Begineer to BizTalk Expert : Interview with Bill Chesnut

Welcome to Seventeenth interview of the series, today's expert is Bill Chesnut.

He is Principal Consultant for Mexia Consulting based in Melbourne Australia. He started his career in IT in 1983 and have worked on numerous enterprise projects using Microsoft C/C++, Visual Basic and SQL Server. Most recently, he have been working on various application integration projects using C#, VB.NET, ASP.NET, XML, XSLT, SQL Server and BizTalk Server to connect a variety of Microsoft Business Solutions applications with other systems. He have been awarded a Microsoft MVP for BizTalk Server since 2004 for my community involvement in the Australian BizTalk User Community.He is very involved in the Microsoft User Group Community and have been a past leader of the Melbourne .Net User Group and worked closely with Microsoft to start a BizTalk User group in Melbourne and am now an active participant in both the Melbourne Azure group and the Brisbane Azure group. He is also a member for the Microsoft VTSP program for BizTalk.

Let's Begin the Interview

Mahesh: Who are you and what you do?
Bill: Bill Chesnut, Principal Consultant for Mexia, based in Melbourne, Australia
Was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, grew up in Berea, Kentucky, immigrated to Melbourne, Australia in 2000

Mahesh: When did you start working on BizTalk?
Bill: I started working with BizTalk 2000 in early 2001, while I was working for a Great Plains Dynamic reseller in Melbourne, Australia, we were working with Dan Murphy’s liqueur retails based in Melbourne, they were switching POS systems and needed a way to get transaction from the POS system into Great Plains, I had been reading some Microsoft information about BizTalk 2000 and thought it would be a good fit, we did a small POC and decided it would work.  We hit lots of challenges with BizTalk 2000 and ending up writing heaps of code and using MSMQ to single thread some of the message flow, but the project was a success and was used by Dan Murphy’s until they replaced Great Plains with SAP a few years ago.

Mahesh: How did you mastered BizTalk (Learning path, amount of time)?
Bill: The Great Plains Dynamics Reseller I was working for was purchased by a bigger company and I decided to join Readify (at that time called Monash.Net), a Microsoft .Net consultancy and training provider.  The 1st week I was there Microsoft call the owner and ask us to send someone to Redmond for the BizTalk 2004 ascend training and then return to Australia and go around the country and train all the partners in BizTalk 2004, the boss asked everyone if they knew anything about BizTalk and I was the only one that even knew what it was so off to Redmond I went.  I brought the ascend training material back to Australia and went around the country to train as many Microsoft Partner on BizTalk 2004, I also started up a BizTalk User Group and began doing presentation about the different features of BizTalk.  My mastery of BizTalk came by answering people’s question during the training with many late nights trying out my ideas.

Mahesh: Which are the major projects you handled so far?
Bill: Most of the BizTalk project in Australia are on a much smaller scale than those in the US or Europe, most of the project are at most 2 Enterprise BizTalk server for failover and the rest are single Standard Edition BizTalk.  Also working for Readify for just over 4 years, we did mostly mentoring and training, so I was not really part of any large project teams.  I then became Practice lead at Stargate Group and again, the majority of our BizTalk projects were on the small size but integrated with some of our other products and a bit of BizTalk training.  I then joined Mexia in 2011 and most of my work has been overseeing the technical side of our larger BizTalk project but again not directly working on the actual coding parts of the project and also doing some BizTalk training for our clients. 

Mahesh: How do you see BizTalk compare to other integration platform?
Bill: I have really only worked with the Microsoft stack since 1994, and to compare SQL DTS/SSIS to BizTalk would be a bit of a stretch.  I have been involved in some competitive tender processes around integration platforms and in the Australian marked, the big plus for BizTalk is it cost and the fact that is .Net and Visual Studio based.  I still believe that is its strongest features in the market and its best feature is that it works and typically just runs without much care and feeding.

Mahesh: What as per you is must to know to become an Integration(BizTalk) Expert?
Bill: I guess the thing I look for in an Integration Expert is someone that understand integration, from my training it has always been easier to teach someone that understands integration BizTalk than to teach a web or windows developer to thing in a message oriented way.

Mahesh: What are your thoughts on forums,blogs and articles etc.?
Bill: There is a lot of information about BizTalk out there now, but when I started the blog posts and forums were pretty scarce, but I guess the biggest issue I see today with the forums and blogs it that lots of the information is wrong or people recommend dropping into .Net instead of doing things the BizTalk way, which can cloud the picture for new people starting in BizTalk.

Mahesh: Your suggestion to a newcomers?
Bill: Make sure you are strong in the .Net technologies; BizTalk talk it not the answer to all the integration problems, spend time understanding integrations and messaging, BizTalk is a tool, if your though process is not integration focused no tool will solve your problems.

Mahesh: What should be approach to get sound knowledge in BizTalk?
Bill: You have to work with the product, there is no quick way to become an expert except working with the product, spend time on the forums, when you don’t know the answer spend time trying to solve the problem.  Send as much time as you can reading blog posts and articles, but realise that everything you read is not the best way, spend time trying other ways to solve the problem, because there is always multiple way to solve any problem.

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?
Bill: I have not typically used many of the community tools, recently I have been using BTDF heavily as part of an automated build and deployment for BizTalk solutions, there are thing I like about it and thing I wish they would fix.  I have also used BizUnit a bit, but recently using SpecFlow more for BizTalk integration testing.  I tend to use more code snippets and samples I find on the internet than a complete tool.

Mahesh: Which ones you would recommend?Why?
Bill: BTDF – it simplifies the build and deployment of BizTalk solutions in most cases and it works well with tools like TFS, VSTS, TeamCity and Octopus Deploy.

Mahesh: What are your thoughts around BizTalk certification?
Bill: There is a big hole in both BizTalk training and certification at the moment, the core BizTalk product has not changed that much in the recent years and Microsoft has not spent any money on either one recently, the only current certification for BizTalk is part of the Microsoft partner program and it fairly simplistic at best.  With BizTalk training, Quicklearn has excellent training material and trainers, but their business model just does not fit in the Australian market, people still want someone standing in front of them delivering the training.

Mahesh: What is the future of BizTalk?
Bill: Well, this is a good question, BizTalk’s death has been written about several times in the past, but it is still alive and kicking and I expect it to be for many years to come, but the move to the cloud is accelerating and even some of Mexia’s recently BizTalk Server projects are running the BizTalk infrastructure in Azure Virtual machines, because it is cheaper and easier to setup and manage.  I am very interested in what new features with be in BizTalk 2016 in relation to how it will interact better with the new Azure Logic Apps and the rest of the Azure stack.

Mahesh: Any thoughts on cloud?
Bill: It is here to stay and if you are not looking at using it for part of your integration strategy then you are doing your company and or clients a big disservice.  I believe that 2016 will be a big year for Integration with BizTalk 2016 and Logic Apps.

Mahesh: What motivates you to do the community work?
Bill:I guess my background as a trainer, makes me eager to help people learn about technology, I was involved in the Melbourne .Net User group when .Net 1.0 was still in beta and have been eager to help people continue in the .Net, Azure and BizTalk learning with all the new releases.  I have also always had employers that were very supportive of my community work.

Mahesh: Being MVP, do you feel that responsibilities get added?
Bill: Yes, I do, I think the nature of an MVP is someone that is eager to help other with their chosen technology.  And that MVP need to be leaders in both their local communities and in the wider country and world communities, so for most MVP spare time is something that we all can remember having before we became MVPs.

Mahesh: What is your thought on MVP?
Bill: The MVP program is a great program, it has given me that extra connection to the Microsoft Product team that has both helped shape the BizTalk product and helped me do a better job delivering high quality BizTalk and Azure solution to our company and clients.  I have just been renewed from the 13th year and have been a BizTalk MVP, Microsoft Integration MVP and now an Azure MVP, but nothing has really changed about my Integration focus.  I do believe that the condensing of lots of the MVP specialties into a few is a good thing, I was already doing heaps of stuff in the community around Azure and I am now an Azure MVP.

Mahesh: As per the Roadmap provided by Microsoft,LogicApps can be run on-premise in addition to Azure.Do you think Azure Stack Logic Apps on prem will supersede BizTalk Server?
Bill: I think eventually it might, but not in the near term, there are still heaps of things that BizTalk is the only way to do, but I think it is only a matter of time until they add those capabilities to Azure and Azure Stack. I think the Azure Stack will make BizTalk Dev and Test much easier for those company that are not able to move to the cloud currently because of security and privacy reasons.

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

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

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  1. The content is still actual and worth a reading for new employees starting with BizTalk

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