Microsoft solution accelerator for business desktop deployment (BDD) v2.5 released

Thomas Lee reports that Microsoft have released updated versions of the business desktop deployment (BDD) enterprise edition and standard edition solution accelerators.

As he provided my BDD training, Thomas knows far more on the topic than I do and his blog carries details of the improvements in BDD v2.5.

If BDD is a mystery to you, check out my post from earlier in the year about the Microsoft solution accelerator for business desktop deployment, the Microsoft solutions framework and the Microsoft operations framework.

Looking at what’s coming in BizTalk Server 2006

I’m not a BizTalk Server expert (by any stretch of the imagination), but I do know the concepts behind the product. Just before I left Conchango, I had the opportunity to attend a session delivered by Sue MacDermott (a technical pre-sales specialist with Microsoft UK) where she outlined the new features in the next release – BizTalk Server 2006 – currently scheduled for en early 2007 release. Some of what I was told is covered by a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), but the information below is in the public domain.

BizTalk Server 2006 is not a major release – Microsoft’s current cycle is for a major release every four years and an incremental release in between, so from that we can expect to see the next major BizTalk release, making use of the Windows communication foundation (codenamed Indigo), to be released in early 2008.

It is a common misconception that BizTalk Server 2006 will be released this November, at the same time as Visual Studio 2005 (codenamed Whidbey) and SQL Server 2005 (codenamed Yukon). In fact, it is expected that BizTalk Server 2006 will be officially launched at the same November 7th event, but the only product available at that time is expected to be beta 2. At the time of writing, Microsoft expect to provide a release candidate in the new year, before the product is finally released in the spring.

The reason for the delay (and the 2006 moniker, whereas SQL Server and Visual Studio are both 2005 products) is that there is a dependency on some of the 2005 technologies that are being released in November – namely Visual Studio 2005 and the Microsoft .NET Framework v2.0. There are no hard dependencies on SQL Server 2005, and BizTalk Server 2006 can used either SQL Server 2000 or 2005, but Microsoft did say that initial testing has indicated significant performance improvements when run on the latest SQL Server build (one of my former colleagues at Conchango indicated this may be as much as 30% faster).

Detailing all of the enhancements in BizTalk Server 2006’s is too much for a single blog post, (and in any case, much of the information should soon be available from Microsoft) but the main improvements are across the following areas:

  • Management and operations, introducing the concept of a BizTalk application which groups related components such that the administrator’s view can match the application architecture.
  • Business user empowerment with real-time alerting and notification, a business activity monitoring (BAM) portal and deeper Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) integration.
  • Windows server system integration (with support for SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005 and the Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0, Virtual server 2005 the 64-bit versions of Windows Server 2003).
  • Setup, upgrade and deployment, with a new installer which checks for dependencies (split into mandatory “T1” items, which will block installation if they are missing, and “T2” items such as MSXML where a .CAB file may be downloaded if necessary to ensure that the latest versions are available at installation time), simplified configuration (through the application paradigm), and improved orchestration deployment (down from 74 clicks in BizTalk server 2004 to just a few operations within the new BizTalk Administration Console).

Other improvement areas are the core engine, with improvements around:

  • Handling large messages during a transformation – writing out to disk rather than running out of memory, albeit with a corresponding performance hit.
  • Handling bad messages with out having to roll back all related messages.
  • Ordered delivery to ensure that sequenced messages arrive in sequence.
  • More granular performance counters.
  • A new flat file schema wizard.
  • Engine throttling.

There are also new adapters, with MSMQ and MQSeries adapters now available out of the box (for BizTalk Server 2004 these were separate downloads), as well as new e-mail receive (POP3) and Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) adapters. In addition, existing adapters are enhanced (e.g. e-mail compose within the SMTP adapter, usability improvements and performance counters for adapter troubleshooting). Other new features include the ability to connect to UNC file shares using alternate credentials, SOAP array support and an ability to call web services without orchestrations (i.e. messaging only scenarios) using content based routing (CBR) send ports, and the ability to suspend failing HTTP requests.

On the development front there are new redeployment tools, support for zooming in/out of large orchestrations, and collapsed shapes are preserved in the orchestration designer (OD).

Overall, administration is simplified so that most operations are controlled through the BizTalk Administration Console; although health and activity tracking (HAT) is still available and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) is recommended for monitoring not only BizTalk (with an updated management pack) but also all of the related components (IIS, SQL Server, etc.).

The BizTalk Administration Console is a Microsoft management console (MMC) snap-in, with a new group hub concept which allows the overall status to be viewed at a glance, as well as improvements for analysing the root cause of issues, isolating errors, grouping and filtering of queries, and bulk operations (e.g. resume all, terminate all, suspend all).

Administration can also be performed via scripting APIs, or the command line (a number of sample scripts are available).

Microsoft are making a great play on the ordered processing functionality in BizTalk Server 2006 and the demonstration I saw showed a graphical application with sending and receiving components whereby the presenter wrote her name in the sending application the vectors for the pixelated data were sent to make it appear (albeit a bit jumbled), in the receiving application. Once ordered delivery was enabled, the sending and receiving copies were identical. This ordered processing can be handled in a number of ways and send-side order processing is available for any adapter; but if implemented on the receiving end, it requires an adapter with appropriate support (e.g. MSMQ or MQSeries) or for sequential data, an HTTP or SOAP adapter can be used. Orchestrations can use the ordered delivery setting on the orchestration receive port and a orchestration convoy to get the stream of ordered messages.

Looking at the new adapters, the WSS adapter features:

  • Receipt of documents from (and posting documents to) a SharePoint document library.
  • Filter inbound documents based on views.
  • Archival of documents to another document library.
  • Promotion of document properties.

The new POP3 adapter features:

  • Polling for e-mail and attachments via a POP3 receive location.
  • Population of e-mail header properties within the message context.
  • POP3 over SSL.
  • Configurable TCP port number.

Line of business adapter choices are also enhanced with Microsoft’s purchase of the iWay adapters for:

  • Clarify.
  • JD Edwards.
  • Oracle Applications.
  • Oracle DB.
  • PeopleSoft.
  • SAP.
  • Siebel.
  • TIBCO Rendezvous.
  • TIBCO JMS (EMS).

(iWay customers that have purchased licenses for the .NET-based adapters will receive a license for the corresponding Microsoft adapter with the purchase of Software Assurance).

A major enhancement in BizTalk Server 2006 is the flat file schema wizard – used to accept messages from a flat file, for example a comma separated variables (.CSV) file, an EDI document, or a text file produced by a custom legacy application. To enable processing of this format using BizTalk Server developer needs to define a flat file schema (an XSD with additional flat file annotations).

Also improved is the interchange processing related to flat file document interchange. In BizTalk Server 2004, one bad document will result in the whole interchange being suspended whereas with BizTalk Server 2006’s recoverable interchange processing, only the “bad” elements are suspended and most of the processing is carried out as normal.

For business users, BizTalk Server 2006 has improved alerting capabilities, finally providing real time information via a new out-of-the-box portal and native integration with BizTalk messaging. There is also a software development kit with a new dynamic web part generator for WSS as well as integration with the Microsoft Office Business Scorecards Accelerator and SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services.

Finally, for those who want to have a look at BizTalk Server 2006, Owen’s blog has details of where to download the latest beta.

A quiet news day?

Today must be a “quiet news day”. We see precious little IT news in the national press, and I know it’s the middle of August, but Metro, the UK’s free newspaper for commuters in and out of our major cities, is really scraping the barrel with its IT reporting this morning. On page 21, a sixth of a page is given over to a story about a worm attacking Windows 2000 (Hackers target Windows 2000) – an officially unsupported operating system. I wouldn’t mind that such a non-event is reported if only it were accurate. According to the Metro article:

“The basic effect of the worm is not damaging but irritating – it forces the computer to repeatedly shut down and reboot, clogging networks.”

Since when did a reboot clog up a network? (A few bytes of DHCP traffic; an increased number of logons). Allegedly, “ABC News producers were forced to use electronic typewriters to prepare TV scripts”. It seems to me that the most pertinent point of the article was the quote from a security expert from McAfee who said that the time between vulnerability exposure and exploit is lessening – something we’ve known for some time now. Microsoft’s advice on what to do about this exploit, known as Zotob indicates that “only a small number of customers have been affected… [with] no indication of widespread impact to the Internet” (although Sophos lists a dozen types of malware exploiting the MS05-039 vulnerability used by Zotob).

The Metro reporter, Sarah Hills, needs to do some research – perhaps instead of alarming a generally computer-illiterate public she should point out that Windows 2000 is old and those organisations affected should tighten up their anti-virus protection! More to the point, the exploit also affects Windows XP and Windows Server 2003 – not just Windows 2000!

In the same paper, immediately below the “Hackers target Windows 2000” piece, is another one about how “Bluetooth thieves log your laptop”, scanning parked cars for Bluetooth devices locked in the boot. Isn’t Bluetooth off when my laptop is switched off?

I know it’s all about stories being newsworthy, but what I’d really like to see is the occasional IT piece in the national press which is both accurate and timely, without being alarmist.

RTFM…

I haven’t really come across Fujitsu PCs and servers since I left ICL in 2000; but now I’m back on board at Fujitsu Services (same company – different name), not surprisingly, my new work laptop is a Fujitsu Siemens Lifebook S7010D. It seems like a really good notebook PC (although I find the absence of quick launch function keys in order to make room for a PIN-entry security pad a little strange – I would have preferred an integrated fingerprint reader like those offered on selected IBM ThinkPads).

When I brought the laptop home and the onboard wireless LAN card didn’t detect any of the four wireless networks within range of my home office, I naturally assumed it was broken (based on previous experience with a Dell Latitude D600); but then I had a similar problem with Bluetooth communications so I did the unthinkable (for any self-respecting IT infrastructure consultant) – I called the IT helpdesk.

In what must have qualified for my most embarrassing helpdesk call ever, I found out that there is a switch on the front of the PC to enable/disable the wireless LAN and Bluetooth module. Once enabled, everything sprung into life. Doh!

Maybe next time I’ll RTFM.

Practical advice for webmasters

Last year I blogged some advice on spam-proofing a website from Thomas Brunt’s Outfront site. Although Outfront is billed as a “FrontPage learning community” (urgh!), it also includes some practical advice for web authoring techniques such as looking at writing pages which are compliant with web standards, advanced use of mailto links and preparing photos for publication on a website, as well as some topics I have covered in this blog like custom error pages and the use of .htaccess files.

The site also features a good description of RSS (although most people familiar with blogs will also know RSS!) and design tips for producing a good website.

Using e-mail properly

Craig Murphy has a whole load of interesting advice filed under project management, and one which caught my eye tonight was his post on using e-mail properly. Speaking as someone who spent two hours yesterday filing the last month’s worth of business e-mail (after spending too much of his holiday time generally getting his files which were spread across several PCs and external hard disks into some kind of order), I think I might try to take some of this on board in my new job

Getting around Windows file protection/system file checker

For anyone who’s ever struggled to get rid of a Windows component without Windows file protection/system file checker kicking in, I recommend Wes Miller’s post on how to banish Movie Maker from your system. This doesn’t just apply to Movie Maker – you can use the same method to remove any non-critical (or critical for that matter!) component from Windows.

Microsoft RAW image thumbnailer and viewer for Windows XP

When I’m not “messing around with technology” my main hobby is photography and last September I bought a Nikon D70 digital SLR camera. Since then, I’ve taken almost 3000 digital images, all as 6 megapixel JPEG images, but for those images which are a bit more than just family snaps I’d really like to make use of raw mode (without needing to buy Nikon Capture software). Tonight, I found the Microsoft raw image thumbnailer and viewer for Windows XP.

Although this won’t allow me to edit raw images, according to Microsoft, it does provide “the ability to view, organize, and print photos captured in raw image formats from supported Canon and Nikon digital cameras”. There’s also a white paper on viewing and organising raw images in Windows XP.

In fact, there’s a whole load of digital photography resources on Microsoft’s professional photography and digital photography microsites (I picked that tip up via RoudyBob.NET), including a link to Microsoft’s press release on raw support in Windows.

More Windows XP eye-candy

Last year, I posted a blog entry about installing the “Energy Blue” theme on a computer running Windows XP Professional.

Now there’s another option for those who are bored with the standard Windows XP wallpaper, but want something that still looks like part of Windows XP – the “New Bliss” wallpaper from the “Royale” theme, which, like Energy Blue, was originally designed for Windows XP Media Center Edition (XP MCE) 2005 but later ported to Windows XP Tablet PC Edition 2005 (and is now available for all Windows XP users). This, and some other interesting wallpapers (Kiwi Bliss, Boulders, etc.) are available from Microsoft in New Zealand (I’m not convinced about the Queen’s birthday version though).

(For those who have access, I quite like the Longhorn.jpg wallpaper from Windows Vista Beta 1 too).

New job at Fujitsu Services – no longer blogging at Conchango

Over the last few years, I’ve been a consultant for a major IT Services company; worked for a UK-based support services company (and hated most of my time there); contracted for Australia’s largest independent magazine distributor; worked in-house designing and project managing a Europe-wide infrastructure refresh for a major fashion design, marketing and retail organisation; and then I joined Conchango, a mid-sized consultancy which specialises in delivering technology-driven business solutions that incorporate the latest methodologies and technologies.

I’ve worked with Conchango, first as a client and then as a consultant, for about 3 and a half years in total but the time has come for me to move on. For anybody who lives within commuting distance of London or Surrey, enjoys the variety of work which consultancy offers, and who knows a significant amount about enterprise intelligence, interactive media, agile development and program management, or mobility, Conchango is a fantastic place to work. It feels a bit strange to be leaving a company that I still enjoy and which is packed with talented people but as Conchango’s focus shifts away from infrastructure services, I’ve decided to rejoin Fujitsu Services (it was ICL when I was there just over 5 years ago) to embrace a new role as a Senior Customer Solutions Architect, taking technical responsibility for IT infrastructure projects within their Architecture and Design Group.

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most at Conchango (apart from being lucky enough to feature in the IT press) is that they encourage blogging (there’s a whole load of Conchango bloggers now) although my blog output has prompted some to comment on its volume and to say they almost expect to see what I had for breakfast appear next! One of my clients says he can find out what he’s been up to by reading these pages! I just hope that what I write is useful and that people enjoy reading it. Since last November, most of my posts here have been mirrored on my Conchango blog – from today, that will no longer be the case, and as far as I know, Fujitsu doesn’t have company-sponsored blogs, so this site is once again the single focus of my technology-related blogging (although I still hope to have the occasional article published on the Microsoft TechNet Industry Insiders blog).

I’ve got loads of stuff waiting for me to write about (but not much time to write it) – in the meantime, watch this space