MS homes in on Jupiter with BizTalk Server beta

Microsoft Monday announced the availability of the first beta version of BizTalk Server 2004, marking the first phase in its "Jupiter" project to provide software for integrating business applications.

BizTalk Server 2004 will be the foundation for Jupiter, a project announced last year that will unify BizTalk with two of Microsoft's other "E-Business Server" products, Commerce Server and Content Management Server, said David Wascha, group product manager for E-Business Servers at Microsoft. The BizTalk Server 2004 beta was announced at Microsoft's TechEd conference in Dallas.

BizTalk Server 2004, the upgrade to BizTalk Server 2002, is designed to integrate disparate applications in an enterprise. It will compete with products from vendors including IBM, webMethods, Tibco Software, SeeBeyond Technology, and BEA Systems.

Research firm Gartner Inc. estimates the integration software market was worth around US$1.7 billion in license revenue last year and will grow between 6 percent and 8 percent in 2003. Microsoft claims to have about 2,300 customers for BizTalk Server worldwide.

One of Microsoft's goals with Jupiter is to reduce the complexity of business integration software, something that both Microsoft and its rivals have been lax at in the past, according to Wascha.

Among the enhancements in BizTalk Server 2004 will be support for the BPEL4WS (Business Process Execution Language for Web Services) and a developers' tool that will work inside Microsoft's overarching developer environment, Visual Studio .Net, Wascha said.

"Before, we had a number of separate developer tools and no common debugging; now, developers can use Visual Studio also for BizTalk Server," he said.

Also new in BizTalk Server 2004 is integration with InfoPath and Excel, data gathering and spreadsheet products, respectively, that are part of Microsoft's Office System. Users will be able to get easier access to back-end data sources from within those applications, according to Wascha.

Other features in BizTalk Server 2004 include single sign-on, a workflow engine and a business rules engine, Wascha said. These features will be used by the other pieces of Jupiter that will be delivered later, he said.

Microsoft is making great advancements in the integration software market, a market it only entered a few years ago and was late to get to, said David McCoy, a Gartner vice president and fellow.

"I never thought I would say this, but I think Microsoft is finally understanding business process management," McCoy said. "The trends with all vendors is towards suites and Microsoft is riding the trends nicely. This is just the first blush of Jupiter and I am impressed. The real big ticket will be the full blown Jupiter, that is when the big punch will come."

The final version of BizTalk Server 2004 is scheduled for release by the end of the year, but it could take a bit longer for Microsoft to deliver the second installment of Jupiter, Wascha said.

"We are looking at a 2004 and 2005 timeframe for phase two, and that will include commerce, content, some portal features and functionalities, including tight integration with SharePoint Portal Server," he said.

When it first announced Jupiter, Microsoft said phase two would be delivered in the first half of next year.

BizTalk Server, Commerce Server and Content Management Server today are sold as separate products. With BizTalk Server 2004 becoming the foundation for the future versions of Commerce Server and Content Management Server, the Jupiter integration project raises the issue of whether users will be forced to buy more software than they require.

"How we will ultimately package the products has yet to be decided, but you will be able to buy content management software from Microsoft and you won't have to buy more software than you need," Wascha said.

Gartner's McCoy believes Microsoft is aware of the issue and that customers won't be forced to buy unneeded software to get the product they want.

Microsoft has yet to decide what will happen to Host Integration Server, currently part of the E-Business Server portfolio. It is a complementary product to BizTalk Server 2002, but may disappear as a product with the functionality integrated into other products, Wascha suggested.

"Jupiter will include some of the functionality of Host Integration Server," he said. McCoy said he "always wondered" why Host Integration Server existed separately.

BizTalk Server 2004 beta 1 will be available for download on Microsoft's Web site. The software will also be handed out to attendees at the TechEd conference, Wascha said.

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