Microsoft this week released the second version of its BizTalk Server software, which is aimed at helping companies exchange data between applications inside and outside their corporate firewalls and manage business processes.
New features of BizTalk Server 2002, which is Microsoft's major offering in the business-to-business space, include so-called seed technology to help trading partners more easily connect and tighten integration with three Microsoft products -- its Operations Manager, Application Center and new Visual Studio .Net development tool, which is due to ship next week.
Microsoft product manager Dave Wascha said the new version is viewed as "evolutionary." The BizTalk Server release due in 2003 will be the major release, he said.
But depending on their needs, some companies may find the new features helpful, said Ken Vollmer, an analyst at Cambridge, Massachusetts- based Giga Information Group Inc.
BizTalk Server's seed technology, which formerly stood for "super efficient and effective deployment," seeks to help companies automatically ramp up their trading partners for electronic transactions. An automaker, for instance, might use the seed technology to create an XML document with all of the configuration information a small parts supplier would need to set up its BizTalk Server to exchange data. The small supplier would merely have to open the XML document, or seed, and hit a series of wizards to extract the configuration information, test the system and notify the automaker that it's ready for business, Wascha explained.
To take advantage of the seed technology, both companies must be using BizTalk Server, Wascha noted. He said the new feature can help companies reduce the amount of time needed to establish connections with trading partners from weeks to hours. "If they're dealing with suppliers that have BizTalk Server, this is an option for them to reduce their cost and burden," he said.
BizTalk Server 2002's tight integration with Microsoft's Visual Studio .Net is aimed at enabling developers to use BizTalk components in the Visual Studio .Net development environment and turn BizTalk business processes into XML Web services.
The tight integration with Microsoft's Application Center is expected to help users manage any applications that use BizTalk Server through one central place. Tacking on Application Center costs US$2,999 per CPU, Wascha said.
Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) has been integrated with BizTalk Server 2002 to help customers perform event monitoring, alerting, reporting and other management functions. "It's often difficult to diagnose and fix business problems when you have a complex business process, and through our integration with Microsoft Operations Manager, we allow you to very granularly watch what's going on and automate taking action if you want to," Wascha said. MOM costs $349 per CPU.
The enterprise edition of BizTalk Server sells for $25,000 per CPU, and the standard edition is $5,000 per CPU.
"BizTalk Server is less expensive than many of the other options, so there's still some room if you have to buy additional components," said Giga's Vollmer. "It still ends up being a lower cost in most cases."
Vollmer said that BizTalk Server, which debuted in December 2000, is starting to catch on in midsize organizations but that some large firms approach it more cautiously due to concerns about scalability and business orchestration limitations.
Wascha, however, claimed that BizTalk Server has cracked the 900-customer barrier and that typical customers are Global 2,000 companies such as Ford Motor Co., J.C. Penney Co., Air Products and Chemicals Inc. and Tyco International Ltd.