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Enterprise Service Bus with BizTalk Server and Windows Azure : Integration with BizTalk

3/9/2011 2:15:42 PM
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To fully appreciate the purpose and importance of the ESB, we need to understand a bit of the history that led to its creation.

Application Integration 101

In the beginning, we had standalone systems called silo-based applications. They created isolated silos of information to address specific, single-purpose automation requirements. They were designed to be self-contained with no need to interact with other applications (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Isolated applications without integration.

Integration at this stage in the evolution meant redundant data entry or some form of file dumping to get information out of one system and into another. The barriers between applications were quite substantial.

Next, applications became more tightly bound by means of point-to-point integration channels. Now data could flow more readily between applications, but it turned out that this sort of integration leads to long-term problems, the most notable being the inherent brittleness of the resulting architecture. If either side of a point-to-point integration channel changed its contract, the other would also need to be modified or the integration would cease to function.

Point-to-point integration became increasingly difficult to manage as its proliferation resulted in increasingly large and convoluted enterprise environments (Figure 2). In many cases, IT resources would be devoting significant effort and resources to preserving the existing integration architectures, rather than solving new and emerging business requirements. Changes to the integration architectures were inherently difficult and time consuming to accommodate and as the number of connections to a single point increased, versioning that point meant updating an increasing number of integration clients. Versioning and the ultimate decommissioning of integrated applications often led to the need to “rip-and-replace” segments of an enterprise.

Figure 2. Single point-to-point integration leading to complex point-to-point integration over time.


It is important to note that silo-based applications and integrated architectures can just as easily be implemented in cloud computing environments (such as Windows Azure) as they can in traditional on-premise environments. Fortunately, the application of service-orientation principles provides us with the opportunity to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Following the point-to-point integration phase, came the advent of messaging-based middleware, event-driven message exchange patterns, and the notion of the hub-and-spoke model. With the resulting integration architecture, a client application sends a message to a central hub that is published to one or more spokes, or message recipients (Figure 3).

Figure 3. The hub and spoke integration model.

The relationship between the publisher and recipients can be defined by configuration, or by using a publish-and-subscribe messaging framework. Following this approach, an application would publish a message that is received by appropriate subscribers.

The two applications involved are naturally loosely coupled because they do not communicate directly with each other, but rather both communicate only with the central hub. Should a third participating application be introduced, it could also subscribe and receive messages and process them without affecting the relationship of the other two applications.

The BizTalk Hub-Bus Model

When BizTalk Server 2004 was released, it took the publish-and-subscribe model a step further into a hybrid model called hub-bus that combined the hub-and-spoke model with bus topologies. In a hub-bus model, functionality can be distributed across multiple machines, with multiple hubs sharing a centralized bus (Figure 4). As a result, there is no single point of failure. Configuration can be centralized, as are capabilities such as capturing operational and business metrics.

Figure 4. The BizTalk hub-bus integration model.

Conceptually, you can think of a BizTalk host as a hub, and all the machines running an instance of that host form a logical hub. The bus encompasses the BizTalk MessageBox (messaging data store) and Management Database (configuration data store), as well as the centralized operational and management capabilities and tools.

From a functionality stratification perspective, a receiving hub combines potentially numerous host instances across multiple machines to provide receiving functionality. After a message is received and stored in the MessageBox, a processing hub picks it up and acts on it. This is an instance of the processing host instance running on a given machine or collection of machines.

This architecture is intended to be scalable in that you can adjust the processing power of a hub by adding more machines and host instances. The MessageBox configuration database and business activity monitoring (BAM) tracking infrastructure use SQL Server databases that can be clustered and made fault tolerant.

However, this architecture did have limitations. For example, it was not possible to geo-distribute the hubs, as they shared a common backend database that introduced network latency. In addition, there was no notion of runtime resolution of artifacts.

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