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BizTalk Server 2004 to Go Live

Microsoft is expected to unveil its BizTalk Server 2004 Tuesday, the latest iteration of its enterprise application integration server software.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor has scheduled the launch event at its Mountain View, Calif.-based campus complete with a host of stand up partners.

The beta version of BizTalk Server 2004 -- released last June -- provided the foundation for an enterprise portal framework, including business-process orchestration, single sign-on, "human-based" workflow and Web services support. The aim is to let customers build e-business apps that connect with various information repositories and processes within the enterprise. It also included an adapter framework for easier integration of current and legacy enterprise applications.

This release completes the product's evolution from pure application serving to true application connectivity, said Sheldon Monteiro, vice president of technology and alliances at Sapient, a technology services firm that will participate in the launch event on Tuesday. Sapient has customers using BizTalk 2000, 2002 and some early adopters using the beta 2004 version. Monteiro said BizTalk 2004 has improved scalability, a built-in rules engine and a whole library of pre-packaged adapters for a variety of e-business apps.

In prior versions of the software, Monteiro said, integrators needed to architect process flows very carefully to make sure they weren't pushing too much through the orchestration engine. He said performance throughput in the latest version was as much as ten times better. And the rules engine, he added, is a beautiful thing. One Sapient banking client using an earlier version could only change business rules for such things as customer application approvals four times a year. Now, he said, "You're putting the power of modifying the business decision-making rules into the hands of business analysts that need them."

Monteiro said Microsoft worked closely with partners and ISVs to give them what they need, and the software adapter library, which is packaged with the product, "gives us a jumpstart in terms of customer adoption."

BizTalk Server was supposed to be the first phase of Microsoft's Jupiter e-business Web services suite, the beginning of an integrated modular line of products. The idea was to integrate Microsoft's three specialized e-business servers -- Microsoft BizTalk Server, Microsoft Commerce Server, and Microsoft Content Management Server -- and hook them into other applications and tools, such as Visual Studio .NET, Windows Server and Microsoft Office.

But customers reportedly didn't go for the suite offering, so Microsoft is releasing BizTalk Server 2004, but won't follow with updates for the other two server products. Instead, according to a Microsoft spokesperson, development of the features of Content Management Server has been moved into the SharePoint Services group. Commerce Server will get an update via a service pack.

Monteiro, who has been on the Jupiter advisory board for the past two years, said he sees Jupiter's end as a branding issue, not a technology one. Microsoft is about to mount a huge ad campaign for its Windows Server System brand, under which all the server products, including BizTalk, fall. The company's brands are confusing enough without adding another layer.

Microsoft has rolled over the message onto its Windows Server System line. "They shot themselves in the foot a little by making this huge Jupiter announcement and then stepping back from it," Monteiro admitted to internetnews.com. But from the technology standpoint, he said, "The vision of integration remains alive."