Supporting BizTalk, Azure and hybrid integrations: best practices



February 18, 2022

Any critical messaging environment needs to be available, robust, and secure. Moreover, people supporting such an environment will follow a process to ensure they can identify and solve issues promptly. The process can vary between enterprises depending on the size of the messaging environment, whether it is hybrid, cloud or on-premise.

With Microsoft products and Cloud Platform Azure, the messaging environment can consist of BizTalk Server, Service Bus, Logic Apps, and API Management. To efficiently support a hybrid integration environment, you will need to have a process in place to identify who is responsible for what issue, and can solve it. You can capture such a process in a so-called ‘support model.’

A support model is an overview of a process that defines how you can support an integration environment. Furthermore, this model needs to be supported by a health model, a supportability matrix, and a skill matrix.  In the upcoming paragraphs, we will discuss the process, its models, and matrices. 

A support process

Enterprises can describe how to deal with issues in their IT environments, including the ones for messaging. They can capture who will handle a technical or a functional problem, when this requires a more in-depth analysis of the second or third tier support, and if a ticket with the product or service vendor is necessary. The description is a process, and you can model it into a support model for your environment, for instance, a BizTalk Group. 

Support model

A Support model aids in defining the support process and in providing the right service in case of necessary assistance resolving an issue. Most enterprises offer different channels to deliver assistance, which can be over the telephone, online by email or a website. Enterprise often subdivides the technical support into tiers, or levels, to serve a business or customer base better. Furthermore, the number of layers a company uses to organize their professional support group depending on the business’ need, want, or desire as it revolves around their ability to serve their customers or users sufficiently. 

Multi-tier support

Most organizations offer different channels to deliver assistance, which can be over the telephone, online by email or a website. 

Technical support can consist of multiple tiers. The reason for providing a multi-tiered support system instead of one general support group is to provide the best possible service in the most efficient possible manner. The success of the organizational structure depends heavily on the technician’s understanding of their level of responsibility and commitments, their customer response time commitments, and when to appropriately escalate an issue and to which tier. A typical support structure revolves around a three-tiered technical support system.

First-tier support

The first tier is the initial support level responsible for the primary customer or technical issues. This tier is commonly known as first line support or level 1 support or various other denotations. It is the entry point for issues. The responsibility of the first tier is to analyze the issue by examining the symptoms and figuring out the underlying problem as far as possible. When first line support technician is investigating the problem, it is essential to identify what BizTalk is trying to accomplish, so no time is lost on "attempting to solve a symptom instead of a problem." As soon as the technician identifies the problem, he or she can start with sorting through possible solutions or forward the issue to the second tier.

Second tier support

Second tier or level 2 support is a more in-depth support level, where more experienced and trained professionals reside. They are responsible for assisting the first tier personnel in solving fundamental technical problems. Besides that, they investigate elevated issues by confirming the validity of the problem and seeking for known solutions related to these more complex issues. Before the second tier technician starts with troubleshooting, he or she will review the work of the first tier technician to see what already has been accomplished. If an issue is new and or the staff from this group cannot determine a solution, they are responsible for raising this issue to the third tier support group.

Third tier support

Third tier or level 3 support is the highest level of support in a three-tiered technical support model responsible for handling the most difficult or advanced problems. Technicians in this group are experts in their fields and accountable for not only assisting both first and second tier personnel, but also with the research and development of solutions to new or unknown issues. They also will have to review the work done by first and second tier technician before starting troubleshooting. The third tier technician might work to solve the problem with the customer as it may that the first and or second technicians only failed to discover the proper solution.

 

support_model_biztalk

 
Figure 1. Diagram support model with multi support tiers.

 

The health model

A health model defines precisely how and what you want to monitor, diagnose, and recover in any application, device, or service. The setup of your environment drives the model through the configuration defined by non-functional requirements. In short, your BizTalk environments need to adhere to an agreed Service Level Agreement (SLA). To meet the SLA(S) a health model, supported by system-checks using a set of (specialized) tools and planned to run periodically, can be valuable.

The supportability matrix

A supportability matrix is a follow up of the health and support model. Once the process of who handles what issue, this matrix defines the roles involved and their responsibilities.

Role

Responsibilities

BizTalk Administrator

Deploy applications, monitor UAT, and production, troubleshoot issues

First Tier Support Technicians

Identify issue, route issue to the appropriate support group

Second Tier Support Technicians

Troubleshoot (advanced) issues, technical skill set of BizTalk, .NET, Network, SQL Server, Windows Infrastructure, and Microsoft Azure

Third Tier Support Technicians

Troubleshoot advanced issues, deep technical skill set of BizTalk, .NET, Network, SQL Server, Windows Infrastructure, and Microsoft Azure

Functional Technician, Business Analyst

Knowledge of functional domain and processes, identify functional issues

 

Usually, you can find the BizTalk- and the SQL Server administrator and the infrastructure specialist in the second or third tier and the functional or business analyst in the second. What actual skills each technician should have can be found in the next paragraph.

 

The Skill Matrix

Skills management is the practice of understanding, developing and deploying people and their skills. Well-implemented skills management should identify the skills that job roles require, the capabilities of individual employees, and any gap between the two.

Managing skills inside an organization is a complicated process, and a skill matrix can be helpful. This matrix consists of a list of skills, and a grading system, with a definition of what it means to be at a particular level for a given ability. 

Role

Skills

BizTalk Administrator

SQL Server, PowerShell, BizTalk Server (Certified), MCSA Certified, XML, Json

First Tier Support Technicians

BizTalk Server (Certified), Basic domain knowledge, an overview of business processes, XML, Json

Second Tier Support Technicians

BizTalk Server (Certified), .NET, Visual Studio, XML, Microsoft Certified System Administrator (MCSA) or Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE), Azure certificates

Third Tier Support Technicians

BizTalk Server (Certified), .NET, Visual Studio, XML, Microsoft Certified System Administrator (MCSA) or Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE), Azure certificates, Troubleshooting tools, XML, Json

Functional Technician, Business Analyst

Process and domain knowledge, XML, Json, data formats

 

With the skill matrix, you will identify what skill is necessary for what role. Furthermore, the skill matrix can be useful when you set up a training program. You can purchase on-demand, classroom, or on-site training to fulfil your needs. Examples of on-demand training are edx.org, Pluralsight, and Microsoft training. Classroom training is available at for instance QuickLearn. And finally, you can get on-site training through your ISV or from your senior staff. 

To conclude

Having a defined process, the described models, and matrices in place can help you sustain your integration environment. To set up the process can be a mere exercise by communicating with the significant stakeholders in your business and establish mutual agreements on the process, models, and matrices.

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Topics from this blog: Blog

Author

Azure technology consultant, blogger, speaker, Microsoft Azure MVP and #aimsperformancepro.

Steef-Jan Wiggers

Azure technology consultant, blogger, speaker, Microsoft Azure MVP and #aimsperformancepro.

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