While Microsoft has clearly augmented the business-to-business and data integration features of BizTalk, it still looks very much like a tool for building narrow-based departmental or divisional applications rather than broad enterprise-scale applications. What remains to be seen, now that it has introduced the new BizTalk Server, is whether Microsoft will see enough customer demand to consider reviving the e-business server suite that was supposed to include BizTalk, Content Management Server (CMS), Commerce Server and Host Integration Server. The bundle was supposed to compete head-on with WebSphere, and it certainly sounded like a bold idea. But Microsoft disclosed two weeks ago that it was shelving the bundle, which was due in 2005, at least for the time being.One thing that Microsoft hasnt changed is the price. Microsoft is charging $25,000 per CPU for the Enterprise Edition, $7,000 for the Standard Edition and $999 for the Partner Edition. This maintains the appeal of the Microsoft server as an economical if still less powerful Windows alternative to WebSphere or WebLogic deployments, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The server has been evaluated by 45 early support customers. One of those customers, Virgin Entertainment Group, went live in January with a real-time "loss prevention" application that watches point-of-sale transactions in the entertainment media retailers 23 North American stores to look for evidence of fraud or theft. "We spend a lot of time and energy trying to keep products from walking out the door," said Steven Winningham, Virgin Entertainments senior vice president of operation. Retailers in North America lose more than $30 billion a year in thefts and frauds, and nearly half are committed by employees, he said. Virgin Entertainment worked with system integrator Xavor of Irvine, Calif., to develop the system based on BizTalk 2004, Microsoft SQL Server Analysis Services, SharePoint Services and the Microsoft Office System. "The time it took to implement the solution for our architects and developers was relatively short" compared with other data integration systems in the market, said Ammara Masood, Xavor senior vice president. Virgin Entertainment received the BizTalk software in August and had a finished application up and running by mid-December, Masood said. The system went live in January after testing and evaluation. Next page: XML, Web services development give BizTalk the edge.
For more on the decision, read "Microsoft Changes Its E-Biz Server Course."