First the good news: BizTalk Server 2004 leverages the very best of Microsoft's newest technologies to make it a serious foundation for enterprise development. Now the bad news: BizTalk Server 2004 leverages the very best of Microsoft's newest technologies to make it a serious foundation for enterprise development.
It's good news because BTS 2004 is what its two predecessors wanted to grow up to be: a meaningful step forward in placing ERP power in the hands of developers working with Microsoft tools, and because it's very likely that any shop that invests in BTS 2004 probably already has some or perhaps all of that leveraged technology already lying around.
It's bad news because BTS 2004 is the Install From Hell, requiring extensive preparation of the environment into which it is to be installed. This is no exaggeration; the installation and configuration of the required prerequisites to prepare for a BizTalk 2004 server deployment, even in a single-machine scenario, can take twenty times the time and effort of the BTS install itself. No kidding.
Those prerequisites include, but are not limited to:
- Windows Server 2003 (2000 will do in a pinch)
- SQL Server 2000 (and SP3a)
- SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services (and SP3a)
- Visual Studio .NET 2003
- InfoPath 2003
- NTFS file system
- Windows SharePoint Services 2.0
- .NET Framework 1.1
- Internet Explorer 6 Service Pack 1
- SQLXML 3.0 (with SP2)
- XML Core Services 3.0 and 4.0 (with SP2 and SP4 respectively)
- Office Web Controls 10, and
- Assorted Knowledge Base articles and hot fixes
It's well worth the trouble—and it's a great deal of trouble, especially in a multiserver configuration, or if you're building BTS on a remote SQL Server database—because BTS takes all that is best from those other packages and molds them into a distributed messaging engine that can reshape your company's business processes as powerfully as any ERP package.
The new BTS is fully integrated with Visual Studio .NET, so developers can now conveniently bundle BTS's messaging power into integrated solutions, and have all of VS.NET's database access shortcuts. BTS's powerful orchestration feature is now also fully integrated with the IDE, making distributed application design easier than ever. There's an array of customizable protocol adapters, and several industry-specific accelerator packages available. On top of all of this, the new BTS is extremely Web-service-friendly, making your BTS development efforts portable to other platforms and applications.
Moreover, a well-deployed BizTalk Server architecture can be the backbone of business process monitoring capabilities that can completely encompass your company's applications (and those you share with other businesses) and can make your databases completely conversant with those of your partner companies.
It's not just marketing hype. I've seen it up close and the kudos are well-deserved. However, to do it right, you've got to work through that long list of prerequisites and really understand the services and features of BTS that they enable.
How much messaging can you handle?
What do you want out of your messaging platform? You want your system talking to other systems; you want easy mapping between formats; you want your applications tied together, and your apps working smoothly in concert with those of partner companies, where possible; you want your databases to be able to easily jump into this fray, and you want tools to help you manage it all.
That's where some careful planning comes in. Depending on the services you require of your BTS deployment, you may install only select components from the list given above. And you need to have a sense of which BTS features use which components, and why. Here's a run-down:
Business Activity Monitoring
BTS 2004's Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) Framework gives you a real-time process window that extends beyond BizTalk apps to encompass enterprise-wide processes. It allows you to gather and analyze data from many different sources and organize it into a real-time picture of how business processes are working, to determine status and trend.
To implement BAM, your BizTalk deployment must include SharePoint Services. In addition to this, there's an Excel add-in for BAM that permits users to create models and identify data of interest for tracking processes.
Business Activity Services
Business Activity Services (BAS) is active where BAM is passive. It is BAS that enables your interaction with partners, providing tools for system interface and comprehensive process management. In particular, BAS leverages hands-on Microsoft user technologies from the Office suite (Excel in particular) and centralizes its operations on a users' intranet site for accessible data exchange and process collaboration. It can be the foundation for integrating processes shared with trading partners as well as company-internal applications.
BAS requires the installation of SharePoint Services, InfoPath, and IE 6 SP1.
Distributed SQL Server deployments
It is often the case that, in addition to the database upon which your BTS deployment is built, BizTalk must communicate with a number of other SQL databases. For this to work, some BizTalk components need to be installed on those remote SQL servers, and access must be arranged in Active Directory. In addition, Distributed Transaction Coordinator (DTC) must be reconfigured on any BizTalk Server and workstation.
SQLXML is essential if you plan to use the SQL Adapter for direct messaging interface with SQL databases.
Health and Activity Tracking
Health and Activity Tracking (HAT) is your means of keeping an eye on BizTalk itself. It allows you to track the execution of any BTS running artifact, to start and stop them, to debug at multiple levels, and to gather and examine tracking data. It is an essential tool for any BTS environment where development will be substantial.
HAT's needs are extensive. It requires the installation of SQL Server 2000 Analysis Services, and its Service Pack, 3a, requires hot fix Q831950 on any SQL Server, and OWC10.
BizTalk itself needs SQL Server 2000 in order to exist in any configuration; SQL Server is where BTS's administrative and tracking databases must reside. XML Core services and SQLXML, and the .NET Framework, are needed on each BizTalk server and workstation.
Finally, you should note that in order to make use of SharePoint Services, and by extension BAS, you must use Server 2003, not Server 2000.
More to come
This is the tip of the BTS 2004 iceberg. There are landmines waiting in this install, and the set-up of service accounts and security considerations alone are staggering. But the possibilities vastly outweigh the headaches. With nothing much more than BTS 2004 and the associated Microsoft products, you can pretty much set out on a journey to a customized ERP re-invention of your company's business systems and processes, competitive with any pricey enterprise platform. And I can't believe I'm saying that. In upcoming articles, we'll look at the paths and the pitfalls.
Scott Robinson is a 20-year IT veteran with extensive experience in business intelligence and systems integration. An enterprise architect with a background in social psychology, he frequently consults and lectures on analytics, business intelligence and social informatics, primarily in the health care and HR industries.