Begineer to BizTalk Expert : Interview with Sam Vanhoutte

Welcome to eighth interview of the series, today's expert is Sam Vanhoutte.

Sam Vanhoutte is Chief Architect with Codit, a Belgian/French company, focusing on integration solutions. Based in Belgium, Sam is a Microsoft BizTalk Virtual Technology Specialist and has extensive experience in building integrated enterprise, ESB and SOA solutions. Because of the specialized focus on integration on Microsoft technology, Sam is part of Microsoft’s Connected Systems and Azure Advisory boards. Being a BizTalk expert the last 10 years, Sam has been focusing on Cloud integration with the Windows Azure platform the last years, focusing on the AppFabric technology.
Sam is blogging on the Codit blog ( and can be followed on Twitter at

Specialties:Microsoft .Net development, BizTalk, EAI, B2B, ASP.Net, Web development, Project Management, MCP, MCSD

Let's begin the interview....

Mahesh: Who are you and what you do?
Sam:I am Sam Vanhoutte, CTO at Codit and 2nd year Integration MVP. I live in Belgium and I am a happy husband as well as a proud father of my two kids. 
In our company, I focus on presales and technology research and strategy. 

Mahesh: When did you start working on BizTalk?
Sam:I started with BizTalk Server 2000, just after it was released. That was on my first job, where we were building an e-Invoicing platform, fully based on BizTalk Server and MSMQ. As you might know, BizTalk 2000 was nowhere near the BizTalk we know today, but still we were able to build very interesting integration flows and mapping logic there.

Mahesh: How did you mastered BizTalk (Learning path, amount of time)?
Sam: After my first job, I joined a manufacturing company, that has one of the biggest BizTalk implementations that I was involved with. At the time I joined, there was no implementation of BizTalk yet, and we took the risk of building the project on BizTalk Server 2004 - beta! That was the first version of BizTalk as we know it today and because I was the only developer on that project at that time, I was able to learn a lot of things myself. Community was very young then, so I had to do a lot of self-learning and research there. That really made me understand BizTalk and its underlying engine better. It was also on that project that I had a call with a support engineer in Redmond. That engineer was helping me on the SAP adapter (beta) with an issue and he said. Hello, I am Guru Ventkataraman, but you can call me Guru. 10 years later, both of us are still around!

It was also on that project, that I got to know Bernard, the founder of Codit. We started talking about BizTalk and challenged each other. And end of 2004, I joined Codit, where I celebrated my 10th anniversary, last year. And looking back at the last 10 years, I'm really happy and proud to see where our company is at this point.

What I believe that is very crucial in the learning path of BizTalk, is to get to understand the messaging engine of BizTalk. The entire pub/sub system is really the heart of that big product. But everything, really everything, is built and based on top of that. That's what I believe is crucial for everybody that wants to start with BizTalk. The amount of time to master BizTalk, really depends on the person itself, I'm afraid.

Mahesh: Which are the major projects you handled so far?
Sam: As I mentioned, that project in my second job was pretty huge, even though it started on a rather small scale. At this point, this customer is having 18 BizTalk environments in production, world wide. All of these servers are communicating with each other, in a 'federated ESB setup'. 

Next to that, I worked on a lot of other enterprise customers that each had various impressive features linked with them. Some had a huge time pressure to get things done, another was not high on throughput, but had extreme high availability requirements. Another one had to integrate with complex systems in a reliable fashion, etc. 

In the past 4 years, I have been managing the development and design of our Integration Cloud platform. I really had the luck to have a very skilled development team in our company, so that I could focus on design, roadmap and architecture. That has probably been the most challenging and daring project I was involved in so far. That's why I'm so happy to see some large customers running their integration workload on Integration Cloud.

Mahesh: How do you see BizTalk compare to other integration platform?
Sam: The nice thing is that BizTalk competes on different levels.They can compete with the more expensive, traditional systems (such as Oracle, Tibco, Websphere) on pricing, as well as the enterprise readiness. I often see in comparative 'Proof of Concepts' that with BizTalk, we are mostly providing the fastest time-to-value than many of these other players.

Looking at the other integration platforms (such as Dell Boomi, Descartes, Mule), I believe that BizTalk will always win, when there is a need for complex integrations.

I also believe that with the announced Micro services architecture and the portal-driven experience, the time to value (especially for lightweight integration) will be extremely high. So I am really looking forward to this.

Mahesh: What as per you is must to know to become an Integration(BizTalk) Expert?
Sam : You have to know and understand the Publish/Subscribe engine and how it relates to the underlying data store. As I mentioned earlier, everything else is based on that. Next to that, it is important to understand how every component in the overall project/solution is dependant on another. It is also crucial to understand how to make mission critical and high available solutions, as that is what is mostly needed in a BizTalk project.

And oh yes. Streaming pipeline components. If you can write that, understand that and explain that to a new BizTalk developer, you can probably call yourself an expert ;)

Mahesh: What are your thoughts on forums,blogs and articles etc.?
Sam: They are really needed and very helpful. When we started with BizTalk Server 2004, the community around BizTalk was very young and small. What speaks for itself is that there are still a lot of the community players around from that time. It's great to see that BizTalk has always been a very nice and collaborative community. I didn't blog, back then, but I spent a lot of time on the forums, both asking questions and answering them. 

In the past 5 years, I started blogging more and more on the Codit blog and I always tried to focus on the new and upcoming trends and technologies,such as cloud, BizTalk Services and Service Bus.

Mahesh: Your suggestion to a newcomers? What should be approach to get sound knowledge in Biztalk?
Sam: The nice thing is that there's a lot of information built for you. And that's a challenge at the same time. The best thing to learn the technology, is to join a project with experienced BizTalk guys. There you will learn on the job, which is always the best way.Next to that, there are a lot of books around and tons of articles (for example on MSDN wiki, where some of the integration MVP's have written what could count as the BizTalk wikipedia).

Mahesh: What are your thoughts around BizTalk certification?
Sam: Certification is something that we see important for our employees. Every technical profile is certfied at Codit or they are planning to do this in the first 6 months of their career. On the same time, certification isn't a guarantee at all that a person is an expert.

Mahesh: What is the future of BizTalk?
Sam: I love this question. It is clear that the team is at a new important milestone. BizTalk Server is the product that runs at several thousand of enterprise customers, often in a mission critical environment. That is something that Microsoft really understands and that probably also is the reason why BizTalk's core engine didn't have too much drastic changes in the past versions. Backward compatibility is crucial and that's what the team seems to understand.

At the same time, we can see that there are new scenarios coming up (saas integration, IoT, distributed EAI, B2B, business oriented workflows) that need a new architecture. And that's what the team is currently working on. Getting the core functionalities from BizTalk Server into the new architecture in the cloud is a big challenge, and it will take some time. But I am confident (especially with the recent change of direction, on microservices) that they will get there. And that next version will be a BizTalk version that can run in the cloud or in the local data center, a version that is ready for the new integration scenarios and a version that can run complex and lightweight integrations. 

Mahesh: Any thoughts on cloud?
Sam : When Azure was still called Red Dog, I started building a prototype for an integration platform in the cloud. We didn't have Service Bus yet, there were no IaaS virtual machines yet and there was no talk of the Virtual Networking capabilities yet. But still, I was convinced that cloud was there to stay and that PaaS was the future.
After deciding we were going to invest in this platform (Integration Cloud), the best decision I have taken, was to throw away that prototype (putting it in the TFS fridge) and hand over the idea to our product development team. They implemented that runtime in such a way that we now have a flexible platform that runs enterprise customers on Azure and that is ready to evolve and benefit from the constant changes and new features that are getting added in Azure.

Specific to integration, it really depends on the scenario to decide to go for cloud or not. If all applications are in the same data center (co-hosted), it's probably not the best choice to aim for an integration platform as a service. It might be best to put the ESB where the data is.However, I believe that cloud integration (or a hybrid integration setup) definitely has it's value in the following scenarios:

<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>B2B Integration, as all data is

integrated and sent out through the cloud anyway.

<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>SaaS integration, where one or

more applications are deployed as a service

<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>Distributed EAI, where

applications are deployed in separate data centers.

<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>Integration as a Service, where

the entire integration platform is outsourced to a partner (hosting,
managed services, development, licensing…)

Mahesh: What motivates you to do the community work?
Sam: While no one will admit it, I believe you have to be at least a little vain to become an MVP. But more important, it is great to take time to invest in new technologies, paradigms and architectures. And that's what I often do. I take a new technology that I want to get to know and I submit for talks on that subject. And that forces me to learn about those technologies and to invest into it. 

I got a lot of value from the community and I am very happy to give value back to the community. It not only helps me in getting to understand technology better, but it also helps other people in learning. And finally it's also good for our company to get visibility.

Thank you for the interview !

Thanks a lot Sam, great insights, this will surely benefit many.

Feel Free to ask questions to Sam in the comments!!!!!!!!

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