Begineer to BizTalk Expert : Interview with M R Ashwin Prabhu

Welcome to Fiftheenth interview of the series, today's expert is M R Ashwin Prabhu.

M.R.Ashwin Prabhu is the founder and CEO of Fortuvis Systems Limited, a consulting company specialised in Microsoft technologies based in the UK. Ashwin is a highly experienced integration consultant who works with clients to deliver high quality solutions. He works as technical lead developer, application architect and consultant, specializing in custom applications, enterprise application integration using Microsoft BizTalk Server, WCF services and Windows Azure BizTalk Services.

He has worked  in many large integration projects for clients from business sectors like Insurance, Retail, Banking, Finance, Healthcare. He is very active is BizTalk community as a forums answerer, blogger, Wiki author/editor.

Ashwin Prabhu is a certified MCSD, MCTS: BizTalk Server BizTalk Server 2006, BizTalk Server 2006 R2 and BizTalk Server 2010


Ashwin is awarded Microsoft MVP award couple of times in a row.

Let's begin the interview.........

Mahesh: Who are you and what you do?
I am Ashwin Prabhu, I live in Reading, Berkshire in England.  I work as an independent Consultant specializing in Integration and Cloud technologies on the Microsoft technology platform. I work with customers from different business sectors providing integration solutions which involve BizTalk Connected Systems, Azure Logic Apps, Windows Azure Service Bus, WCF, Microsoft .net etc.

Mahesh: When did you start working on BizTalk?
In 2003 I started to work on a BizTalk project for a consulting company I was working for. This was the period when many clients started to use and embrace BizTalk server for their middleware needs. From then onwards I evolved along with BizTalk and worked on all versions of BizTalk server.

Mahesh: How did you mastered BizTalk (Learning path, amount of time)?
During 2003-2004 days number of BizTalk books and blogs were very limited. It’s an enterprise server product and one can only become an expert working in different BizTalk projects. Throughout my career I always worked for different consulting companies and now as an independent consultant I tend to work with different clients. Different clients bring different integration requirements. Working in different integration project certainly helped me to horn my skills. Also working with different version of BizTalk also helped to evolve along with the product. I always felt that with BizTalk you can’t become an expert just by reading few books and blogs, it’s a good starting point. It’s an enterprise server product and you can only become an expert working in different BizTalk projects. And also numerous hours spend on doing some R&D type researches to implement solution using BizTalk certainly helped me. Now with availability of quality books, blogs and product group’s involvement with community certainly helps to master the product.

Mahesh: Which are the major projects you handled so far?
I have handled a number of projects over the years, was part of the product team which did healthcare products for NHS which involved BizTalk in it, was part of a consulting team to one of the largest retailers in UK. With this retailer client I worked in development and also support team for a while, which certainly helped me to have hands on experience on both development and support side of an integration project.

Mahesh: How do you see BizTalk compare to other integration platform?
From problem-to-solution approach, almost all competitive products can functionally able to provide solution. While comparing products I would consider four important factors: History about the product (to see how mature and robust the product and product team is), comprehensive feature set (wide range of features a product can cover) and future roadmap on integration space (after comparing the past and present, it’s important to know the future plans) and community presence (in terms of shared knowledge pool and technical resource/specialist availability – It’s too risky to choose a too niche product). If you compare BizTalk with other integration platforms on these considerations, I doubt other platform/product would take the place to BizTalk.

Mahesh: What as per you is must to know to become an Integration (BizTalk) Expert?
It’s only the experience which will make someone an “Expert”. To become an integration “Expert”, one must have provided various enterprise level integration problems and better solutions to it.

Mahesh: What are your thoughts on forums, blogs and articles etc.?
Excellent knowledge pool. One of the strengths of BizTalk server is its community. Quality of blogs and articles, responses/solutions you get in forums are of very high.

Mahesh: Your suggestion to a newcomers? What should be approach to get sound knowledge in BizTalk?
Start something simple. Don’t complicate yourself by trying to learn everything in BizTalk. Start with a simple message-only integration, learn how this works. Learn the basics well before proceeding to some complex features. If you get a chance to work with a BizTalk team, start learning BizTalk along with real-life project. If you’re a .NET developer, BizTalk would be correct product in your next career path.

Mahesh: There are many tools from community which support BizTalk in some or the other way (like BTDF, Bizunit etc), what do you say about it? Which ones you would recommend? Why?
Though there may be many community-drive tools available for different things in BizTalk, due to strong community presence it’s easy for figure the best and various functions these tool can achieve. But no one tool is going to satisfy all your needs in that specific area, so you have to use it along with other tool to satisfy your need. For example, I always like BTDF. But what if you want to deploy an application which spread across multiple Visual studio solutions. You can use custom build scripts along with BDFT to achieve the same.

Mahesh: What are your thoughts around BizTalk certification?
Its bit outdated now. We don’t have any certification for latest version of BizTalk server as I reply this question now. They are certainly useful. Some customer prefer to see their BizTalk specialist to have certificate for BizTalk. But I would not judge someone based on certification.

Mahesh: What is the future of BizTalk?
Future looks promising for both on-premise and for cloud. These are exciting times in BizTalk space. Microsoft has many customers who use BizTalk for their mission critical integration projects. No product vendor would cease to provide service when they have proven source of revenue from that stream. Especially when you have competition mounting from different vendors, no product vendor would give away their market share they have already acquired to another vendor, I’m sure Microsoft would not do this mistake.

Mahesh: Any thoughts on cloud?
Integration scope has increased now. As said, integration needs have been expanded vertically into cloud. With more and more SaaS based products and companies trying to reduce cost on their server maintenances, cloud offerings are going to play key role for any product to position in this middle-ware market place. Microsoft is try to position itself in the cloud space. Microsoft with its experience and knowledge on providing a middleware product for on-premise integration needs for more than a decade, its cloud offering is going to stand out from its competitors. With Microsoft’s investment on App Service and Logic Apps, I believe it’s in right direction which is going to get better in future days. Future integration is not just going to be just on-premise or with services on cloud, it’s going to be more hybrid integration scenarios. With Microsoft proven track record on on-premise with BizTalk Server and its correct step toward cloud integration with Logic App, Microsoft is going to play a big role also in cloud. Keep watching this space.

Mahesh: What motivates you to do the community work?
If I say doing community work gives pleasure in sharing my knowledge, it would be bit of a cliché. Doing community work has many benefits for me. Obvious benefit is sharing makes the community what we have, one of the best communities I know. Also it will push you to learn, try more. It’s easy to become comfortable in doing what you know, just being on your comfort zone. But by breaking that comfort shell - doing R&Ds, trying new things and sharing tried thing with community grows your knowledge. Sharing the tried things as blogs, helps you to document your trails. Speaking about your trails in user groups connects you with the community, answering the MSDN forum helps you to be on your toes every time, helps you to know various real time scenarios, helps you to fine-tune your problem-solving skills. So doing community work is not always for others but for your own benefit too.

Mahesh: Being MVP, do you feel that responsibilities get added? What is your thought on MVP?
If you see MVP as a chance to make direct impact on the product you’re working one, you won’t see MVP as additional responsibilities. I see MVP as a catalyst, a motivational element to do community works which in turn has many benefits as I mentioned. MVP is not just all about doing community work. It opens the door of opportunities for you. A recognition for the hard work you do, interaction with the product group, to meet other community influencers and many more.

Thanks a lot Ashwin for sharing your insights and experiences, this will surely benefit many !!!

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

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