Begineer to BizTalk Expert : Interview with Greg Forsythe

Welcome to Eighteenth interview of the series, today's expert is Greg Forsythe.

Let's begin the Interview.....

Mahesh: Who are you and what you do?
Greg: My name is Greg Forsythe, I was born in New Zealand and returned here 20 years ago after a decade of travelling the world. I am married and the father of two adult children. I have worked in IT for 30+ years and seen a lot of change. I love the challenge of learning new things and tend to learn by doing, and am always downloading the latest beta products, SDKs and trying out the Azure previews.

Mahesh: When did you start working on BizTalk?
Greg: My introduction to BizTalk was in 1999, with the beta of BizTalk 2000. Not a lot of good things were ever written about BizTalk 2000 or its successor BizTalk 2002 and with good reason. I was again involved in the beta of BizTalk 2004 which embraced the new .NET technologies and was a vast improvement on its predecessor. I have used every version since and am continuing to learn. 

Mahesh: How did you master BizTalk (Learning path, amount of time)?
Greg: Most of the knowledge I have gained with BizTalk is from experience - working out how to solve problems. There are a lot of smart people out there who have come up with interesting solutions to problems they have encountered. These people have probably been my best teachers. Remember Google can be your best friend. 

Mahesh: Which are the major projects you handled so far?
Greg: I have worked on quite a few BizTalk projects in the last 15 years. From retail chains, telecoms, banking and finance, insurance and more recently education and health care. One of my favourites was in health insurance building a web site interface for contracted providers. We used a combination BizTalk and pure WCF services all secured using SAML. This was done just before WIF was released so we had to build our own SAML token server and we learnt a lot of lessons on the way. 

Mahesh: How do you see BizTalk compare to other integration platform?
Greg: I don’t have a lot of experience with other integration platforms. Have been involved in projects where we had to integrate with WebSphere from IBM, and SeeBeyond/JCAPS/Oracle SOA Suite. More recently MuleSoft is making big gains in the integration space and this looks like a good product. All of these products were capable of producing the results and the choice of platform came down to non-technical decisions such as existing commercial relationships, costs of licensing and training. 
BizTalk found a niche because of competitive licensing and a lot of companies running Microsoft infrastructure and a large pool of .Net developers.

Mahesh: What as per you is must to know to become an Integration(BizTalk) Expert?
Greg: The key with integration is learning the patterns. Technology is ever changing but the patterns are more constant. We have moved from XML/SOAP web services to REST and JSON. From less than 100 integration points to millions with mobile and billions with IoT. But the basic patterns are still the same.
Another key skill is knowing when not to use BizTalk, i.e. when you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. I have worked on BizTalk solutions much better suited to SSIS and others where every single web service goes thru BizTalk, even a simple query for values to put in a dropdown list. Implementing solutions on integration servers can be expensive both in development and resource costs. Use BizTalk for solutions where it will add value.

Mahesh: What are your thoughts on forums, blogs and articles etc.?
Greg: These are an invaluable resource. Chances are someone else has tried to do something similar to what you need and struggled for a solution and posted a question. Post questions yourself if you cannot find an answer, there are a lot of people that may be able to give you an answer.
I used forums as a learning device, trying to discover the answer to questions. I have a lot of BizTalk projects created to test possible solutions to people’s problems. Someone else may come up with a better solution, but this is just another opportunity to learn.

Mahesh: Your suggestion to a newcomer? What should be approach to get sound knowledge in BizTalk?
Greg: I guess the first step is becoming familiar with the product and the tools. Get a VM and install BizTalk, SQL and Visual Studio. This can sometimes be a bit of a mission, but I can almost guarantee someone has hit whatever problems you will have and has solved it and written it down in a blog post or forum answer. I tend to learn far more from failure than success.
Go to MSDN and look for BizTalk tutorials. Have a play at creating and deploying a solution. Go to the forums and see if you can solve someone’s 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? Which ones you would recommend? Why?
Greg: There are a lot of open source resources for BizTalk, some good and some not so good. One issue with open source solutions is the time and energy required to maintain and improve them. Some tools offer great promise but fail to deliver their full potential due to lack of resources. 
I would urge people to get involved. As well as contributing to the community you will also learn a lot about BizTalk. The more you know about how BizTalk works, the better your solutions will be.

Mahesh: What are your thoughts around BizTalk certification?
Greg: I am in two minds about certification, not just with BizTalk.  Having a certification shows a degree of commitment, however being able to study and pass an exam is not nearly as good as experience. And this is the catch-22 for beginners, maybe getting involved in the community is the answer. I would be more impressed by someone putting open source contributor on their CV than a certificate, but both would be better.

Mahesh: What is the future of BizTalk?
Greg: BizTalk as a product, definitely has a limited life span.  But in saying that BizTalk will be around for a long time to come. Most IT departments are unable discard one technology for another very quickly. Just consider flat files and FTP. These technologies have been around forever but are still the staple of many integrations.
The basic concepts of integrating systems and processes will remain the same. Anyone working in BizTalk will find most of their skills will apply to the next set of tools. What does an adapter do? How does a pub/sub engine work? How do you correlate asynchronous processes? What is the best model for scaling your application?

Mahesh; Any thoughts on cloud?
Greg: The cloud is the future. It is not just a matter of renting a virtual machine in someone else’s data centre. It is the tools and services that back up the cloud that make the difference. A common tool set that comes with the platform that you do not have to invent yourself. How to deploy and scale applications. How to monitor and diagnose problems. 
The imminent release of Azure Stack will make these technologies ubiquitous. Soon people will wonder how they managed to build applications without these tools.

Mahesh: What motivates you to do the community work?
Greg: I guess it is a combination of factors. The desire to help others, the chance to learn new things and I guess there is also some ego involved as well.

Mahesh: You have been MVP, do you feel that responsibilities get added? What is your thought on MVP?
Greg: Being and MVP was a privilege. I did not feel any extra responsibilities were added and there were some definite advantages to being an 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 premise will supersede BizTalk Server?
Greg: Logic apps are not a complete replacement for BizTalk. However, in combination with the Service Bus and Web apps will one day provide a better tool set than BizTalk. I would expect the Azure integration tools both locally with Azure Stack and in the cloud will replace the need to use BizTalk. 
However, don’t be too hasty. Logic apps are still a work in progress. And while their list of API’s is growing fast there are still a few areas where BizTalk is currently superior. I suspect this will not remain this way for long as Microsoft continues to invest heavily in Azure.

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

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

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