Walking to work
I am enjoying walking to work at the moment and with splendid sights like this you can see why. I made a move to a company just up the road from where I live. My stress has decreased because there is only one customer and I don’t have to travel. We even have a Zen day every two weeks. But this is not the purpose of this article because I want to share my NZ experience of implementing BizTalk360 monitoring, a BizTalk monitoring and administration tool.
Justification for BizTalk 360
I have my work cut out for me because the two BizTalk 2013 R2 interchanges I have inherited, exhibit every bad practice known to man. The exchange started life as a BizTalk 2004 and the current state arises by applying iterative changes over the years. Furthermore half of the exchange is on BizTalk 2010 and the other on BizTalk 2013R2 as the result of a stalled upgrade project. Over the next year I hope to change this into a modern integration environment.
The main role of the exchange is to receive orders and process invoices using a traditional BizTalk design. Orders come in the early hours of the morning until about midday and all orders must be processed by midday such that trucks can be loaded for that days deliveries. An order that is not processed by midday is lost money because it can’t be delivered in time. The server is never quiet because we process orders from the Australian, NZ, UK, and South African time zones. Some ones morning is always some else’s night time and the midday cutoff is different for different countries.
In my first week on the job one of the SFTP pickups did not receive any orders for two days. Monitoring did not raise any alerts because the issue was with the customer’s SFTP server and not BizTalk. One of the directors said to me “Why can’t BizTalk tell us when a customer does not send us any orders?”. Responding to this I said ” BizTalk 360 can do this using its “No Event Monitoring”. That is how I got started on this adventure.
BizTalk 360 Requirements
The BizTalk monitoring requirements started from the existing BizTalk 2010 solution and new business requirements. The BizTalk 2010 environment uses a “hotchpotch” of custom built scheduled tasks. Scheduled tasks monitor 5 BizTalk artefacts as listed below;
1. Check host services are running and attempt to restart if stopped.
2. Check each send port and attempt to restart if not enlisted.
3. Check each receive location and attempt to restart if not started.
4. If a file has not been picked up for more than 20 minutes raise an email to support.
5. Reports Disk Space.
Additional requirements from the business were;
1. Verify if the expected volume of messages has been received by customer or supplier. This is called ‘non-event’ monitoring.
2. Display a monitoring dashboard for the business to understand whether BizTalk is doing what it should.
3. Send meaningful notification of issues to the people who are not skilled BizTalk people and allow them to solve the issue.
BizTalk 360 Proof of Concept
Using the BizTalk 360 web site to request a trial version, with in 30 minutes I had a phone call from Gowri Ramkumar. We quickly established that BizTalk 360 was a good fit for the requirements and I received a trial version.
Our network team built me to Windows 2012 R2 monitoring server as per the installation specifications on the BizTalk 360 web site and after a week I had the server. The POC ran in the Production environment because this has any meaningful volume to assess our acceptance requirements. Installation of the trial version and creation on a BizTalk 360 database on the BizTalk Server SQL database went smoothly. The “To do list” on the BizTalk 360 portal was very useful in guiding me through the rest of the initial set up. I show a picture of it below.
BizTalk 360 was so easy to configure because with in an hour I had all the monitoring and alarms configured and we started to get value from it immediately.
The trial is a fully fledged version and it not crippled in anyway, enables you to evaluate all the features. BizTalk 360 can be purchased in several pricing tiers and we thought we only needed the silver tier but the trial shows why we needed some of the features in the platinum tier.
BizTalk 360 in Action
Coming back to our initial problem of no events from a SFTP port, we set up an alarm for a data monitor as shown below.
Next I setup the Process Monitoring from Data Monitoring tab to check for a minimum 2 orders every hour from early morning to midday.
I talked about this SFTP receive location in a previous post. The first morning that the alarm was activated we got our first alert and on ringing the customer we found that their SFTP server had a problem. Gratifyingly with in half an hour we received orders again and everyone was happy.
SFTP Folder Monitoring
SFTP folder monitoring from the Platinum tier checks for a build up of files in a SFTP receive location. This might indicate an issue with a BizTalk pick up. To begin with I could not set this up and decided to try out the BizTalk 360 support. My email request to the support address was answered quickly and they even rang me to help me set it up correctly. This alarm now monitors the same troublesome SFTP folder that I described in a previous article.
Many years ago I worked with a middleware product called eGate and one of its best monitoring features was message count thresholds. I think detecting an usually low message count is a powerful way of knowing something is wrong. Over the years I have missed this feature with BizTalk Server and developed a custom BAM solution that would do the same thing. Still it grated on me that I had to go to so much effort set up such simple monitoring. I am pleased that BizTalk 360 No Event monitoring has given me a tool to do this again. Our customers think we are superheroes because we tell them that something is wrong with their systems before they know.
No Events monitoring is only one of the many monitoring features of BizTalk 360. There are many more such as service, receive port, send port and disk space monitoring to name a few. These features and the dashboards made BizTalk 360 an easy sell and it is now firmly entrenched in the DNA of my new company.