BizTalk's Interoperability Coming from Others

SAN MATEO (07/21/2000) - Even though Microsoft Corp. has made a push toward interoperability during the past year, critics maintain that interoperability is typically an afterthought for a software behemoth that doesn't play well with other platforms.

BizTalk Server 2000, the data exchange platform Microsoft issued earlier this month as a pre-beta release, is no exception.

"Microsoft's policy has always been that the only environment is Windows," said Rikki Kirzner, an analyst at International Data Corp., in Mountain View, Calif.

"Microsoft is not an open player. It never has been."

Although Microsoft is using the XML and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) standards with BizTalk for business-to-business integration, the server will not completely interoperate with non-Windows and non-XML systems.

"XML and SOAP are two first steps toward interoperability, but there are things they don't do," said David Wascha, Microsoft's BizTalk Server product manager.

When BizTalk Server ships, third parties will be tapped to make the server more interoperable.

"With BizTalk Server and BizTalk.org, Microsoft is leveraging XML; [it] went into this two years ago thinking XML would be the sole solution for communicating," said Jon Kirkegaard, CTO of Viewlocity in Atlanta. "BizTalk won't be multiplatform. It will be Windows-based."

Viewlocity last week announced Open Integration Server for BizTalk 2000, a product that enables BizTalk Server 2000 to connect to trading partners' non-Windows and non-XML-compliant systems such as AS/400 and Unix servers, and even to Windows NT servers, according to Kirkegaard. Open Integration Server also enables users to enforce business rules across multiple platforms.

"We'll see a lot of third parties build these adapters. Viewlocity is just on the ball early," Microsoft's Wascha said.

The lack of cross-platform interoperability is not the only gap that other companies will have to fill.

A consultant who has worked with Microsoft on BizTalk -- who requested anonymity -- said that the server's toolset isn't robust enough for application integration and modification, particularly with large applications such as SAP and Oracle.

Kirzner agreed. "Without some significant changes to SAP AG and Oracle Corp., they won't work well [with BizTalk]," she said. "But those companies have to open up their toolsets because Microsoft opens things only so far as they play with Windows, period."

Third parties won't be able to make up for all the shortcomings of BizTalk, though. Kirzner said that for the product to compete against iPlanet, IBM Corp., BEA Systems Inc., and Oracle Corp. -- the market that analysts say Microsoft is targeting -- BizTalk will need to be more robust in terms of fault-tolerance, scalability, and the upper limits of how many transactions it can process.

"Microsoft is coming from behind, and it will be interesting to see if anyone takes them seriously," said Simon Yates, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. "They may be just too late."

Missing pieces

Microsoft is relying on third parties to round out BizTalk.

* Viewlocity will connect BizTalk to non-Windows platforms.

* Application integration will be left to other vendors.

* Commerce One Inc. provides Common Business Library (XML building blocks).

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