Microsoft Corp. hopes to make the arcane art of business process integration more accessible to the average developer this week when it ships BizTalk Server 2002.
The new release of the company's business process integration server will feature tight integration with Visual Studio .Net, allowing developers to use Web services protocols as a conduit for integrating business processes using a graphical environment.
The need to work with cumbersome protocols such as EDI (electronic data interchange) has been a big inhibitor to the adoption of business process integration tools. But a new class of business process integration tools that supports SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), XML, and eventually UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration) will make this class of enterprise software a more mainstream toolset.
For companies actively interested in Web services, this marks a "very nice next-generation step" for Microsoft, said IDC analyst Rikki Kirzner, in Framingham, Mass. However, Microsoft's success will depend on how well it sells the concept of Web services and how well BizTalk integrates with Unix, she said.
In addition to adding support for Visual Studio .Net, Microsoft has added a new seed feature that makes it easier to distribute configuration changes and updates across a supply chain made up of BizTalk servers. Microsoft has also better integrated BizTalk with its Microsoft system administration tools.
Those tools can now track events that take place in BizTalk servers and initiate actions based on rules defined by the developer.
This upgrade monitoring and exception handling is a big trend with EAI vendors, said Shawn Willett, an analyst at Current Analysis in Sterling, Va. "[Microsoft is] slowly but surely catching up with the functionality of the more established players," he said.
The business process integration category is widely recognized as having been dominated by companies that created asynchronous messaging tools such as IBM's MQ Series to solve this problem. But those tools are fairly complex and rivals such as Microsoft and BEA are working to create simpler graphical tools that a broader swath of developers could master.
Long term, Microsoft hopes to integrate its business process modeling tools with Microsoft Office and offer them to business systems analysts. In addition, it hopes to work with IBM and industry standards bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium to create industry standards for business workflow, said Dave Wascha, product manager for the developer division at Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft.