Archive for October, 2008

Networking at breakfast

It was only my second visit to Cardinal Place near Victoria Station, but I still managed to get lost by virtue of the six or seven exits from victoria tube/railway station! It’s a really amazing building, a glass sculpture! No Microsoft signs are to be seen until you get inside, which I suppose is a good thing, otherwise you’d have people walking in off the street to ask why Vista doesn’t work on their laptop :-D. Also, an excellent breakfast that would impress even the most cynical of IT professional ;-)

Thanks to all those who put together today’s breakfast seminar, whilst I’d seen most of what was presented before, it was nice to talk to lots of like minded developer/analyst types who are going through the same things as my organisation. I’m a strong believer that networking is what allows IT professionals to really consider the bigger picture, organisations the size of mine tend to suffer from ‘group think’… and being stuck in one particular industry taints your view of the world. I certainly enjoyed hearing the views of a ‘change manager’ from a well known publishing company, and talking to some people heavily involved in the world of ‘people security’. Great stuff :-)

I especially enjoyed discussing the gray area between what BizTalk Server can offer and what the K2 product set offers.

Harsha (SOA and Process Platform Technical Specialist) from Microsoft discussed the plans for the future in the realms of business process management, and amongst the overarching strategies of ‘cloud’ computing, there was a strong message of community involvement in making business process management something we will all be doing in our sleep in the not so distant future. K2 (and dynamyx) will continue to forge a strong partnership with Microsoft to leverage their technology stack, and to utilise existing infrastructure such as SAP, BizTalk, Microsoft Office, SharePoint and WSS.

Special thanks to Gabriel Malherbe (Dynamyx) who took the time to show me how BizTalk was being used in his demo workflow, and also to Ruan and Rye from K2 for taking the time to discuss our future  organisational requirements.

Gabriel is also involved in the writing of the first K2 book. I first blogged about it in March 2008, its been delayed till early next year due to wanting to include as many useful chapters as possible. It will certainly be on my amazon wish list. The number of authors has also grown since March, and I’m pleased to see that Sergio del Piccolo and Jason Apergis are also in the mix, as I’ve been reading their blogs since I first got a taste of K2 [blackpearl].

If you didn’t make it to this seminar, I’m sure there will be more opportunities in the future, but you missed out on the snazzy K2 USB Stick, which contained the slide deck from today… I will be presenting those to colleagues over the next week or so.. Very useful :-D

… also, for those who don’t know (and I was one of those people)… there are plans for the K2 User group in the UK. Hopefully I will find out more in due course… I wouldn’t mind getting involved in that!


Microsoft based Business Process Management - Free Breakfast Seminar - Thursday 30th October 2008

I’m going to be attending this free breakfast seminar this week. I’d love to meet other people involved with Business Process Management and discuss about how you are/or may be using K2 tools and Microsoft WSS 3.0/MOSS 2007 to achieve this. Comment on this post if you are going to be there :-)

This is what the morning is all about: Discover the benefits of embracing Business Process Management using Microsoft based technologies. We will be presenting Microsoft BizTalk Server and K2 blackpearl focused around business-process automation and application-to-application integration.

K2 in Partnership with Microsoft invites you to join us for a breakfast seminar in Microsoft Cardinal Place, London Victoria, London, UK. Breakfast will be available from 8:30.


(8:00 - 8:30)
Light Breakfast
(8:30 - 9:00)
Welcome from Microsoft
Mr Harsha Karunaratne, SOA and Process Platform Technical Specialist

(9:00 - 9:30)
Business Benefits of BPM
Mr Ruan Scott, K2 VP EMEA

(9:30 - 10:00)
Scenario Demonstration
Mr Gabriel Malherbe, Dynamyx Technical Director

(10:00 - 10:45)
(10:45 - 11:00)
A technical workshop will be held from 11:00 to 12:00.

There is still time to register, simply visit the dynamic register to attend page.

I hope to see lots of you there :-)

See you on Thursday morning.


K2 [blackpoint] - the early verdict

Well, what can I say. I’m very impressed! It feels much cleaner, and much more stable than K2 [blackpearl]… perhaps underlying the inadequacies in the Visual Studio 2005 plugins, and the brilliance of the new Microsoft Office 2007 Style K2 Studio (Shown in Figure 1 below).

Figure 1: K2 Studio, new with K2 [blackpoint]

As you can see, there are a number of ’steps’ along the top which take you through setting up your MOSS 2007 or WSS 3 portal correctly. It is much more simple this way, and ensures you activate the K2 features and webparts correctly.

Clicking on the ‘K2′ logo in the top left, much like in Office 2007 brings up a familiar ‘new’ dialogue where you can start to create a new  project/K2 process (Shown in Figure 2).

Figure 2: New project dialogue

Creating your workflow is as easy as in K2 [blackpearl], and you draw the lines between each process using right mouse button, dragging a line between the items you wish to join. There are familiar options, in fact all the options you would get in K2 [blackpearl], without the option of viewing code or editing the WF objects. I created a simple workflow that sends an email when a new contact is added to the portal site (Shown below in Figure 3)

Figure 3: Example workflow

I then deployed the project using the big ‘deploy’ button shown in Figure 3, and it deployed successfully after asking which server I wish to deploy to (Development, Staging or Live etc.) and what to call the version that I am deploying, pretty straight forward, it does all that in K2 [blackpearl]. You then need to create the site that will be hosting your workflow data. Its pretty easy, and you are taken through what to do in easy step by step instructions. Once you’ve created that, you should have a SharePoint web site looking like Figure 4.

Figure 4: Deployed Workflow SharePoint site 

This is something new, and I really like this idea, as it takes away the having to learn the K2 Workspace supplied with K2 [blackpearl] and gives you the courage to delegate workflow administration to your power users/business analysts.

Okay, enough of that… lets start the workflow by creating a couple of contacts - which should generate two instances of my workflow, and send an email to me.

Figure 5: Two contacts created, with an added ‘workflow column’ that shows a status 

Due to my workflow integrating with the contacts list, K2 [blackpoint] added a nice column to tell me the status of it. This changed from ‘In Progress’ to ‘Completed’… and no email arrived… I wonder what went wrong then?

I returned to the Workflow web site, and clicked to see the instances I just created. The excellent view flow feature from K2 [blackpearl] is available. It shows me that the error is in the email sending section (Figure 6).

Figure 6: The view flow, from the workflow web site

I investigated, and used the Management Console that is available in the SharePoint administration site. This is yet another feature that has been integrated (shown in Figure 7). Excellent :-). No errors here, so I checked the event log on the machine. It would seem the runtime services hadn’t been installed correctly. The application pool had an invalid identity, so I fixed that, and tried again.

Figure 7: Management Console integrated into SharePoint administration

I went back into the Workflow web site and clicked ‘retry’ on the instances that failed… sure enough, email arrived as expected! (shown in Figure 8) I cancelled a few that I had created trying to diagnose the faults, using the ‘cancel’ option.

Figure 8 - the email arrives 

Brilliant, my workflow appeared to work. Looking around at what I can do, I think the export to excel reports are really cool. (shown in Figure 9)

Figure 9: Excel reports 

Interesting, however, is it correct? I cancelled two, but where are the ones that completed? Do I need to have a terminate event on my workflow? I’ll do a little more playing around. If you know, please comment on this blog post.

I think this could be a very useful tool for our organisation, and best of all, the training required is greatly reduced since it’s all SharePoint based now, and our staff already know SharePoint.


K2 [blackpoint] - the trial begins

Last week it was proposed that my development team should have a look at K2 [blackpoint]. Management’s motivation seems to be more money related rather than feature related since K2 [blackpoint] is cheaper per user than K2 [blackpearl]. My organisation already have a number of K2 [blackpearl] workflows in use, and I really like it… so I was a little unsure about what K2 [blackpoint] could offer us.

Its billed as SharePoint workflows, more features, no code… should us developers all quit now while we can and leave all the development to our business analysts?

We’ve had a number of disastrous attempts at getting our power user and business analyst users involved in developing their own stuff without interacting with the developers… should we trust them with more power? and allow them to build their own WSS or MOSS workflow? The jury is out! :-D

Things to point out:

  • It is currently only available in beta version (version 4.8130.0.0)
  • There is an upgrade path to K2 [blackpearl] - great :-)
  • Business analysts and users of the K2 toolkits are secure in the knowledge that the tools are familiar, as they look very similar to the Office 2007 suite.

Installation footprint (Hardware):

  1. Minimum: Server with processor speed of 2.5 gigahertz (GHz)  or higher
    Recommended: Dual processor, 3 GHz or higher
  2. Minimum: 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM
    Recommended: 2 GB recommended
  3. 3 GB of available hard disk

Installation footprint (software)

One of the following operating systems (for the server)

  • Windows 2003 Server with SP2 (Standard or Enterprise)
  • Windows 2003 Server R2 with SP2 (Standard or Enterprise)

For use of email notifications (one of the following three):

  • Internet Simple Mail Transfer Protocol/Post Office Protocol 3 (SMTP/POP3)
  • Internet Message Access Protocol 4 (IMAP4)
  • MAPI-compliant messaging software

The following windows components:

  • Internet Information Services (IIS) 6.0
  • Distributed Transaction Coordinator (DTC)
  • Microsoft Message Queuing (MSMQ)

The following .Net components:


  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 6 or higher (IE 7 is recommended)

Additional applications:

Database technologies:

  • Microsoft SQL Server 2005 with SP2 (Standard or Enterprise)
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services

Take note of all the required Service Packs, as K2 will only be able to support your installation if it was installed with the correct prerequisites. Windows 2003 Server MUST have all the latest security patches. SQL Server 2005 will work in pre SP2 mode, but wont be supported. Report Viewer must be SP1. These are all things to investigate if your beta install fails to work or install before calling for help.

More detail on the installation prerequisites can be found in the K2 [blackpoint] Release notes, where much of this information is from!

I’ll be reporting back on how my organisation gets on with K2 [BlackPoint].. good luck to everyone else who’s embarking on the same journey.


Another reason to ditch vanilla MOSS Workflow and create your own!

Its been a while since I can sit down and go through my blog subscriptions. One of note was also raised by Jason Apergis in his excellent MOSS Workflow history best practice article.

The 60 day automatic purge of workflow history! This has quite a big impact in lots of my organisations workflows. Perhaps we were a being naive in assuming that we could use the out of box or ‘vanilla’ behaviour of SharePoint history keeping.

Have a read of Dave Wollerman’s Blog, and his post entitled: Huge MOSS Workflow Issue… What is Microsoft Thinking!!!!

It seems this information has been common knowledge since last year, but its the first I have read of it!

Luckily, with K2 [blackpearl] and K2 [blackpoint] it is relatively easy to store your own historic information, with not too much of an overhead, either using SmartObjects or by storing it in a Custom List. The possibilities are endless.


SQL Server Agent and StartServiceCtrlDispatcher (error 6)

Well, the aftermath from the issue we had earlier in the week continues. To mitigate any further log expansion problems, we decided to migrate all the logs and error outputs to another partition.

This went smoothly and all the SQL Server error logs now appear on the other partition, however the SQL Server Agent now fails to start…

To be more precise, it starts and then immediately stops. To diagnose the issue I copied the command that was being run as a service to the command line to see if anything more useful was displayed. No errors were present in the application or system event logs.

Figure 1: SQL Agent Service startup from the command line

A quick google for StartServiceCtrDispatcher though lots of potential solution, however none that could have helped in this case.

The issue should have been obvious, we had just moved the location of the logs, including the logs created by the SQL Server Agent.

You can set the log, either though the registry editor, or through SQL Server Configuration Manager.

Figure 2: Registry key to check

Figure 3: Permissions to allow on your new log location(s)

As you can see, under the SQL Server instance, is the error log path. If this log path is incorrect, or the user (or service account) starting the SQL Server Agent cannot write to this path you will get the StartServiceCtrlDispatcher (error 6).

I hope this helps in your diagnosis if it happens to you.


By SpittingCAML in SQL Server 2005  .::. (Add your comment)

Dead SQL Server 2005 box… could it be down to a cursor?

Today was an odd one… a colleague and I were doing some eXtreme Programming (XP)…. i.e. we needed to solve an issue with one of our many ASP.NET applications quickly!!

We were looking at a stored procedure that contained a cursor. We then fiddled a bit and commented out lots of it out to aid our debug… In our excitement to solve the problem we made the schoolboy error of not un-commenting the CLOSE and DEALLOCATE steps in the cursor when we reinstated it.

The web page linked to the stored procedure was loading in the browser… it took an age to appear… alarm bells were ringing! What had we done… was there an infinite loop cursor in progress?

I logged into SQL Server Management Studio to run a diagnostic query. The diagnostic query I was running was very similar to the excellent one Glenn Berry has published. It checked for obvious issues such as

  1. High CPU load operations
  2. Blocking queries
  3. Transaction log size
  4. Network and I/O issues

I was not unsurprised to see that the transaction log on tempdb was full. Not being a SQL expert in the slightest, I called the Operations Manager over for assistance. Remote Desktop to the machine was also non functioning… what had we done! Could a messed up cursor really cause all these issues?

Well, the investigations continue. If you experience similar issues to this, definitely look at Glen Berry’s SQL script and the following Microsoft support articles

  1. Causes of Transaction log expansion
  2. Unexpected transaction log growth



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