Category: Foci Technology

Technology updtes from the Foci Solutions team.

Automating Builds with TFS Build Definitions

My latest project utilized automated builds to speed up the deployment life cycle. We are running in an agile process and wanted to leverage continuous integration to help the product owners see new features as soon as possible. What follows is a quick walkthrough of the steps/tasks to get a basic build definition setup using TFS and Visual Studio.

Before we get started we need to ensure we have installed some prerequisites. Make sure you have the following:

  1. TFS installed with a Team Project and your project source code checked in.
  2. Build Controller installed with a Build Agent. More information on this can be found here.
  3. Ensure all software required for build is installed on the same machine as the Build Agent, including Visual Studio.
  4. Visual Studio must also be installed on your local development environment.
  5. A network share location to place the code drops (i.e. built code).
  6. A domain is not required but is highly recommended for secure access to network locations.

The example that follows is using TFS 2012 and Visual Studio 2012. However, this process will most likely apply to future versions (I have seen no differences if using either TFS 2013 preview or Visual Studio 2013).

To get started I first need to create a new build definition. This will be the basis for how a build is completed. In order to create a new build definition, I open Visual Studio, navigate to Team Explorer, and then to the Builds section.

In the figure below, I don’t have any build definitions for this project. However I can change this by selecting the “New Build Definition” selection from the Builds menu.


Figure 1 – Team Explorer – Builds Tab

A new menu will appear, this is where we will need to configure our build definition. First, in the General tab, give your build definition a name and an optional description. I’m going to call mine Blog Build Definition CI, and give a definition of “Sample build definition for my blog post”. A “Queue Processing” option must be selected as well. We are going for a continuous integration set-up, so select “Enabled”.


Figure 2 – New Build Definition – General Tab

Next we need to select the trigger for the build definition. This can be found in the Trigger tab. Here we want to select the best option for a continuous integration setup. Depending on your team or situation, you may opt to use “Rolling builds” or “Gated Check-in” but “Continuous Integration” is likely adequate for most environments.


Figure 3 – New Build Definition – Trigger Tab

Then we move onto Source Settings. Source Settings can be a little bit tricky but is straight forward once you gain an understanding of what is being asked. Source Control Folder is used to select what source the build will be acting on. You can see that I selected my “BlogBuildDefinitionProject” folder as my source. Build Agent Folder can be a bit confusing. During the build, the controller is going to grab the source code files from TFS and send them to the build agent. The Build Agent Folder refers to the location on the Build Agent’s server that the files will be sent to. “$(SourceDir)” is a variable used by TFS as a starting point for source drops. The article List of Variables Like $(SourceDir) gives a good explanation of what the variable is:

$(SourceDir) – Expands to $(BuildDir)\Sources by default

The directory “Sources” is not hard-coded and may be changed by modifying the TfsBuildService.exe.config file on the build agent. If you open that file there will be an application setting called “SourcesSubDirectory”. If you need a shorter path you may change this key to something like “s” instead of “Sources”. If you made this change then the $(SourceDir) variable would expand to $(BuildDir)\s

For the purposes of this example I only have one solution I’m building, so keeping the default is fine. However, if you want to build multiple solutions, each location will need its own source directory. You should keep all the source locations pre-pended with “$(SourceDir)” and append them with “/project1″ or more likely the name of your solution.


Figure 4 – New Build Definition – Source Settings

Build Defaults is next, and is a fairly simple screen. We need to select the Build Controller we are going to use. I defined my controller very quickly (see #2 in the list of prerequisites at top). You can see it is named “TeamFoundation” and has no description. Most likely you will only have one controller. Under “Staging Location” you will only have two options unless you are creating a build definition for Team Foundation Service where a third option will be presented. That third option is out scope of this article so we will focus on the two that are given for full featured Team Foundation Server Installations. The first selection is used when your build process for whatever reason doesn’t need to copy files to a drop location. The second one is the standard option and will require you to put in the network address of the network share you created earlier (see #5 in list of prerequisites at top). Remember that the Build Agent that was configured for use with TFS will need to have full access to this folder.


Figure 5 – New Build Definition – Source Settings

The Process section is the meat of your build definition. This is where you can dictate the steps and set up a “Build Template”. There is a lot of information that could be explained here, especially when talking about creating build templates. Custom build processes are something I want to cover further in a future post but will be skipped over for now. The default template that is created whenever a new Team Project is created is more than suitable for a basic continuous integration deployment. The default build process template is pre-selected for you, however, you can select “New…” in order to start the creation of your own. The most important part is to select the Items to Build.

For this example (see screen shot below) I selected the solution of my “BlogBuildDefinitionProject”. The defaults for Automated Tests are normally adequate enough to get tests run before your code is built on the server, however, you can also define a string that will be used to find your test projects. It’s important to realize that if using the default, any .dll file with the word “test” in the file name will be searched for test classes and methods and these tests will then be run. Furthermore, if your test project names don’t already contain the word “test”, you will need to either alter this string to something that is common between your test projects’ names, or change the names of your test projects.


Figure 6 – New Build Definition – Process

Retention Policy really isn’t very important. It’s just a definition as to how long certain types of builds should be kept. Depending on how the build is triggered you can keep those files for a specified amount of time. Normally the defaults are sufficient for any project you have on the go.


Figure 7 – New Build Definition – Retention Policy

Make sure you save, and upon saving successfully you will see in your Team Explorer Builds tab that you now have a build definition present.


Figure 8 – Team Explorer – Builds with Definition

Next time you check in your code you will see a build under “My Builds”. Give it a few minutes and you will get a log of the events that transpired.


Figure 9 – Team Explorer – Builds New Build

Building up the perfect deployment solution can take time, however when it’s done you will be able to create new builds in seconds. It really is great and has saved many hours trying to get products to launch.

If you have any questions, or want to chat more about this, contact us today – we’d love to hear from you!

  • Dan
  • McCrady

The Quiet Evolution of SOA

We’ve all found ourselves looking at an organization’s web services and commenting on how “It’s not really SOA”. Maybe because the program still maintains point-to-point interfaces, or maybe the organization hasn’t put in place any form of governance, but for whatever reason, we declare that it simply isn’t comprehensive enough to be considered SOA. That begs the question then: who is actually doing TRUE enterprise wide SOA? Well… very few organizations. Anne Manes famously declared that “SOA is dead” back in 2009. So why is it that we still find ourselves evangelizing and building towards this vision?

The answer is that our understanding of what makes an SOA program successful has quietly evolved over the last few years. Enterprise-wide re-platforming and re-architecture initiatives gave way to tactical adoption of SOA. The success of SaaS and BPM adoption meant that organizations are implementing the principles of service orientation without explicitly calling it an SOA program. And instead of trying to figure out just how to effectively measure SOA ROI at the enterprise level, much greater success has been found measuring the value created within a given portfolio and/or capability.

So while we Architects have not given up on the hope of achieving SOA utopia, we have become more realistic in our approach:

  1. Identify a very specific problem to solve with an SOA approach, be it to reduce the time-to-market of a frequently changing business process, or to reduce the application footprint of a given line-of-business.
  2. Demonstrate the value of SOA by successfully solving that problem.
  3. Rinse and repeat.

At the end of the day, any plans for enterprise level SOA can only be built a critical mass of successful self-sustaining SOA capabilities/portfolios.

  • Shan
  • Gu

Fractal Governance

SOA landscapes today look very much like fractals. An organization may have several internal capabilities presented as reusable services that connect to each other. It may even connect to 3rd party and/or cloud based services. But if you drill down into each of these services, you’ll likely see a composite application that is made up of several finer grained services interconnected together. And as a math geek, I am naturally curious about all things related to fractals.

In fact the fractal pattern appears in almost anything that’s responsible for connecting things together: highway and road systems, power grids, the internet… the list goes on. In all of these systems, there exists a hierarchical system of management and governance to regulate its functionality. Each country, for example, have national standards and regulatory bodies that define how power is to be exchanged, managed, and consumed. At the regional levels, there are additional standards and regulatory bodies that deal with region-specific decisions such as how much power to generate, pricing, and what equipment is to be installed where. Similar structures are true for transportation and telecommunications. So why is it that most organizations see SOA governance as an all-encompassing enterprise wide responsibility?

The interaction requirements and lifecycle characteristics of enterprise level composite services or business processes are very different from those of a utility service. To paint the entire enterprise service landscape with an uniform set of standards and processes will either result in a high number of exceptions or a lowest common denominator scenario. To be effective, an organization’s SOA governance model must match its SOA deployment model. The governance model must exist not just at the top, but at a granularity that matches how the services are being deployed and managed. Service Portfolio Managers, then are not just another role within the governance model, but micro versions of governance domains themselves. Service Portfolio Managers must be allowed to define their own standards and processes that are appropriate for the specific services that they’re responsible for. The SOA governance model for the enterprise must consider what standards and processes are appropriate for all services, which are appropriate for only the ones being consumed across the enterprise, and which ones should be left up to the Portfolios to govern themselves.

  • Shan
  • Gu

Introduction to SOA Development

As a hacker, I get a huge rush out of solving problems. It’s like a game for me, with the goal being always to find bigger and better dragons to slay…

Unfortunately, we all know it’s not always the case in our line of work! Usually, it’s some interesting problem hidden among piles of scut work. You know… That repetitive stuff that, while simple and pays the bills, often makes you wonder if all the good problems have been solved. That goes double if your client happens to be a big enterprise.

If you work for a company or have a client that has (or needs) a large IT Infrastructure, you’ve probably heard of Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) before. You might have attended a meeting where a consultant had recommended such a system, or even had read up on it yourself. You might have noticed that it involves a bunch of mundane tasks like writing xml transforms, and WSDLs. I’ve been lucky enough to have been given a brief introduction to Oracle SOA Suite, and the accompanying JDeveloper tool that takes care of the tedious stuff, and lets you focus on what matters: Writing awesome code to solve interesting problems and look like a hero in your clients’ eyes. Of course, Oracle/JDeveloper is only one of the many packages out there for quickly deploying SOA apps. Other examples include TIBCO , IBM Websphere, and OpenESB.

This post isn’t some elaborate HowTo or Tutorial, but a brief intro to SOA from a programmer’s perspective. To demonstrate how using the right tools, you can have rich, reusable services up and running in a very short amount of time! The potential for this stuff is huge, and like it or not, it’s here to stay. Might as well go whole hog!

Zero to Hero in 30 minutes or less.

The following is just a quick intro at what can be done using jDeveloper. Like I said before, this is just one way of skinning the SOA cat. There are tons of other tools out there, some of them are even open-source. I’ll be posting some more elaborate tutorials, demos and HowTos later on.

The Dreaded XML Transform

XML transforms is possibly some of most boring work out there. Most of the time, you’re mapping an input from a web service to an object you’re then going to pass on to a database layer or some other service. Using jDeveloper, you can skip writing XSDs, and XSLTs, and just draw a few quick diagrams.


Business Process Execution Language

BPEL is how more complex SOA processes can be implemented. Usually by means of long boring XML definitions. Again, jDeveloper abstracts these in simple to read diagrams, resembling flow charts:


Putting it all together

The transforms and BPEL modules you create using jDeveloper are then used by a composite. This is a high-level definition of what comes in from the outside, and where it gets routed. Every module is configurable and can route data in and/or out based on defined conditions (more on this in future posts)


In Closing

This is just a (very) brief intro on what using the right tools can do to make your mundane development tasks way easier and faster to complete. Your mileage may vary depending on which package/platform you use, but they all can shave hours or even days off your service development cycle. And after all, that’s what matters when you want to get back to hacking that brilliant solution to that interesting problem you haven’t had time to focus on!

  • André
  • Racicot

Is Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) Still a Thing?

The Oldest Buzzword Around

Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) isn’t a new concept by any means.

It’s practically a decade old and, in IT years, that’s beyond the useful lifespan of just about all buzzwords. And that’s the problem; as a buzzword, SOA never attained the same level of popularity as Cloud or Big Data. The concept of SOA was nebulous and how an organization could achieve SOA was even more unclear.

Vendors were pitching anything ranging from just an asynchronous messaging infrastructure to a full blown process automation and orchestration suite as the “Conerstone of Enterprise SOA” solutions. Further confusion was caused by product vendors trying to differentiate their products by pushing the importance of interoperability standards (ie. WS-*) claiming that other competing products weren’t truly “SOA” for one reason or another.

This confusion created just as much negative stigma around the term SOA as positive sentiment. While product marketing folks were focusing on the discussion of just what is and isn’t SOA, the Architects were quietly picking and choosing the concepts of SOA that they liked and evolving their enterprises’ IT landscapes.

SOA – Still Alive & Kickin’

Fast forward to today.

RESTful has fully taken over as the web service integration style of choice for the Internet, relegating SOAP for internal enterprise interactions and transactions that are considered “low throughput”. JSON has gained traction in the same way over XML thanks to movement towards mobile computing and a renewed focus on making interfaces as lean byte-wise as possible. No one thinks twice about decoupling the UI from the business logic and integrating using a set of web service calls. And asynchronous messaging is practically the status quo method of propagating large amounts of data across the enterprise.

So yes, the key SOA concepts of:

  1. Developing applications that promote reuse
  2. Decoupling functional application components to improve flexibility and agility
  3. Standardizing the way interfaces are described and interacted with to promote predictable and consistent integrations are more prominent than ever. Exposing Big Data stores as RESTful services is one of the most popular ways of integrating with these technologies. And the SOA concepts of abstraction, service contracts, and reuse are at the foundation of SaaS solutions.

It Just Makes Sense

SOA is at a level of maturity where it no longer benefits from having its own buzzword.

After all, you don’t see organizations advertising that they’re a client-server shop or that they are prolific adopters of web architecture to differentiate themselves in 2013. We’re at a point where sound architecture principles put forward by the proponents of SOA nearly a decade ago, have become just good architecture practice.

The conversations today with IT executives should no longer be “Should you adopt SOA?” but “What should you do to better address reuse, flexibility, and consistency within your enterprise?”

  • Shan
  • Gu

Enterprise Service Bus (ESB): To Adapt(er) or Not to Adapt(er)

One of the most commonly touted features of commercial Enterprise Service Bus products (ESB’s) is the out-of-box adapters for other COTS products (eg. SAP, PeopleSoft, Siebel). But organizations who become dependent on these adapters and take a “use ‘em if you’ve got ‘em” approach inevitably find that the implementations are a lot more complex than advertised. This is because the decision on whether or not to use adapters should be driven by the alignment of the organization’s skillsets and support structure, not the perceived simplicity in using out-of-box components.

I’ve created a simple decision tree to help clients determine whether they’re better off using the adapters provided by their ESB vendor or whether they should consider some alternative method of integrating with the ESB:

  1. Is the integrating system a data component with no business logic layer and with no built-in ability to be exposed as a web service (eg. Database, LDAP, MQueue)?

    Yes – Use the provided adapters. There’s no point adding an additional layer of complexity when simple data integration is very mature among all the leading ESB products. Also ask yourself if you’re doing data mappings and translations within the adapters? Whether there will be a DBA on the ESB support team or not. ESB’s are excellent at handling simple data translations (ie. Field-to-field). Any complex data translations such as multi-table selects and data merges should be handled in the data tier where you have DBA teams who are equipped to manage them.

    No – Go to question 2.

  2. Does the integrating system have the built-in ability to generate a web service or ESB-compatible API?

    Yes – Go to question 3.

    No – Use the provided adapters. The whole point of SOA is to leverage existing assets as much as possible and to avoid building new custom code for integration. Putting in a custom coded service layer between the ESB and the target defeats the objective.

  3. Will the support team for the integrating system be cross-trained on configuring the ESB adapters?

    Yes – Use the provided adapters. The support team of the integrating system will ensure that the adapters and reconfigured as necessary based on any changes in the application in question.

    No – Expose web services and/or API’s on the integrating system. The support team for that system are the experts on that application. They know the data model and the implications of seemingly inconsequential details on the business logic in the backend. I’ve seen many an adapter implementation go off the rails because the team implementing the ESB simply are not experts on every system they’re connecting to. Let the team with the expertise manage the abstraction and register their endpoint on the ESB so you can still take advantage of features like version management and BAM.

Next time you’re opening the box to your shiny new ESB, resist the urge to take all the adapters out and deploy them everywhere possible. Ask yourself in the long run, who’s going to own the integration point? And whether their lives will be made easier with the adapter or without? An IT landscape that is well supported is much more important than an IT landscape that matches exactly to the vendor’s product sheet.

  • Shan
  • Gu

Agile Governance in SOA

I know, at first glance it looks like the cramming together of 3 loosely defined and oft-debated buzzwords into the title, but got your attention didn’t it? So if you will bear with me for a few minutes, I will explain how applying Agile to a much more abstract of an activity such as building an SOA Governance Framework works.

SOA Governance is a fluid concept, with many differing, complementary, and overlapping point of views. Is it a framework focused on lifecycle management of service assets? How does it integrate with existing governance frameworks around other IT components such as infrastructure, database, packaged applications? Or should it be focused around the monitoring and management of business capabilities. The discussion could go on forever.

Because of this fluidity, I’ve seen two major problems come up again and again with clients when it comes to creating an SOA Governance Framework:

  1. The client has invested in a shiny new SOA Governance Framework complete with templates, registries and repositories, architectural review boards, the works. It takes a year to roll out. And the moment it’s done, people start finding scenarios that don’t fit within the framework; do not apply it consistently; or refuse to use it altogether.
  2. Various architects within the client organization can’t agree on the scope, focus, or business case around such an ambiguous concept as SOA Governance, so it keeps on getting pushed off.

The reason why the first problem occurs is that organizations are treating Governance like a traditional application build project. You need to define it all up front and build it once. And that can only lead to an SOA Governance Framework, or any Governance Framework for that matter, which is out-of-date before it’s even delivered. Governance needs to constantly evolve to adapt to the changes in an organization. Is the organization moving from being IT focused to being business focused? Is there an increased uptake in COTS implementations over custom development? Is the organization moving to an offshore support model? All of these changes in the organization will impact how the services should be governed. In short, the way the SOA Governance Framework is developed and managed over time needs to be flexible and adaptable to change. Sounds like Agile, doesn’t it?

The same general mentality also leads to the second problem: the idea that the SOA Governance Framework has to be perfect and all-encompassing the first time around. The fact of the matter is that instead of being stuck in analysis paralysis, we’re always better off with having something rather than nothing. Even an imperfectly managed SOA landscape is better than a completely unmanaged landscape. One of the key tenets of SOA is to enable continuous improvement of business capabilities and efficiency by building it out in loosely coupled modules. So why can’t we implement a SOA Governance Framework by starting small and building up additional components as we learn more about the landscape and become more experienced in working with it. Isn’t it better to solve a real problem that we encounter than to create a solution in anticipation of a problem? Once again, sounds a bit like Agile, doesn’t it?

That was a long preamble. So here’s our approach:

  1. Get the organization to agree on a core set of SOA Governance deliverables, creating a baseline of the framework. In Agile terms, this list is our backlog and includes:
    – a Service Definition template
    – a Service Contract template
    – a Taxonomy
    – a Service Registry and Repository
    – and some kind of org chart from at least a support perspective
  2. For each deliverable defined in the backlog, analyze whether something similar already exists in the organization today or needs to be created. Group similar/relevant deliverables together (ie. Service Definition template with Service Contract template). Implement it and deliver it to the organization. These are our sprints.
  3. While operating our SOA landscape, constantly be on the lookout for areas to improve. Did we have any services that didn’t fit the definition template? Did we have a project that identified inefficiencies within the architectural review process? Is the service inventory becoming too cumbersome to manage? Are people adhering to the change management process and if not, why? Was there a re-org that requires us to rethink the key roles and responsibilities? Frame these into deliverables and put them into the backlog.

The key to success here is continuously looking at the applicability and appropriateness of the framework and keep it aligned to the rest of the organization. If the users of the framework start to feel like they have to shoehorn something into a structure that no longer works for them, they will cease to use it. So don’t fall into that trap and let’s apply some agility to our SOA Governance initiatives.

  • Shan
  • Gu