Workflow 1.0 Beta and SQL Server Aliases Do Not Play Nicely Together

My recent attempts to configure the Windows Azure Workflow service (Workflow 1.0 Beta) with a SQL Server alias didn’t go so well. If you’re playing with Workflow 1.0 Beta, stay away from aliases!

Bad behaviour I’ve been doing a bit of build-out with the new SharePoint 2013 Preview in anticipation of some development work, and I’ve documented a few snags that I’ve hit along the way. Although I ran into some additional problems with the SharePoint 2013 Preview yesterday, this post isn’t about SharePoint specifically; it’s about the Windows Azure Workflow service – also known (at this point in time) simply as Workflow 1.0 Beta.

A Bit of Background

If you’re brand-new to the SharePoint 2013 scene, you may not yet have heard: the future for workflow lies outside of SharePoint, not within it. The Windows Azure Workflow service (yes, it even has “Azure” in the name if you’re running it on-premise and not in the cloud) is industrial-strength stuff, and it promises all sorts of improvements over workflow as we know it (and use it) right now.

To take advantage of Windows Azure Workflow at this point in the SharePoint 2013 release cycle requires the installation of the Workflow 1.0 Beta. The installation is not a particularly complicated process, but that’s probably because I’ve been using a solid resource.

Note: the “solid resource” I’m referring to is CriticalPath Training’s VM setup guide. I’ve been using it as a reference as I’ve been doing my SharePoint 2013 build-outs; the guide itself is fantastic and comes with some supporting PowerShell scripts to help things along. The guide and scripts are freely available here – you just need to create an account on the CriticalPath Training site to download them. I recommend them if you’re just getting started with the SharePoint 2013 Preview.

So, what’s my beef with the Workflow 1.0 Beta? To summarize it in a few works: Workflow 1.0 Beta doesn’t seem to work with SQL Server aliases. I certainly tried, but in the end I was forced to abandon using an alias.

How I Initially Configured It

If you read my previous “An unexpected error has occurred” post, then you know that there are four different VMs I’m configuring for a SharePoint 2013 environment. Two of those VMs are of interest in the discussion about Workflow 1.0 Beta configuration:

  • SP2013-SQL. A SQL Server 2013 Enterprise VM
  • SP2013-APPS. A utility server for running Workflow 1.0 Beta and other “off-box” services

As a general rule of thumb, anytime I need to establish a SQL Server connection, I try to create a SQL Server alias to avoid tightly coupling my SQL Server consumers/clients directly to a SQL Server instance. This buys me some flexibility in the unfortunate event that a server dies, I need to relocate databases, etc.

SQL Server Alias ConfigurationI was planning to install the Workflow 1.0 Beta on my SP2013-APPS virtual machine, and I knew that Workflow 1.0 Beta would need to connect to my SP2013-SQL SQL Server. So, I created both a 32-bit alias and a 64-bit alias called SpSqlAlias for the default SQL Server instance residing on SP2013-SQL (which happened to be at IP address 172.16.0.2) as shown on left.

Trying to configure with a SQL aliasOnce the alias was created and all other prerequisites were addressed, I started the Workflow 1.0 Beta installation process. In the Workflow Configuration Wizard, I supplied my SQL Server alias in place of a server name, checked the connection, and was given a green check-mark. As the configuration process started, everything looked good. Even the Service Bus farm management and gateway databases were created without issue.

The problems started shortly thereafter, though, during the creation of a default container. Basically, I didn’t get any further. I literally stared at the screen on the right for a full ten (10) minutes without seeing any meaningful activity in the Details box. After 10 minutes had elapsed, the configuration process failed and I was treated to an exception message and stack trace. Omitting the inner exception detail, here’s what I was told:

System.Management.Automation.CmdletInvocationException: A network-related or instance-specific error occurred while establishing a connection to SQL Server. The server was not found or was not accessible. Verify that the instance name is correct and that SQL Server is configured to allow remote connections. (provider: Named Pipes Provider, error: 40 - Could not open a connection to SQL Server) ---> System.Data.SqlClient.SqlException: A network-related or instance-specific error occurred while establishing a connection to SQL Server. The server was not found or was not accessible. Verify that the instance name is correct and that SQL Server is configured to allow remote connections. (provider: Named Pipes Provider, error: 40 - Could not open a connection to SQL Server) ---> System.ComponentModel.Win32Exception: The system cannot find the file specified

Validating the Alias

Of course, the first thing I double-checked was the SQL Server to ensure that it was responding. It was. I even backed through the configuration wizard a couple of steps and verified (with the “Test Connection” button) that I could reach the SQL Server. No issues there: my SQL Server alias was valid as far as the configuration wizard was concerned.

Looking more closely at the exception message left me suspicious. This part in particular made me raise my eyebrow:

(provider: Named Pipes Provider, error: 40 – Could not open a connection to SQL Server)

Named Pipes Provider? I had specified a TCP/IP alias, not Named Pipes. Changing the permitted 32-bit and 64-bit client protocols (again, via the SQL Server Configuration Manager) to make sure that TCP/IP was enabled and Named Pipes was disabled …

Permitted Client Protocols

… made no difference, either – I’d still get an exception from the Named Pipes Provider. It looked as though one or more steps in the configuration process were “doing their own thing,” ignoring my alias and client protocols configuration, and (as a result) having trouble reaching the SQL Server.

Trying to Go with the Flow

Named Pipe AliasThe thought that entered my mind was, “Ok – don’t fight it if you don’t have to.” If the configuration wizard was going to fall back to using Named Pipes, then I’d go ahead and set up a Named Pipes alias. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea, but I’d rather have the SQL Server alias in-place than no alias at all.

So much for that thought.

I played with the actual Named Pipes alias format quite a bit, but in the end the result was always the same.

Trying to configure with SQL alias (named pipes) and failing

Attempts to use a TCP/IP alias always failed partway through configuration, and attempts to use a Named Pipes alias never even got started.

The Result

I gave it some more thought … and came up empty. So, I dumped any remaining aliases, ensured that all client protocols were back to their fully enabled state, and tried to do the configuration with just the SQL Server host name (to connect to the default instance).

The result?

 Successful completion of configuration

Using just the host name, I had no issues performing the configuration.

The Conclusion

If you are setting up Workflow 1.0 Beta, stay away from SQL Server aliases. As best as I can tell, they aren’t (yet) supported. I’m hopeful that this is just a beta bug or limitation.

On the other hand, if you think I’ve gone off the deep end and can find some way to get the Workflow 1.0 Beta configuration to run with SQL Server aliases, please let me know – I’d love to hear about it!

References and Resources

  1. Blog Post: "An unexpected error has occurred” after Installing SharePoint 2013
  2. Microsoft Download Center: Workflow 1.0 Beta
  3. TechNet: What’s new in workflow in SharePoint Server 2013
  4. CriticalPath Training: SharePoint Server 2013 Preview Virtual Machine Setup Guide
  5. MSDN: Create or Delete a Server Alias for Use by a Client (SQL Server Configuration Manager)

Author: Sean McDonough

I am the Chief Technology Officer for Bitstream Foundry LLC, a SharePoint solutions, services, and consulting company headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio. My professional development background goes back to the COM and pre-COM days - as well as SharePoint (since 2004) - and I've spent a tremendous amount of time both in the plumbing (as an IT Pro) and APIs (as a developer) associated with SharePoint and SharePoint Online. In addition, Microsoft awarded me an MVP (most valuable professional) in 2016 for the Office Servers and Services category.

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