By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2004-03-29 Print this article Print

With its broad open-standards support, multiple integration options, and some of the best process development and design tools available, Microsoft Corp.s BizTalk Server 2004 is one of the best BPM systems around and earns eWEEK Labs Analysts Choice honors. The product is a must-have for any Microsoft shop doing business integration—and even non-Microsoft shops should include it on their evaluation list.

Saying a Microsoft product has good standards support can elicit surprise and suspicion in some people who—with some justification—suspect Microsoft will lock users into a proprietary format once it achieves market traction. But business process management is a different beast than most other product categories: The main goal is to connect widely different systems, making good standard support the only way to go.

BizTalk Server 2004 starts at $6,999 per processor for the standard edition and $24,999 per processor for the enterprise edition (which we tested).

Probably the biggest new feature in BizTalk Server 2004, which was released this month, is that it is now based on the World Wide Web Consortiums XML Schema Definition, which makes it much easier for the server to integrate with other systems, services and businesses.

BizTalk Server 2004 supports Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations, Web Services Description Language and Business Process Execution Language. In a nod to the legacy of business integrations, it also supports electronic data interchange through technology provided by Covast.

Many features are in the final product that were not in the beta we reviewed earlier (see www.eWEEK.com/labslinks). Some involve integration with SharePoint Services to help workers collaborate and manage BizTalk projects. We found these features welcome and useful, and they dont lock customers into forced upgrades. Companies not wishing to deploy SharePoint Services will still get all the key functionality out of BizTalk Server 2004.

In this release, BizTalk Servers excellent design, mapping and orchestration tools have been integrated into the Visual Studio .Net development environment. This may be a problem for some users, especially those who wouldnt normally need Visual Studio for their jobs. However, most of these tasks are done by developer-oriented users. For them, the integration is a big win, making it much easier to integrate BizTalk processes into applications and Web services.

New BizTalk projects are now an option in Visual Studio .Net, and a new Explorer window let us easily view BizTalk content. Using the new Pipeline Designer, we visually built business process assemblies for an integration process, and it was simple to publish schemas and Web services.

Some tools still exist outside Visual Studio .Net, including a new Business Rules Composer, for defining how processes react to dynamically changing conditions (see screen), and a Tracking Profile tool, for deploying activity monitoring requirements that have been defined in Microsofts Excel. Contributors who may not need Visual Studio can also create content in Microsofts Visio and InfoPath and integrate it with Server 2004.

The new integration with SharePoint Services enabled us to create collaborative team sites where business workers could access and track business process activity.

New security features let us define advanced business rules and accommodate single sign-on for our business processes. A new workflow model makes it possible to route tasks and actions to users when specific parameters are met.

BizTalk Servers wide variety of reporting and analysis options let us track our business processes in real time and do long-term analysis.

eWEEK Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst, eWEEK.For nearly fifteen years, Jim Rapoza has evaluated products and technologies in almost every technology category for eWEEK. Mr RapozaÔÇÖs current technology focus is on all categories of emerging information technology though he continues to focus on core technology areas that include: content management systems, portal applications, Web publishing tools and security. Mr. Rapoza has coordinated several evaluations at enterprise organizations, including USA Today and The Prudential, to measure the capability of products and services under real-world conditions and against real-world criteria. Jim Rapoza's award-winning weekly column, Tech Directions, delves into all areas of technologies and the challenges of managing and deploying technology today.

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