Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Agile Integration for SharePoint : Our Dev Kitchen Experience

They used to call it the "Death Kitchen," but now they use the kinder and gentler "Dev Kitchen." That was our first introduction in person to the Microsoft SharePoint 2010 development team, back in January 2009. We had been working for about a year with them, preparing our agile integration product, Enterprise Enabler, to connect tightly with the new version of SharePoint. We tied our cool technology to their cool technology via their next generation of Business Data Catalog (BDC), which incorporated full CRUD (Create, Read Update, and Delete) capabilities. Before Dev Kitchen, we had worked with notes and samples about BDC from their team, to auto-generate the cryptic and complicated BDC XML file, including services that we auto-generated to initiate and leverage our powerful integration capabilities.

By the time January came, we had validated some of our work, but hadn't really been able to test it much. The whole Dev Kitchen experience was quite interesting and exciting for our team, as we had little idea what to expect. We were one of less than twenty companies invited to participate that week. Some were product companies, some were customers, but we were the only one doing this kind of tight connectivity. Each company had its own separate and secure room; only our team knew the access code to open our door. There was an air of excitement and secrecy, but mostly everyone was hard at work testing against a very early version of "O14."

One of the most amazing things was working side-by-side with the developers and visionaries of the Business Connectivity Services (BCS). If we ran into a snag, within a couple of minutes the specialist for that particular feature of BCS was in the room with us tracing the source of the issue and clarifying to us or making instant fixes if they needed to. Our work spanned the full range of BCS features, so we met and worked with quite a number of the team members. What an exciting, vibrant, enthusiastic group of people!

We had, as I recall, two and a half days to finish our work. On the last day we all gathered in a large room and took turns presenting to everyone the things we had been working on. We had ten minutes to do it. When Mike Guillory, our head SharePoint technologist spoke, the room was packed with participants and Microsoft developers, architects, and management. In ten minutes we showed building from ground up a mashup of data live from Salesforce.com, merging and aligning it with data from a SQL Server database, auto-generating the BDC , and configuring an out-of box web part for the data. We opened the window in SharePoint, and Voila! The data appeared from both sources. We edited a couple of fields, and showed that back in Salesforce and the database, the fields were updated!

Spontaneous standing ovation from the Microsoft team! Later that evening when we were invited to show a little more detail to part of the team, someone commented that what he was seeing was what he had dreamed about his whole career. We later found out he was a very high level Microsoft director. All in all, it was a rewarding experience, and since then, we have tied up all the loose ends with the pre-alpha, alpha, beta, and now production versions, and have added security with SSS and transaction assurance and rollback. The Microsoft team advised on the architecture, recommending the "Custom Connector," which resides on the SharePoint server for tightest possible security and best performance possible.

Now, even the TAP program has ended, and we're all in full production. Thanks and congratulations to architect Mohammed Nazeeruddin and his team, who met with us every week to ensure the best fit for our embeddable integration.

Monday, June 21, 2010

B2B : Brain-to-Brain

My generation was not born with cell phones. While on vacation for a few days , I tried to disconnect from the digital world with only mild success. Not a good time to be reading Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, by John Palfrey http://www.amazon.com/Born-Digital-Understanding-Generation-Natives/dp/0465005152, if I didn't want to think about this stuff. When I was growing up, telephones were ultimately connected by oodles of wires all over the planet. We never even thought of wireless telephones.

We did, though, talk a lot about ESP (extra-sensory perception, for those of you too young to remember), and we debated about whether psychics were communicating, or whether they cheated. I wonder if ESP even seems ridiculous to a young person who has always known cell phones. You don't have to even be in the same room to hear what the other person is saying. No wires. I bet it's not such a stretch to believe that you could have direct brain-to-brain communications. After all, knowing what they know now, why not? Think about it - we wouldn't even need to talk, but just think about talking. Read just a little about all the new research on brain placticity, and you have to wonder if brain-to-brain communications is just a matter of practice.

Then you have to wonder what brain-to-brain (B2B) means in the integration space. We'll be transforming everything from Venus to Mars and back again.