Microsoft Ships BizTalk Server R2
September 18, 2007 Alex Woodie
Microsoft this week officially announced the general availability of BizTalk Server 2006 Release 2 (R2), a new release of its core enterprise application integration (EAI) offering. With this release, Microsoft has introduced “native” support for business-to-business technologies such as EDI, AS2, and RFID, and also delivered a new low-cost version designed for installation in branch offices.
BizTalk Server is Microsoft’s core integration platform for connecting customers’ enterprise applications, including those running on IBM System i servers, with the enterprise applications of their partners. The product is used quite often in the retail supply chain, as it automatically whisks purchase orders, invoices, and shipping notices across the networks to their rightful place, effortlessly traversing time, space, and differences among operating system, databases, messaging infrastructures, and ERP applications themselves.
Microsoft is billing BizTalk Server 2006 R2 as the fifth full version of the product since it was initially launched in 2000. While earlier versions of the application integration engine had gained some renown, including promising positioning on Gartner “Magic Quadrants,” it hasn’t been until the current R2 release that the product has received the right combination for deploying the latest in integration techniques, according to Microsoft. So whether your goal involves service oriented architectures (SOAs), business performance management (BPM), enterprise service buses (ESBs), or business activity monitoring (BAM), Microsoft will point you toward the BizTalk Server 2006 R2 department, and tell you to look around.
Microsoft has made several important enhancements with the R2 release of BizTalk Server 2006. For starters the new RFID server ships as a part of the product. With this engine in place, developers can use BizTalk Server as the main integration hub for gathering RFID-related information from readers, sharing that information with ERP applications, and orchestrating the execution of events, such as the delivery of an advanced ship notice (ASN) to a supply chain partner. Previous releases of BizTalk Server required add-ons to gain the RFID functionality, but now it’s baked directly into the product.
Microsoft’s marketing materials also claim the company has added “native” support for EDI. This is a bit of a misnomer, as BizTalk Server has supported EDI since day one. After all, despite the rise of XML, good old EDI is still the main technology used to communicate orders in the world’s main industrial supply chains. An EAI product like BizTalk Server would be next to useless without being able to parse and send EDI transactions.
What Microsoft really means by “native” support is, for the first time, it has included support for the main EDI standards–namely X12, EDIFACT, and AS2–as a core component of the product, instead of requiring its software partners to supply add-ons to support these core technologies. That’s a good and worthwhile addition.
Microsoft has also included some single sign-on (SSO) capabilities with the new release. Because BizTalk Server is used to integrate disparate enterprise applications, it can sometimes be problematic to gain the necessary authentication to log-on and make changes to a remote system, such as an IBM AS/400 or S/390 mainframe. To that end, Microsoft added a facility to allow BizTalk Server to send tickets containing the proper user names and passwords when connecting to remote and disparate systems, and to authenticate them against a directory.
Creating BAM applications is also an area of improvement for BizTalk Server 2006. With this release, Microsoft has made it easier for business people to tap into the application-to-application data flow that BizTalk Server is executing. To that end, “BAM interceptors” based on the .NET Framework version 2.0’s Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Workflow Foundation (WF) are instrumental. R2 has also made it easier for users to export BAM data in a format of the user’s choice. For example, some users might want to view data in an Excel table, while others would like to see it on a Web-based dashboard.
Microsoft has also released a scaled-down version of the product, called the BizTalk Server Branch Edition, that sells for just $1,799 per CPU. That compares quite favorably to the $34,999 per-processor price tag that will accompany BizTalk Server 2006 R2 Enterprise Edition starting January 1 (up $5,000 from the initial launch of BizTalk Server 2006 and the current price), and even the Standard Edition, which costs $8,499 per processor. The main differences between the editions are the Enterprise Edition has no limitations on its use, while the Standard Edition is limited to two-CPU servers and a maximum of five connected applications, while the Branch Edition can only connect to a single application and is also limited to two-CPU systems. Microsoft also sells a developer’s edition that costs $499 per seat.