BizTalk Server 2004 Stakes New Territory

Beta, based on XSD, promises easier business process integration.

BizTalk Server 2004

The core piece of Microsofts forthcoming Jupiter e-business suite, BizTalk Server 2004, looks like it will also be one of the premier business process management platforms available. Microsofts upgrade offers many significant improvements, including finally supporting the XML Schema standard, which should expedite business process integration.

  • PRO: Very good support for XML and Web services standards; excellent design and mapping tools; good reporting and tracking capabilities.
  • CON: Developer tools now require Visual Studio .Net, which can be confusing at first.

• IBMs IBM Business Integration • Oracles Oracle E-Business • WebMethods Integration Platform

Although much of the focus on the release of the beta of BizTalk Server 2004 will center on the fact that it is the first piece of Microsoft Corp.s Jupiter vision for an integrated e-business suite, the real news is how much Microsoft has improved the already-excellent business and process integration platform.

The beta of BizTalk Server 2004, which was released in June (the finalized version is expected to ship by the end of the year), is a major departure from the previous version of the Microsoft server. And in eWEEK Labs opinion, all the changes are positive.

Probably the biggest, most positive change is that BizTalk Server 2004 will be based completely on the World Wide Web Consortiums XSD (XML Schema Definition). This means that companies using BizTalk Server for business integration should find it much easier to integrate with partners, Web services and other business process management systems.

Microsoft has also made major changes in the BizTalk Server tools—the biggest being that almost all the tools are now integrated into Visual Studio .Net. While this might be a little confusing for some users at first, it makes sense because the developers most likely to use these tools are probably already using Visual Studio .Net. Also, while these tools have been placed inside Visual Studio, they are still mainly the same, so developers shouldnt have to do a lot of retraining.

One new tool that is integrated into Visual Studio .Net is the Pipeline Designer. This tool provided us with a drag-and-drop interface for building business process assemblies of how applications and components would react within an integration process. Also, a new Business Rules application made it possible to define rules for how processes would react to dynamically changing conditions.

It is now easier for nondevelopers to use tools such as Visio for initial orchestration design and then have a developer build the orchestration using the integrated tools in Visual Studio .Net. Also, some business forms and processes can be built using InfoPath and then imported into BizTalk Server. InfoPath can also be used to deliver content to business workers.

Other new features include good monitoring and reporting capabilities, which made it possible for us to track how our business process transactions were running and to test and debug our processes.

The new Health and Activity Tracking application gave us easy access to several queries and reports on a variety of activity within the BizTalk Server test deployment. Although some were similar to the message tracking features in the previous version, many new features were added, including some real-time tracking.

In addition to its support for XSD, BizTalk Server 2004 also has good support for several other XML and Web services standards, including XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations), WS-I (Web Services-Interoperability) and BPEL (Business Process Execution Language). Of course, Web services is still a big part of what BizTalk Server does, both in managing and consuming them, and the new Visual Studio integration made it simple to add Web services to our business processes.

Roles and security have been greatly enhanced in BizTalk Server 2004, allowing us in tests to define more advanced business rules and even do single sign-on for business applications.

In addition, a new workflow model makes it possible to route tasks and actions to users when specific parameters are met. Workflow actions are defined throughout the development process during tasks such as orchestration design and development. BizTalk Servers separate Human Workflow Services management console made it possible for us to manage and view workflow actions throughout the test system.

Like all Microsoft server platforms, BizTalk Server 2004 comes with some good tutorials and sample applications for learning how to use the tools and applications in the server. And because this is only beta code, we would expect these to be even more comprehensive when BizTalk Server 2004 actually ships.

East Coast Technical Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at