Thursday, 31 July 2008

BizTalk Dynamics AX AIF Adapter

A few days back I was blowing off some steam about the Dynamics AX AIF and the lack of documentation and know how. Our BizTalk consultant, Paul Somers, has done an excellent job of working it out and has posted a blog on his site giving the details thereof.

You will find 2 blogs to do with our issues and hopefully more to come.

Happy reading.

- Paul Steynberg

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

I Promised Myself ........

I promised myself when I started this blog that I would not use it as a soap box to expel the evil spirits of the day, but today I am going to make an exception.

So by now most of you are aware that I am implementing Dynamics AX 2009 and had decided early on in the project to use the Application Integration Framework (AIF) to interface to and from the system. I attended the Microsoft Convergence Conference in Orlando in March this year and after hearing Michael Merz speak, it was in the bag.

Back home during early negotiations with Microsoft and the suggested "Partner" we emphasized this point over and over. At no point does anyone stop me and say "but nobody here in South Africa knows how to use the AIF and certainly not with the BizTalk Adapter". So come time to install the AIF and the BizTalk Adapter our Partner's have no experienced skills base and everyone spins out trying to read the outdated documentation. In short it was not properly configured by the time my BizTalk consultant walked on site to write the interfaces.

It took us several working days to get the BizTalk Adapter to successfully pass XML documents into AX and get a return receipt. How that was done is just another whole story on its own. Once our BizTalk guru has documented the "undocumented" on his blog I will post a reference to it.

So now it works. We then start to pile on the volumes of our daily journals into the test DAX environment and it falls over. We eventually work out that if we chunk the data and send in lots of small journals it works. Our average daily journals into our current system from our LOB systems can vary from about 3000-9000 lines. We had to break them down to roughly 1000 lines each for the AIF to consume without rolling over on its back. To add to this my developer has written a cracker of an interface to bring in our payroll data as journals into DAX. This journal can be up to 6000 lines long and it loads perfectly but when he tried to validate it, it fell over with an out of memory error. In fact quite similar to the error that we were experiencing from the AIF side.

Well if you just imagine there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Here we had spent millions on an "Enterprise" solution and it fell over on a few thousand line journal. I sat and contemplated how I was going to tell our Executive Committee on Friday that I had spent millions on the software, had consultants on site who charged like wounded buffalo, and the system was not capable of processing what our current system could. A rusty bread knife and the thought of me slowly perishing in a pool of my own blood suddenly looked appealing. Anyway this passed quickly as I banged out out my plight on the support site with Microsoft.

Well friends it looks like AX has a default install that pretty much matches itself up with something like, say, Quickbooks. ie, it looks good but don't ask it to handle volumes. It would appear that the default size for memory allocation in the AOS is set to 10 MB at installation. To change this default buffer size requires changes in the AOS Server registry and a new entry in the AXC File. Another issue is a restriction on the RPC which also requires a registry setting to increase the MaxRpcSize. One can also increase the maxbuffersize of the client.

Now I have to ask the question, how can one market and sell Enterprise software and then install it with such limitations? I have gone through all the documentation provided with the product and also anything else that I have gleaned from the net and nowhere can I find reference to these settings.

Bad form Microsoft.

- Paul Steynberg

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Talking in the Dark

Today has been quite a trying day for my team and I. The Dynamics Consultants have configured the AX2009 AIF as best as they could from the AX4.0 documentation. Now this in itself is quite something as they do have differences. The BizTalk Adapter was also configured and ready for our BizTalk expert who walked on site this morning. The day started of sterling with a thumbs up on our BizTalk installation. The rest of the day was however spent blundering around in the dark trying to get the 2 talking to each other. Have you ever tried to figure out what is going on with outdated documentation. I do not think that anything could possibly be more frustrating.

So at the end of the day we sit with 2 systems that appear to be properly configured but not able to communicate. (Sounds like my wife and I).

Any way here is the error that we get when we drop a document into the BizTalk inbound connector after it has tried to pass this to the AIF.

Event Type: ErrorEvent Source: Microsoft Dynamics AX
2009 adapterEvent Category: NoneEvent
ID: 0Date: 2008/07/16Time: 01:27:07
PMUser: N/AComputer: AUTHENTIXDescription:The adapter is unable
to send the following message to Microsoft Dynamics AX:MessageId:
Request Failed. See the Exception Log for

Version : 5.0Assembly Version : :
AdapterTransmitterEndpointMethod : ProcessMessageSubsystem :

So if anybody has seen this before your comments would be most welcome. When we find a solution I will post it.

- Paul Steynberg

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Is Talking Business Cheap?

As part of my Dynamics AX 2009 project we are evaluating the use of BizTalk as a mechanism to integrate data between our LOB systems and DAX. As we are a value retailer (Sounds cooler than calling us cheap-ass), it is in-bred in us to maximize our spend. (Also sounds cooler than milking it).

BizTalk is expensive, you cannot hide from this fact. A 2 processor license for the Standard Edition will set you back $17,000 and for the Enterprise Edition you are in for a stonking $70,00. My reference is here. I am sure that one can argue that this is before discounts etc etc but lets just talk list for this exercises. So what does the Enterprise Edition give you that costs $53,000 extra. You can go from a limit of 5 applications to unlimited. It also allows you to use more than 2 processors and it scales out better with fail over clustering etc etc. Apart from that the functionality is pretty much the same. Now I would imagine that most medium to larger enterprises would probably be OK with the Standard Edition depending on how many disparate systems are lying around.

On one of my late night web blundering, trying to find out more about this animal and potential alternatives I came across something quite exciting. I found a company based in the UK by the name of Quality Componentware. These guys are BizTalk consultants and are Micrososft Gold Certified Partners. If one digs a bit deeper you will also find out that they have written an alternative to BizTalk called SmartsIntegrator. The pricing? $499 per machine!!!! And it does not look that bad. I downloaded a trial version and had it installed and working on my PC within half an hour. Compare this with the day it took us to get a test version of BizTalk up and running.

After installing the product I browsed around and found it relatively intuitive. I created and inbound and outbound file location. Dropped file into one side and a second later it appeared on the other side as expected.

I am in no way endorsing this product and cannot find any customer references on it, BUT at the price surely it is worth investigating? I am certain that BizTalk will club it in terms of volume handling and pure functionality BUT does every business need that?

If you have heard about or worked with this product your comments would be most welcome.

- Paul Steynberg

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Dynamics AX AIF

If you are looking for some quality information on the Dynamics AX Application Integration Framework I would seriously suggest that you visit Dianne Siebold's blog on the subject. Her blog focuses on the SDK documentation for Dynamics AX.

- Paul Steynberg

The X-Files

So why have I been so quiet for the past few weeks? Well, a lot has transpired. We have made the decision to replace our current ERP system with Microsoft's Dynamics AX. My team and I had exactly 14 weeks to implement counting from the day the first consultant walked onto site which was about 10 days ago. So to say that the deadline is tight would be an understatement.

What does this have to do with the X-Files? Well apart from the new product being called AX, I have also been heavily exposed to XML. I would suggest reading the link to get a good understanding of XML but here is a quick description that sums it up for me. XML is an open standard which promotes self describing data to be transferred between points.

Dynamics AX 2009 is the latest release from Microsoft and we have decided to jump right in and skip V4.0. Most techies reading the blog at this point have probably fainted as we all know what new releases from MS can be like, but know this. My team and I did a lot of homework and also attended the Orlando Convergence Conference. We discussed our concerns with some of the team leaders for AX. The consensus was that as we are using only standard core functionality within the application, the risks would be minimal.

One of the main reasons I wanted to go with AX2009 was the new Application Integration Framework (AIF) provided. This framework allows the flow of data to and from other systems in a robust fashion. I attended the session given by Michael Merz (Program Manager) on the AIF and was extremely impressed with the business capabilities. AX2009 ships with a bunch of new web services for data interchange and we are going to take advantage of this as a lot of data that ends up in our ERP system is generated from home written sub systems. The AIF uses XML files in order to receive and send data.

Reading up on the AIF was quite a task and had me up late at night for a week. This exercise lead me to another product from Microsoft called BizTalk Server. AX2009 ships with the BizTalk connectors required to move data in and out of AX. The great thing about this whole "interface" layer (BizTalk and AIF) is that one never compromises the business logic at any point. We are now at a point where we are seriously considering using BizTalk Server to implement our system interfaces and from what I have seen and heard so far we will not be disappointed. One of the things that BizTalk does is allow sets of data to communicate and be converted into formats that can be read by both sides.

Hopefully BizTalk and the AIF will allow us to meet our deadline with some time to spare. Unlike David Duchovny and his large lunged side-kick Gillian Anderson I have taken a bold step for mankind and hired my people based on talent and not good looks.

- Paul Steynberg