BizTalk server poised for battle

Microsoft's year-old XML (Extensilbe Markup Language) server, BizTalk, is poised to take on the market for EAI (enterprise application integration), riding the Web services wave that has put established EAI players on notice.

Until now, Microsoft has been rather quiet about its long-term plans for BizTalk Server (BTS).

"In the short term, we're competing with webMethods, Vitria, and CrossWorlds," said Dave Wascha, product manager for BTS at Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington. "We don't see them being around for very long."

BizTalk's low price point, and Microsoft's one-stop shopping, packaged approach will be compelling selling points, Wascha said.

The low price is, in fact, a key selling point of BizTalk, analysts said. But BizTalk is not without its critics who question its robustness and interoperability.

"Integration problems are some of the toughest problems to be solved," said Scott Opitz, vice president of strategic planning at Fairfax, Virginia-based webMethods. "The reality is that integration requires solid, mature technologies. The companies that have been doing this for five years are much more likely to solve these problems in a positive way."

This week Microsoft sought to bolster interoperability by increasing its library of adapters by 140.

With the pending BizTalk 2002, due early next year, Microsoft plans to further support Web services. The new version features easier deployments than the first version, Wascha said.

Ken Vollmer, an analyst at Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Giga Information Group, said that Microsoft will not put the other EAI vendors out of business, but that BizTalk is hearty enough to compete in the enterprise.

"That is not to say that their technology is bleeding-edge in all aspects, but they have solid EAI and b-to-b technology," Vollmer said.

BizTalk is also a key piece of the overall .Net strategy. "BizTalk Server is a catalyst of the .Net strategy, a [component] of the .Net strategy," said Louis Columbus, an analyst at AMR Research in Boston.

The evolution of Web services will be the determining factor in subsequent versions of BTS. Although no time frame has been set, Microsoft is planning a "mammoth Web services-centric version," Wascha said.

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