Microsoft partners applaud BizTalk Server upgrade

With the introduction Tuesday of BizTalk Server 2004, Microsoft Corp. is delivering a more complete package of business integration software that will allow for faster and less costly implementations, two of Microsoft's system integrator partners said.

BizTalk Server 2004, the upgrade to BizTalk Server 2002, is designed to help users integrate applications and automate business processes. It competes with products from vendors including IBM Corp., webMethods Inc., Tibco Software Inc., SeeBeyond Technology Corp., and BEA Systems Inc.

The most important enhancements to BizTalk Server 2004 are improved scalability, the addition of a business rules engine and integration of the development environment into Visual Studio .Net, according to representatives of Sapient Corp. and Avanade Inc., which both offer BizTalk Server implementation services.

The improvements should lead to shorter implementation times and lower costs because system integrators will have less drudge work to do. Previously, extra work needed for scaling, business rules definition and other development aspects, they said.

"Version 2004, in our opinion, represents a quantum leap in the evolution of BizTalk Server," said Sheldon Monteiro, vice president of alliances at Sapient, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "Buyers will be able to get the same functionality at a lower price, or get much richer functionality at the same price. It is significantly more value for money."

Microsoft declined to discuss specifics of the new product before Tuesday's launch.

Scalability improvements allow users to easily scale up to servers with up to eight processors and scale out to clusters of multiple servers. With BizTalk Server 2002, scaling essentially stopped at six processors in a single server and clustering support was limited, although systems integrators could work around those limits.

"Now there is no limit to how many machines we can use to do message processing," said Tyson Hartman, director of .Net solutions at Avanade. "There were ways to achieve greater scalability, but those were not part of BizTalk."

Including a business rules engine should mean cost savings for users who would otherwise have had to buy a rules engine from a third party. Business rules engines allow users to specify or change business rules, and make those rules part of the BizTalk Server system with minimal help from a software developer.

"Traditionally, business rules technology has been expensive," said Monteiro. By shipping a rules engine with BizTalk Server, Microsoft is going head-to-head with business rules engine vendors such as ILOG Inc., Fair Isaac Corp. and Pegasystems Inc., he said.

For developers, BizTalk Server 2004 is a big improvement, according to Monteiro. Previously, developers had to work through several different user interfaces when working on BizTalk Server. Now, all developer tools are integrated into Visual Studio, Microsoft's standard developer tool.

"This is a huge advantage for us," he said. Developer training is much simpler and the single tool improves developer productivity, he said.

Aside from the three key enhancements described by Sapient and Avanade, BizTalk Server 2004 offers a score of other new features. They include a business activity monitor, support for BPEL4WS (Business Process Execution Language for Web Services), single sign-on and a workflow engine, Microsoft has said.

Microsoft is also expanding its market reach with the new release by increasing the number of supported languages from four to nine. BizTalk Server 2002 is available in English, Japanese, French and German. The new version adds Spanish, Italian, Korean, simplified Chinese and traditional Chinese, the vendor has said.

Furthermore, the Standard Edition of BizTalk Server 2004 will let users connect to 20 trading partners and 10 internal applications, while the Partner Edition allows for three partners and three internal applications. The Standard Edition of BizTalk Server 2002 topped out at 10 trading partners and 5 internal applications, while the Partner Edition supported two partners and two internal applications, Microsoft has said.

Upgrading from BizTalk Server 2002 to BizTalk Server 2004 can be quite an exercise. Sapient has already performed an upgrade at one of its clients, Rock-Tenn Co.'s Alliance unit, which manufactures paper products, and it took about two months, Rob Milstead, senior program manager at Sapient, said.

The biggest bump for a migration is orchestration, Monteiro said. Because of the added support for BPEL4WS there are some basic incompatibilities in the format and the orchestration work basically needs to be redone, he said.

Pricing for BizTalk Server 2004 is unchanged from the 2002 version. The Enterprise Edition sells for AUD$42,560 per processor, the Standard Edition is AUD$11,912 per processor, and the Developer Edition costs AUD$850.

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