cache.

                                                         i.            Developers use the Microsoft.Data.Caching APIs to interact with the cache service.

b.      Distributed Cache Service runs across multiple machines and forms a tight cluster offering data replication and data consistency across multiple machines.

                                                        i.            The Distributed Cache Service can run on the same machine as the application code or run in a remote dedicated farm of machines.

Logical Hierarchy of AppFabric caching consists of Machine -> Cache Host -> Named Caches -> Regions -> Cache Items -> Objects


%u00b7         Machine are servers which run Cache Hosts

%u00b7         Cache Hosts are the physical processes hosting AppFabric Caching instance.

%u00b7         Named Caches are the logical entities which can span across machines

%u00b7         Regions are physically co-located Container of Cache Items and they may be implicit or explicitly created

Cache Item are the key, Payload (Object) and they have associated Tags,  TTL, Timestamps, Version


Deployment Topologies Overview

For scale-out and availability, AppFabric can be setup in a load-balanced farm as illustrated in the following diagram.


1.       Machines have been sysprep’d with AppFabric and MSdeploy has been used to deploy applications to these machines.

a.       MSdeploy allows synchronizing machines to a master machine, so an easy approach could be to MSdeploy app packages to one machine and then sync that machine to others in the farm.

2.       Create, configure and secure persistence and monitoring databases.

a.       Upon installation, Appfabric allows you to create farm-wide shared persistence and monitoring databases. For applications that choose the default persistence and monitoring settings, the system will save workflow state and monitoring information in these shared databases. This simplifies configuration and works for typical scenariso where applications do not require stronger data isolation.

b.      An application can be configured with its own dedicated persistence and/or monitoring databases.

c.       Workflow Management Service is a trusted system service and will require access to all persistence databases.

d.      Event Collector Service is a trusted system service and will require access to all monitoring databases.

3.       Setup a distributed cache cluster. (See for more)

a.       Dedicating separate machines would ensure no memory contention between cache and running applications, failure isolation, data isolation, etc.

b.      For simplicity and uniformity, however you may decide to enable Distributed Cache Service on the application hosting machines in the farm.

4.       Load-balancers and queues are configured to feed messages to machines running across the farm. Load-balancers “spray” messages across the farm and queues would be used by the queue transport listeners to asynchronously retrieve messages from the queue and activate new workflow instances.


The upcoming Windows Server AppFabric release evolves application hosting and administration tooling capabilities in Windows to support services written using WCF and WF programming models. The AppFabric release provides powerful distributed cache capabilities to .NET applications. In this blog post we discussed inner workings of the AppFabric system components and a typical scale-out deployment topology.

BizTalk Server 2010

BizTalk Server 2010

News is that BizTalk Server 2009 R2 is rebranded to BizTalk Server 2010. I immediately thought well Windows 2008 R2 Operating System could as well be rebranded to 2010 as SQL Server 2008 R2 that is due this year as well. BizTalk Server 2010 was designed mainly to bring to the table support for the company’s latest technologies, including previously mentioned and Visual Studio 2010. This BizTalk Server version now is aligned with latest and greatest, which wasn’t the case in the past.

Now with BizTalk Server 2010 we will face a situation as depicted in the picture below, where customers will have one of the BizTalk Server environments and may want to migrate to the next, which will mean also migration to higher version of VS, OS and SQL Server.


Factors to consider are:

  • Move from x86 to x64, since Windows Server 2008 R2 is only available in x64 does support x86 applications, but needs to run on x64 supported hardware;
  • Adapter choice, since WCF will become more dominant and older (non-WCF) adapters will become deprecated in either this (2010) version or future releases;
  • Visual Studio is an important factor, what do customer have currently that staff is familiar with and how many solutions have been developed with a certain version;
  • Support towards ERP systems, what versions of for instance SAP or Oracle are running and which adapters do you require;
  • Will BizTalk become a strategy platform for the future; many customers I faced see it as strategic.

Some more capabilities have been added to this release of BizTalk Server:

  • Enhanced trading partner management that will enable our customers to manage complex B2B relationships with ease (this will be welcomed in industries, where EDI is predominant)
  • Increase productivity through enhanced BizTalk Mapper. These enhancements are critical in increasing productivity in both EAI and B2B solutions; and a favorite feature of our customers.
  • Enable secure data transfer across business partners with FTPS adapter.
  • Updated adapters for SAP 7, Oracle eBusiness Suite 12.1, SharePoint 2010 and SQL Server 2008 R2 (obvious to align to most current technologies of MS and others!)
  • Improved and simplified management with updated System Center management pack.
    Simplified management through single dashboard which enables IT Pros to backup and restore BizTalk configuration (I sure like to setup an environment with BizTalk 2010, Windows Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2008 R2, all x64 and SCOM 2007 R2 to evaluate management packs)
  • Enhanced performance tuning capabilities at Host and Host Instance level.
  • Continued innovation in RFID Space with out of box event filtering and delivery of RFID events.

BizTalk future release after 2010 will be vNext and this will be built on top of Microsoft’s Windows AppFabric platform (Dublin app server plus Velocity caching technology). I myself have some experience around AppFabric and definitely something to explore and try out yourself (as Brian and Richard done as well). Keep an eye on progress in future on AppFabric.


Workflow 4 and soap faults

Workflow 4 and soap faults

WWF Logo

Image by ponChiang via Flickr

Note: This blog post is written using the .NET framework 4.0 RC 1


Using the ReceiveAndSendReply activity template and the WorkflowServiceHost it is easy to create a workflow service. Other applications can communicate with the workflow just as if it is a regular WCF service, they never need to know the difference. Most of the configuration is quite straightforward. Select the Receive activity and configure it and do the same with the SendReply activity. Most the settings normally done using a ServiceContract or an OperationContract are there.

But what about faults?

Turns out there is no property anywhere to specify anything about a possible fault being returned.


Throwing a FaultException

When a FaultException is thrown in a workflow service pretty much the expected thing is done. The exception is send to the client as a soap fault and the client, assuming .NET here, can catch it as a FaultException. No big deal so far.

How about a FaultException<T>?

Normally when you want to add extra information with a fault you create an extra class and decorate the service contract with a FaultContract attribute specifying the fault returned. This gets added to the service metadata and doing an Add Service Reference creates the required type on the client. But with a workflow service there is no service contract class we can add the attribute to. And there is no property we can use for this purpose either. So how do we specify the fault contract with a workflow service?

The trick is to add a second SendReply to the workflow associated with the same Receive activity. The second SendReply activity returns the fault contract and this is how it gets into the workflow service metadata. Adding the second SendReply is easy, just right click the Receive activity and select Create SendReply and the activity is there. Next create a variable to hold the fault information.


The FaultDetail I am using is real simple, all it does is send the data received back to the client.

using System.Runtime.Serialization;
namespace ServicesAndFaults
    public class FaultDetail
        public int Data { get; set; }


With this second SendReply activity, creating and throwing a FaultException the workflow looks like this:


With the following expression used to initialize the fault


The SendReply activity that is returning the error is configured like this:


With this setup adding a Service Reference from a client application and using the following code has the expected result

static void Main(string[] args)
    var proxy = new ServiceClient();
    catch (FaultException<FaultDetail> ex)
        Console.WriteLine("FaultException<FaultDetail> with {0}", ex.Detail.Data);
    catch (FaultException ex)



The output from the workflow in the service console application look like this. Note that the last message, of the workflow finishing, never appears. Not really surprising as we throw an error that is never caught and terminates the workflow.



But I want to keep my workflow alive!

Sometimes the behavior above is just fine but at other times it is not. Suppose you have been working on an order for months do you really want to terminate all that work just because of a single exception? Probably not.

The second way to return a fault to the calling client is just to return the FaultException or FaultException<T>  from the SendReply activity used to define it. The client will never know the difference but the workflow will keep on running perfectly happy. So all I needed to do is remove the Throw activity and let the second SendReply do its work.

This time the service console application output look like this:



Nice to know but this feature of Windows Workflow Foundation 4 does leave something to be desired in the discoverability department. Here is another document describing how to use this feature.


Download the source code



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WCF custom channels survey

WCF custom channels survey

Hi all,
Many of you love the extensibility of the channel model but have commented that writing custom channels is not for the faint hearted! :-). Here is your chance to feed us the problems you faced/ recommendations you offer and also, what additional channels would you like to see in the framework.
Please take a few minutes to fill this online survey –
Thank you!

Hooking into BizTalk’s underlying transaction in your custom receive pipeline component

Hooking into BizTalk’s underlying transaction in your custom receive pipeline component

This post is about how you can take advantage of the underlying transaction created by the Endpoint Manager on receive ports. This is pretty useful when you only want to commit certain changes in your receive custom pipeline component if the entire pipeline is successful. One obvious application for this is if you want to […]