Microsoft Corp. is aiming to address business process integration (BPI) hurdles for the average developer with BizTalk Server 2002.

BizTalk Server 2000, the first version of the product, was released a year and already boasts

more than 900 customers internationally, according to Carol Terentiak, senior product manager for commerce platforms at Mississauga, Ont.-based Microsoft Canada. “”This is the fastest growing integration server in history,”” she said.

One disappointment was a lack of adapters – technology that ties into existing applications. “”Our competitors had them, but they’ve been around for years so they had time to develop them.””

BizTalk now has 400 adapters on the market, said Terentiak. “”Very few are developed by Microsoft, but we’ve had initiatives to get them rolling.”” BizTalk 2002 includes a library of adapters for packaged applications such as SAP and Oracle, as well as technology adapters such as J2EE and EDI. “”A lot of legacy systems use EDI,”” she noted.

The update includes new software that helps automate connections between companies, and new technology that manages BizTalk and monitors the health of the transactions that occur on the software.

BizTalk 2002 also supports Web services, said Terentiak. “”BizTalk 2000 did not have that feature, and that’s critical to being .Net ready.””

Terentiak said BizTalk is aimed at three main markets – the small B2B market, large customers looking to do enterprise application integration, and the business process automation market.

BizTalk Server 2002 is just one of many products that make up part of Microsoft’s .Net e-business software infrastructure, which includes the Exchange, SQL Server and Commerce Server for building e-commerce Web sites. The latter’s latest version will be released in the summer, and Microsoft will be retooling its entire line of .Net Enterprise Servers over the next 12 to 18 months.

According to Shawn Willett, principal analyst with Current Analysis in Sterling, Va., BizTalk Server 2002 lacks some of bells and whistles of high-end competitors such as Tibco, Vitria and WebMethods, but the value it delivers for the price is more than a bargain for mid-market and some enterprise customers.

“”Microsoft is coming into the integration market at the low end in terms of their pricing,”” said Willett. “”That’s kind of the classic Microsoft strategy.

“”The functionality has been less than competitors, but they keep working at it and improving it.””

The most important aspect of BizTalk’s latest incarnation, said Willett, is its tight linkage with Visual Studio .Net. “”You can build a Web service and link it into back end systems through BizTalk, and you can do it in a point-and-click kind of way,”” he said. “”Alternatively, you can build a back-end business process with BizTalk and expose that to Visual Studio as a Web service.””

There are also a lot of Visual Studio .Net developers out there, added Willett. “”This gives (Microsoft) an opportunity to sell more BizTalk.””

The release of the BPI server comes on the eve of the software giant’s launch of Visual Studio.Net developer tool this week in San Francisco.

One drawback to BizTalk Server 2002, said Willett is that many of its adapters are developed by third parties. “”You don’t have control when third parties build things,”” he said. “”When third parties are building adapters, you don’t know how much they’re going to cost you or what the cost is. You don’t know if they’re going to work fully with all of the features in BizTalk.””

According to Willett, while Microsoft has released some recommendations for the development of adapters, but hasn’t put them through a certification process. “”Their competitors have traditionally built their own adapters.””

In addition, he said, scalability is still an issue for Microsoft compared to its high-end competitors. “”The scalability is as good as NT itself,”” he said. “”(Microsoft) just doesn’t have the experience in those high end sites. Tibco is basically running the stock markets. In some of these high-end systems you have extremely high through put of transactions.

“”Microsoft has not demonstrated referenced studies or benchmarks that says they can approach that high end of the market.””

Microsoft is taking broad approach to the market, said Willett, similar to its strategy with SQL Server. “”They’re aiming it for the 80 per cent of the market that needs integration and they’re leaving the top 20 for Oracle or somebody else.””

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