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Using BizTalk360

By , 16 Oct 2012
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Introduction

Monitoring and administering a Microsoft BizTalk Server environment can be quite a complex task. In most cases BizTalk installations are spread over multiple servers which are often clustered. The solutions which are deployed on the BizTalk servers may contain many artifacts of types like Schemas, Maps, Pipelines and Orchestrations. During the deployment of the BizTalk solutions on the BizTalk servers, these artifacts become bound to Applications, Hosts, Receive Ports, Send Ports and/or Send Port Groups. It is needless to say that an administrator needs good tooling to keep this kind of complex environment under control. The BizTalk Server Administration Console, which comes with Microsoft BizTalk Server, is such a tool. This product enables the (BizTalk) administrator to perform his/her daily tasks. But although this BizTalk Server Administration Console is a very powerful tool, it certainly leaves gaps, which you might prefer to be covered. BizTalk360 (http://www.biztalk360.com), is a product which covers these gaps.

Background

Let’s have a look at a couple of gaps in the BizTalk Server Administration Console. Later in this article it will become clear how BizTalk360 addresses these gaps.

Shared Infrastructure

When we talk about a BizTalk Group or environment, we actually talk about a Shared Infrastructure. The reason for this is that a BizTalk Group often contains multiple BizTalk Applications, which can be owned by multiple business owners. All these business owners share the same infrastructure for their own goods. Let´s have a look at how this impacts monitoring and administering a BizTalk Group.

Say a BizTalk Group contains about 25 BizTalk Applications with 100´s of Orchestrations, Receive Locations and Send Ports. These BizTalk Applications contain logic to integrate with a CRM system, an ERP system and several Line of Business (LoB) systems. This results in the fact that the applications are owned by multiple business owners. To share the workload between the BizTalk Servers there are say 25 Host Instances from 8 Hosts.

Application Isolation
The term Application Isolation refers to the capability to isolate, in this case, BizTalk Applications in distinct containers on which you can grant and/or revoke user authorizations. When you have this capability in place, you can guarantee that only authorized people can access and operate on these BizTalk Applications. Because the CRM, ERP and LoB systems are owned by multiple business owners, each with their own support staff, there is a need for Application Isolation. Although BizTalk Server Administration Console is very powerful, it does not offer Application Isolation. Although it does offer the ability to put BizTalk solutions in distinct BizTalk Applications, it is not possible to grant different authorizations to different (kind of) support engineers and thereby get the Application Isolation you need.

Different Monitoring Requirements
Organizations have support engineers on different levels. For starters you have IT support people and business support people. Within both categories you have further gradations. For example within the IT department you might have 1st level Support Engineers who monitor the health of all servers of an organization around the clock. They have much knowledge about platforms like Windows and/or UNIX, but often they lack extended knowledge of products like BizTalk Server, SQL Server or Exchange Server. Next you have the System Administrators who, besides good knowledge of platforms, often have skills on server products like BizTalk Server, SQL Server and/or Exchange Server. However they lack knowledge of the business applications (CRM, ERP, LoB). The organization might also have Technical Application Administrators. They have basic platform knowledge, but they have good knowledge of the business applications and maybe even BizTalk. 

All these support engineers have different monitoring requirements. For example: the 1st level Support Engineers are, amongst others, interested if all servers are running, the required Windows services are started and if all jobs (both Scheduled Tasks as SQL Server Agent Jobs) run as expected. When it comes to BizTalk, besides the mentioned tasks, you can assign them tasks like monitoring the state of Host Instances, Receive Locations and Send Ports. But you don’t want them to access the BAM Portal or have them resume Suspended Messages and/or Orchestration Instances!
As a rule of thumb you want to grant each kind of Support Engineer only the authorizations they need and they can handle. Unfortunately with BizTalk Server Administration Console it is not possible to grant or revoke authorizations of this kind.

Governance and Auditing
When the number of BizTalk Applications within a BizTalk Group increases it becomes more and more important to take governance and auditing measures. Depending of the kind of organization you work for, there might even be a business or legal requirement which forces you to have taken this kind of measures. Although BizTalk logs certain events in the Windows Event Log, BizTalk lacks solid governance and auditing framework. So in case someone terminated a message that contained that one million Dollar order, you will not be able to tell who that was.

Single Operational Console
Another reason why monitoring a BizTalk Group is complex is because you need multiple consoles to find out the overall health of a BizTalk Group. For example you need BizTalk Server Administration Console to check the state of the BizTalk artifacts. You need SQL Server Management Studio to find out if the BizTalk databases are in good health and if the BizTalk related SQL Server Agent jobs, like the Backup BizTalk job, run smoothly. For other reasons you’ll need Event Viewer, Performance Monitor, BAM Portal, SCOM, RDP etc. etc. With all those different consoles it is not easy to keep the overview of the health of a BizTalk Group. Besides the fact that various security policies have to be maintained, you need a BizTalk expert who knows exactly where to look in all those consoles!

 

The Solution

From day one Kovai Ltd., which is run by Microsoft Integration MVP (since 2007) Saravana Kumar, was committed to give BizTalk360 the functionalities to fill the gaps which are left behind by Microsoft BizTalk Server Administration Console. Currently BizTalk360 is in release V5. In each release more valuable functionalities are added to BizTalk360, thereby also limiting the need to use multiple consoles to monitor the health of your BizTalk Environment. For example BizTalk360 has dashboards to view the state of the BizTalk related SQL Server Agent jobs and an integrated Event Viewer. More functionalities of the product will be described below, when we are going to find out how BizTalk360 addresses the earlier mentioned gaps.

Shared Infrastructure
To address the topics mentioned under Shared Infrastructure, BizTalk360 offers a number of functionalities:

  • User Access Policies
  • BizTalk Group Dashboard
  • BizTalk Host Dashboard
  • BizTalk Application Dashboard
  • Subscription Based Monitoring
  • Governance and Auditing

There are even more functionalities which can be considered as helpful when it comes to monitoring a shared infrastructure, but it would be too much to discuss them all in this article. So for now only the mentioned functionalities will be discussed.

User Access Policies
By applying User Access Policies you can authorize certain engineers to certain tasks within BizTalk360. Besides being able to authorize people for certain BizTalk Applications, authorizations in BizTalk360 are divided in the following categories:

  • Can Operate on
  • Can View
  • Can Edit
  • Can Access

Each category contains one or more authorizations. For example you can authorize engineers to Operate on Service Instances or Applications or you can authorize them to Access BAM, the Advanced Event Viewer or to Message Content/Context.

Authorizations can be assigned to both NT Users and to NT Groups. For example, say you have a number of engineers who all must have the same authorizations within BizTalk360. In this case you can create a NT Group and add the engineers to the group. Next you can give authorizations to that group in BizTalk360. You can read more about the BizTalk environment fine grained authorization capabilities.

BizTalk Group Dashboard
This Dashboard gives a basic overview of the state of your BizTalk Applications, Hosts, Host Instances, BizTalk Servers and Message Boxes. For each category an icon is shown with an indicator in the upper right corner (which shows the number of items this category holds) and a green or red background (which informs you about the state of all items of the category). Besides the mentioned categories, you can access amongst others the SQL Servers which are used by BizTalk, the Adapters and the Topology Dashboard. It also shows information about the BizTalk Group itself; think on information like name of the group, name of the SSO server and names of the BizTalk databases.

 

BizTalk Host Dashboard
The BizTalk Host Dashboard gives extended information on the Hosts within your BizTalk Group. This information extends from the configuration and the state of the Host to the Receive/Send Ports and the Orchestrations which are configured to use this Host for their processing. Also the Throttling Settings and the Host Instances can be viewed from this Dashboard.

BizTalk Application Dashboard
With BizTalk Server 2006 the concept of BizTalk Applications was introduced. BizTalk Applications can hold artifacts like Orchestrations, Receive and Send Ports, Schemas and Maps. By giving a BizTalk Application a name you can easily identify your BizTalk Applications. BizTalk360 enables you to check the state of all those artifacts and to operate on them.

Subscription Based Monitoring
An important feature in BizTalk360 is the capability to start monitoring your BizTalk environments easily by create alarms. By adding subscriptions to those alarms, you can define which artifacts or events you want to become monitored. You can schedule the alarms, which results in state reports which shows the state of the subscribed artifacts. BizTalk360 can send you those reports by email or by SMS.

Governance and Auditing
Any action performed by an (authorized) administrator is stored in the BizTalk360 audit trail, giving you more control on knowing what’s going on in your BizTalk installation. So, if an administrator accidentally enabled that deliberately disabled Receive Location, you can find out which administrator that was and inform him/her why that Receive Location has to be in the disabled state. BizTalk360 governance/auditing capability is very powerful, and it audits three major areas of BizTalk environment: all application level activities (like starting/stopping send ports, orchestrations, receive locations etc.), all host instances related activities and all service instances related activities.

Single Operational Console
As we already found out a BizTalk Administrator needs more than ‘just’ the BizTalk Server Administration Console to know the health of a BizTalk Environment. Also here BizTalk360 can help support engineers, by reducing the number of consoles they need to do their job. Therefore BizTalk360 has the following capabilities:
  • BizTalk Server Dashboard
  • SQL Server Dashboard
  • Advanced Event Viewer
  • Throttling Analyser

Also here counts that there are even more functionalities in BizTalk360 which can be considered as helpful, like the new Monitor Dashboard and the Backup-DR Monitor, when it comes to reducing the number of consoles, but (again) it would be too much to discuss them all in this article. Only the mentioned functionalities will be discussed. The new in V5 capabilities however will be described later in this article.

BizTalk Server Dashboard
This Dashboard shows a number of properties and other information about the BizTalk Servers which are part of the BizTalk Group at hand. You can think of information like the BizTalk Roles which are assigned to the Host Instances which run on the server (Send, Receive, Processing and Tracking). This Dashboard also lets you access the Event Log from the particular servers.

SQL Server Dashboard
The main goal of the SQL Server Dashboard is to supply information regarding the BizTalk Databases which reside on the SQL server(s) and information regarding the SQL Server Agent Jobs. This Dashboard makes it less necessary to use SQL Server Management Studio.

Advanced Event Viewer
The Advanced Event Viewer shows collected Event Log data from the BizTalk Server(s) and SQL Server(s) from a BizTalk Group. To prevent flooding you can define filters on the Event Logs and Sources. This Dashboard makes it less necessary to use the Windows Event Viewer and RDP. BizTalk360 Advanced event viewer is designed purely keeping BizTalk solutions in mind. Example: You need to correlate events from various servers in the group.


Throttling Analyzer
With the Throttling Analyzer you can check if a BizTalk Environment is in a throttling condition. Since the needed information is collected from the related Performance Counters and stored in BizTalk360’s own database, it is also possible to find out if BizTalk was in a throttling condition at an earlier time. This Dashboard makes it less necessary to use PerfMon. The idea behind BizTalk360 throttling analyzer is to abstract the complexity of BizTalk throttling mechanism and make it simple for the end user to understand.

New capabilities in BizTalk360 V5
In October 2012 V5 was released after being in beta for about 6 weeks. Besides that it contains a number of bug fixes and performance improvements, the most important new capabilities of this release are:

  • Monitoring Dashboard
  • Backup – Disaster Recovery configuration visualizer
  • Process Monitoring for Receive Locations and Send Ports
  • HP Operation Manager Integration
  • Support for Message Box Viewer (MBV) 12
  • New Event Viewer Notification Channel

Monitoring DashboardThis Dashboard provides you with an overview with the state of all artifacts you configured for a certain Alarm. It does this in a clear tree view which shows the artifacts and, by means of the colors green, red and yellow, the state the artifacts are in. The BizTalk360 monitoring dashboard is really helpful to project your current environment status in a big screen and everyone can keep an eye on the existing status.

Backup – Disaster Recovery configuration visualizer
The Backup – Disaster Recovery configuration visualizer shows the health of your BizTalk Backup and your DR Server. More specific it shows the properties and the state of the Backup BizTalk Server job, which runs as a SQL Server Agent job. The information shows contains amongst others the file location of the backups, the databases which are being backed up and the history of the most recent backup runs. This Dashboard makes it less necessary to use SQL Server Management Studio. The BizTalk360 backup/DR visualizer abstracts the complexity around understanding SQL log shipping and the under the hood functionalities of BizTalk backup jobs.

Process Monitoring for Receive Locations and Send Ports
Sometimes it is just not enough to know if your Receive Locations and/or Send Ports are up and running. If normally BizTalk processes a certain load of messages per day, but at a certain moment in time, this does not happen, something might be wrong. This might have impact on your business, so you want to inform someone to check what’s going wrong. This is exactly where Process Monitoring comes in. It checks if messages become processed on your Receive Locations and/or Send Ports. If the expected (configured) load does not happen, you are notified by the configured Notification Channel (email/SMS). You can understand the full capabilities of BizTalk360 process monitoring from this article.

HP Operation Manager Integration
You can compare this product with Microsoft System Center Operation Manager (SCOM). It is an enterprise class monitoring solution, used to monitor the health and performance of various IT assets. Unfortunately monitoring BizTalk with HPOM is very limited. By adding integration with HPOM from BizTalk360, all generated events in BizTalk360 will be visible in HPOM. This article BizTalk Server monitoring using HP Operations Manager and BizTalk360 explains in detail how you can configure and take advantage of HPOM-BizTalk360 integration.

Support for Message Box Viewer (MBV) 12
BizTalk360 integrates deeply with MBV since BizTalk360 V2.5. The advantage of this integration is that you can run (also new in V5) and/or schedule MBV from BizTalk360 and the view the results in BizTalk360 as well. At that time MBV was at release 11, but May 2012 release 12 became available. Reason enough to make sure that BizTalk360 works well with it, so both version 11 and 12 are now supported by BizTalk360.

New Event Viewer Notification Channel
In the area of Alarms and Notifications we already had the Notifications by Email and by SMS/Text Message. In V5 the Event Viewer is introduced as another Notification Channel. For each Alarm you can supply an Event Id of your choice, where after BizTalk360 starts notifying you by means of the Event viewer.

Points of Interest

In this article only the surface of BizTalk360’s capabilities were scratched. If you want to know more about BizTalk360, check the following websites:

Main website: www.biztalk360.com
Weblog: blogs.biztalk360.com
Videos: www.biztalk360.com/content/video
The V5 capabilities: BizTalk360 V5

BizTalk360 on FaceBook
BizTalk360 on Twitter

History

11 October 2012 – Initial version
15 October 2012 - Fixed some typos and images which were too large
16 October 2012 - Fixed some more typos and layout errors

License

This article, along with any associated source code and files, is licensed under The Code Project Open License (CPOL)

About the Author

Lex Hegt

Netherlands Netherlands
Lex Hegt currently works as a BizTalk architect/administrator at Ordina. Although he works in the Information Technology for more than 25 years, he 'only' works with BizTalk for 8 years. His first BizTalk assignments were as a developer, but since a couple of years he works as an administrator.
He blogs for many years at the BIA blog (http://biztalkia.blogspot.com) and he maintains some tools, namely BizTalk Processing Monitor and BTSDecompress. He has certifications for BizTalk Server 2006, BizTalk Server 2006 R2 and BizTalk Server 2010.
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