BizTalk Server starts enterprise integration discussion

At least one Microsoft customer is puzzled by the math behind the company’s decision to dismantle its BizTalk, Content Management and Commerce server bundle.

BizTalk Server 2004, due to be launched on Tuesday, will be sold

as a separate product. The server application will include business activity monitoring tools, which will allow a user to track a business process through integration with Microsoft’s Office 2003 suite. The product will also include support for Business Process Execution Language, which will route data using an XML standard. Microsoft’s original plan, announced at the Tech-Ed conference in 2003, was to sell its e-business server products as one suite under the name Jupiter.

The Toronto office of CCL Industries Inc., a consumer manufacturing conglomerate, already uses earlier versions of BizTalk Server and Commerce Server. “”If one ends up using a bit here and a bit there anyway, in my mind, it’s better to have a complete bundled solution,”” said CCL’s vice-president of IT and CIO, Akhil Bhandari. “”That way one has everything one needs to get started on an e-commerce project, as opposed to worrying about . . . ‘What else should I have?'””

Bhandari said he has no plans to move up to BizTalk 2004 when it becomes available, but did express an interest in the product’s enhanced XML-based routing since he’s looking for a better way to exchange XML data between his departments.

BizTalk is beginning to overshadow the Content Management and Commerce Server products, said IDC Canada Ltd. analyst Warren Shiau, which may be one of the reasons Microsoft has opted it to sell it alone.

“”For Microsoft, BizTalk Server is probably the most important of these product lines in terms of where it gets them with users,”” he said. “”Biztalk is really an integral part of their integration message. Content Management Server and Commerce Server are important too, but they’re not so key to that integration and architecture message.””

Representatives from Microsoft refused to comment on BizTalk before the product is officially released.

Avanade Canada, a system integrator that specializes in Microsoft-related IT projects, is in the process of establishing a centre of excellence in Ottawa specifically to work on enterprise integration issues involving BizTalk. This facility, which will likely employ 10-12 employees by the end of this year, will be close to the Canadian government customers Avanade Canada is eager to work with, said enterprise integration practice lead Sylvain Duford.

Microsoft and consulting firm Accenture founded Avanade as a joint venture approximately four years ago, and the Canadian arm is building towards an employee base of 125 people by the end of this year. Duford said Avanade has been working since last fall with one federal government customer to help link the IT systems of various departments with a Siebel customer relationship management product.

“”They were originally going to just rewrite it in C# by hand,”” said Duford, who would not name the government agency. “”We said it would make more sense to use BizTalk , because then they’d have the ability to add, move or change things without changing the core application.””

The first phase of the project will be completed by the end of this month, Duford said, and will involve up to 50 interfaces. By the time the project ends next year, it will involve 120 interfaces.

Duford, who is scheduled to attend Tuesday’s launch event, said BizTalk’s business activity monitoring tools will be particularly useful to Avanade’s customers, especially its public sector client.

“”They need to be able to audit every message they send to the RCMP,”” he said. “”They want to keep an eye on what transactions are getting blocked and why.””

Avanade is working on eight BizTalk Server projects on a global basis, added Duford. The centre of excellence will attempt to capture intellectual property the company creates through its work, including best practices and reusable code.

Duford suggested that Microsoft’s decision to do away with a bundled BizTalk offering may be based on customer feedback and marketing strategy. Shiau said software purchasing habits are very much based on personal preferences — some users like to pick and choose what they need, some like to buy everything in one package and take advantage of any cost savings. Although Shiau did wonder why Microsoft would not simply offer customers a choice between a bundle and separate products.

According to Bhandari, CCL opted for Microsoft products because they are priced competitively, but ultimately the cost of the software is often the smallest part of a project. “”There’s much more in terms of development cost, in terms of people’s time,”” he said.

— with files from Shane Schick

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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