Microsoft adds workflow to cloud-based SOA platform

Workflow capabilities added to BizTalk Services

Microsoft last week added workflow capabilities to BizTalk Services, the company's platform-in-the-cloud project for SOA and business process management.

The R12 Community Technology Preview for BizTalk Services, the twelfth version of the project, offers workflow enabling service orchestration from the cloud. These services can connect to enterprise systems or to systems running anywhere on the Internet.

Featured in R12 are a hosted Windows Workflow Foundation runtime and Web services messaging. Users could, for example, set up an automated process that uses Web services to provide pricing information to a partner, said Steven Martin, senior director of product management for the Microsoft Connected Systems Division. "The workflow technology allows me to define the interaction between those services," he said.

"As more customers are rolling out SOA in their organizations, the need to define the [interactions] of the services that traverse the firewall is very important," Martin said.

Workflow joins identity and messaging services already available with BizTalk Services. In an open beta stage for almost a year, BizTalk Services acts as a hosted service bus for connecting applications across the Internet. Microsoft would not say how many users the platform currently has. There is no specific date yet on commercial availability for a general release of BizTalk Services.

Other improvements in the R12 release impact the identity and messaging services. The identity service has been expanded to enable users to grant permissions to multiple assets, such as allowing a partner vendor some amount of control over access.

"The enhancement that we've done for identity allows for that scenario," rather than just having one party able to access information, said Martin. REST-based (Representational State Transfer) communication of identity information also has been added.

Messaging capabilities now support multiple protocols for exchanging information, such as TCP and auto-detect. Previously, the service was limited to HTTP transfer. First-in, first-out messaging, to ensure that a group of documents is received in proper order, has been added as well

Also, information can be broadcast to multiple parties without requiring that the parties first have authorization to get the data.

BizTalk Services was viewed as a solution for smaller companies by analyst Randy Heffner of Forrester Research. "It's an outsourcing-your-platform kind of thing," Heffner said. A major enterprise typically would want to control in-house the types of services offered on Microsoft's platform, he said.

Additional services will be added to BizTalk Services in the future, Martin said. Microsoft's planned Oslo software development technologies, featuring capabilities for visual modeling and a new declarative language, will be leveraged by BizTalk Services.

BizTalk Services, which remains the codename for the project, can be accessed here. An updated SDK is featured for use with the platform. Microsoft first unveiled the project in the spring of 2007.

With BizTalk Services, Microsoft does not actually store any customer information, Martin said.

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