Begineer to BizTalk Expert: Interview with Steve Melan

Welcome to the 31st interview of the series, today's expert is Steve Melan .

He is  working as an IT Architect for the State's and Government Bank of Luxembourg (BCEE) since 2005. His main focus is on Host Integration Server (IBM Legacy Integration and Migration).

Specialties: Programming Languages : C#, VB.NET, COBOL
Technologies : ASP.NET, Winforms, WCF, LINQ, ADO.NET, IBM CICS
Databases : IBM DB2, MS SQL Server
Microsoft Products : Visual Studio, BizTalk, Host Integration Server, Team Foundation Server, Internet Information Services, Surface, Kinect

Let’s begin the interview…

Mahesh: Who are you and what you do? 
Steve: My name is Steve Melan, I’m a Senior Solution Architect at the State’s and Saving’s Bank of Luxembourg (also called BCEE / Spuerkeess). I’ve started working at the bank in the year 2005 by building a complete new infrastructure based on the Microsoft .Net Framework. As the bank still uses IBM Legacy/Heritage Product, I integrated the IBM Mainframe into the .Net Architecture using Microsoft Host Integration Server (part of the Microsoft BizTalk Server). I architect, design solutions, guide installation and configurations of BizTalk, Host Integration and Internet Information Server environments. Within the Business Unit Application Integration and Middleware (AIM), I lead a group of around four professionals regarding knowledge management and am responsible for sharing knowledge, exchanging experiences, and facilitating internal trainings. Since 2006, I’m working together with the Microsoft Host Integration Server Product Team in Redmond in order to fix bugs, increase security and to add more new features to their product. In 2013, I’ve received the Microsoft MVP Award for the first time. 

Mahesh: When did you start working on BizTalk?
Steve: 2006, I’ve started using BizTalk Adapter for Host Systems (Host Integration Server).
2009, I’ve started using BizTalk Server 2009.

Mahesh: How did you mastered BizTalk (Learning path, amount of time)?
Steve: In 2007, I’ve got a great overview of the BizTalk Server during the Microsoft TechEd and TechDays. Several ‘Hands-on-Lab’ helped me to start my first BizTalk Project. After that, I learnt almost everything from books (like BizTalk Recipes – A Problem-Solution Approach) and from blogs (like Saravana Kumar).

Mahesh:Which are the major projects you handled so far?
Steve: Actually, the bank is running more than 65 different BizTalk Projects based on a framework I’ve started developing in 2010. One of the most important project was the migration from eGate (Java EAI/ESB) to BizTalk. Another very important project was the integration of SWIFT (FINancial Messaging) using the BizTalk Swift Accelerator.

Mahesh: What do you think is the most challenging part while working on Integration project?
Steve: The most challenging part is to understand how the different infrastructures are working in order to integrate them in one common framework. 

Mahesh: How do you see BizTalk compare to other integration platform?
Steve: BizTalk is still one of the key actors in the integration space. The biggest advantage of BizTalk compared to other integration platforms is that Microsoft offers a complete stack of products to ensure an easy and smooth integration.

Mahesh: What as per you is must to know to become an Integration(BizTalk) Expert?
Steve: Becoming an Integration Expert means that you have to know a lot of different technologies and the experience you have in different domains allows you to choose the best available solution for an integration project.

Mahesh: What are your thoughts on forums, blogs and articles etc.?
Steve: The community around a product is always a key of success for the platform. Microsoft encourages the community by rewarding their technical skills with the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Award (MVP). Thru blogs and articles, companies get inside information about features, bugs, fixes and the roadmap of a product.

Mahesh: Your suggestion to a newcomer? What should be approached to get sound knowledge in BizTalk?
Steve: As BizTalk is a highly complex product, newcomers should start with simple projects like a basic receive and send between two folders. This project should serve as a foundation to extend the skills. You have to learn a lot of different technologies by reading and observing. Books, blogs, articles and ‘Hand-on-labs’ are a good start to become an expert. During one large project, you will of course face several difficulties, but these will allow you to increase your skills.

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? No Microsoft support available?
Steve:There are several products available from the community that I’m using in my everyday business. BizTalk360 allows you to get more inside information about what is going on inside of BizTalk. In addition, it allows you to do all the basic application and server handling with just one click from a well-designed web interface. BizTalk MessageBoxViewer and HealthMonitor are two essential products for the administration and health check of the infrastructure.

Mahesh: What is the future of BizTalk?
Steve:BizTalk isn’t dead. That is what most competitors want. BizTalk is still alive and the community grows. The BizTalk Product Team actually collects new ideas for BizTalk vNext ( BizTalk will remain being one of the Microsoft key product for integration and allows to build a hybrid integration platform

Mahesh: What motivates you to do the community work?
Steve:For me, the highest compliment is to see people finding their solutions through my answers. The biggest motivation is that this community work has helped me both, share and receive knowledge. In addition, I’ve got in touch with many great IT people, now I consider them as my friends.

Mahesh: As per the Roadmap provided by Microsoft, Logic Apps will be able to run on-premise in addition to AZURE. Do you think Azure Stack Logic Apps on prem will supersede BizTalk Server?
Steve: Microsoft Logic Apps on-premise will completely fill a gap. Getting this now available in Azure Stack is something that the community was waiting for. They allow you to create easily a hybrid cloud with some of the BizTalk capabilities. Azure Stack Logic Apps will NOT supersede BizTalk Server. From my point of view these are two different products that allow integration. BizTalk Server is much more advanced in mappings and orchestrations than Logic Apps.

Mahesh: From my perspective, Microsoft keeps coming up with overlapping technologies like recent ones MABS, Microsoft Flow and Logic Apps, in some situation it gets puzzling. What you say?
Steve:These technologies have all something in common. They allow integration between heterogeneous infrastructures but they are targeting a complete different group of users. Microsoft Flow is an amazing easy to learn platform for end users as Logic Apps are more focused on IT people. Microsoft should create a ‘poster’ showing how all these technologies work together.

Mahesh: How do you see the step of Microsoft releasing Feature Pack for BizTalk?
Steve: Releasing BizTalk Feature Packs allows customers to get easier and faster new features for the product. Before BizTalk 2016, customers had to wait for a next BizTalk release in order to get new features.

Mahesh: Do you think the cost of using cloud services (Logic App, Service Bus etc) will be more than having infrastructure on prem. (Where transactions are in millions or more)?
Steve: The use of the cloud offers many advantages that you cannot cover with an on-premise infrastructure like fast and dynamic scaling in case of a temporary high load. It is hard to compare because maintaining an on-premise infrastructure also has some costs. It depends really on the needs and I think that hybrid scenarios will be the key of success.

Mahesh: Recently BizTalk components are made open source, how do you see this Microsoft Move?
Steve: Opening the BizTalk component framework is a great move from Microsoft. It allows the community to extend the product.

Mahesh: Being a MVP, do you think more responsibility gets added on you?
Steve:Being a MVP, means having more responsibility. People are looking up to you and consider you as being their solution hero. It’s a privilege being part of the MVP family. You get so much great deep information about a product, help to shape the vNext release and to fix bugs. The Microsoft Product Team uses you as their specialist on the field to get information how their product is getting used.

Thanks a lot Steve for taking out time and sharing your insights, experiences, this will surely benefit many !!!

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

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