Microsoft Releases BizTalk Server 2000

After numerous delays, Microsoft Corp. Tuesday released BizTalk Server 2000, the key application and systems integration middleware for its emerging .Net e-commerce platform.

The final, "gold" code for the server was sent to manufacturing, where CD-ROMs will be pressed and then made generally available in four to six weeks.

BizTalk is one of the foundation pieces of Microsoft's attempt to recast its Windows operating system and applications as a platform for the Internet. The loosely defined effort is called .Net and was introduced in June.

Oracle Corp. and IBM Corp. are conducting similar initiatives to offer software as a service available over the Internet.

BizTalk, which has been in beta tests since August, is one of eight .Net Enterprise Servers unveiled in September, many of which were formerly part of Microsoft's now-defunct DNA platform for building Web-based applications.

The success of BizTalk will be key for Microsoft as it tries to integrate its software with other platforms and carve out a spot in the business-to-business e-commerce arena. Microsoft hopes to pit BizTalk against IBM's WebSphere application server and WebMethods's business-to-business line of integration software.

Critics are watching closely as Microsoft attempts this back-end integration of Microsoft and non-Microsoft platforms, an area that has never been the company's forte. Analysts say integration software is key as enterprises build links with customers, suppliers and partners. The effort dictates that middleware is needed to link disparate back-end systems, such as financials and human resources, that were never designed to work together.

BizTalk, which runs only on Windows 2000, relies on XML to allow enterprises to integrate applications across platforms and business partners across the Internet.

In April, Microsoft sent a select group of customers a technical preview of BizTalk that allowed the exchange of business documents, such as purchase orders or invoices, among applications with different data formats. BizTalk transforms data from its native format to XML and vice versa, and routes documents between systems.

In June, Microsoft added technology called BizTalk Orchestration, a graphical tool for defining business processes and modeling them into a workflow such as an approval cycle for a purchase order.

Besides Orchestration, Microsoft added five other key tools: the BizTalk Editor for defining the structure of data; the Mapper, for detailing how data will be translated; the Management Desk, for tracking data and details of trading deals with business partners; Administrative Tool, for managing the BizTalk Server; and Document Tracking Tool, a data-mining feature.

Besides XML, BizTalk also supports a number of transport and other protocols including EDI, HTTP, HTTPS, Microsoft Message Queue Server, SMTP, and flat-file transfer. BizTalk also supports secure document delivery based on public-key encryption and digital signatures, and a guaranteed, once-and-only-once delivery of documents.

BizTalk is the second .Net server to be released in manufacturing in the past three weeks, the other being Commerce Server 2000.

Exchange Server 2000, SQL Server 2000, Host Integration Server 2000, Commerce Server 2000 and BizTalk are all now available or have shipped final code to manufacturing. Two others, Application Center Server 2000 and Internet Security & Acceleration Server 2000, are still in beta. An eighth .Net server, Mobile Information Server 2001, was announced in September and will ship next year.

BizTalk comes in Enterprise and Standard versions. The Enterprise edition is targeted at large corporations, trading hubs and digital marketplaces and supports unlimited application integration. The Enterprise Edition supports multiple processors and clustering and is priced at US$24,999 per CPU.

The Standard Edition is for small and midsize companies and has support for integrating five internal applications with up to five external trading partners. It does not support multiprocessors or clustering and is priced at $4,999 per CPU.

Also today, Microsoft published the final version of its BizTalk Framework 2.0 specification, a standardization effort that includes Simple Object Access Protocol Version 1.1. Other groups, including the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Systems, are spearheading similar standardization efforts.

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