Microsoft Eyes B2B Verticals

A series of add-ons to Microsoft Corp.'s BizTalk Server business-to-business integration software will make it easier and cheaper for companies to connect some business processes with their trading partners.

A series of add-ons to Microsoft Corp.s BizTalk Server business-to-business integration software will make it easier and cheaper for companies to connect some business processes with their trading partners.

But enterprises should not expect the kind of robust application integration that established middleware vendors can offer.

The BizTalk Accelerator series, which will begin shipping this fall, maps the processes defined by RosettaNet and other public standards to the internal business processes of a company so it can pass purchase orders back and forth with its suppliers.

One early user of Accelerator for RosettaNet said the Microsoft technology lacks the scalability of enterprise application integration software from heavyweights such as Tibco Software Inc. and WebMethods Inc.

"I dont think [BizTalk] is going to replace WebMethods or Tibco because BizTalk has serious problems when your XML [Extensible Markup Language] files are getting bigger, serious performance limitations," said Antonio Andrade, a Web developer at an electronics manufacturer in the Southeast. "The difference between BizTalk and the rest of the enterprise application integrators are [BizTalks] lack of documentation, lack of orientation and [lack of] scalability."

Still, Andrade said he believes the BizTalk Accelerators will help get companies started in B2B collaboration once Microsoft matures the technology and the support that goes with it.

The first two Accelerators will work with the RosettaNet standard for electronics and high-tech manufacturers and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act standards for the health care industry. Both are in beta now and due within three months.

This fall, Microsoft, of Redmond, Wash., will release a BizTalk Accelerator for suppliers, officials said. A BizTalk Accelerator for the financial services, chemical, petroleum, retail and auto industries is also on Microsofts radar screen, although no due dates have been set.

Accelerators will include PIPs (Partner Interface Processes), system-to-system XML-based dialogues developed by RosettaNet to define business processes between partners. The PIPs provide a bridge to the business process models that IT managers create with BizTalk. If a companys partners are also mapped to the published standards, then the two can share complex business tasks.

BizTalk Server Accelerator for RosettaNet has nine PIPs that define processes in two areas: managed purchase orders and process documentation. The PIPs will be standard features for each of Microsofts accelerators, officials said.

Systems integrator Syncata Inc. deployed BizTalk Server and a beta version of RosettaNet Accelerator in about 90 days for circuit maker Linear Technology Corp., which wanted to move thousands of weekly manual transactions to the Internet. At a cost of about $5,000 for the software, the package enabled Linear to transact purchase orders and return order status notifications electronically with a key distributor.

The $5,000 price, however, doesnt include the cost of integration and customization, which Linear, of Milpitas, Calif., and Syncata, a Microsoft partner, declined to disclose. "We needed Syncatas help with the integration," said David Quarles, vice president of marketing with Linear. "But if you had that kind of talent in your organization, you could get up and running for that amount."