BizTalk Server 2002 means some big changes for enterprises that need to connect their Microsoft-platform applications to other systems, both internally and outbound to suppliers and partners. With the promise of hundreds of out-of-box adapters, better support for Web services, and an XML-based wizard that can actually build connections for you, Microsoft is trying to make this stuff easy. spoke with BizTalk Server product manager David Wascha about enterprise application integration and the new SEED technology that’s rolling out with the latest edition of Microsoft’s enterprise application integration solution.

Making large, disparate applications communicate What are some key additions to BizTalk 2002 that help it communicate with other large-scale enterprise applications, such as Siebel and SAP?
Wascha: These are not BizTalk 2002-specific, but what we have been doing over the past year is building our adapter library. All of our adapters work with both BizTalk 2000 and BizTalk 2002. You can have a mixture of both or one or the other, and the adapters are still going to work. We have built the largest adapter library in the industry, with over 300 adapters that connect with over 200 unique data sources…. There are a couple of different SAP adapters from a couple of different companies.

Rolling out Web services with BizTalk 2002 What kind of support is available for implementing Web services?
Wascha: Adapters are obviously off-the-shelf, packaged software to help companies alleviate the pain of connecting a large-scale application, like an ERP system, to another system [like CRM] or their integration broker. However, you have this disruptive technology called Web services in this space.
Web services are an attempt through open industry standards to bring the level of integration up so people don’t have to worry about the transport or protocol level but only the format level, and with that the syntax is XML. So it [Web services] takes away from the challenges of doing integration. We have seen a lot of vendors, like SAP, signal that they are going to support Web services natively. Web services are going to play a key role in internal and external [application] integration.
It [BizTalk Server 2002] has been architected from the ground up to support Web services. Three years ago, we said that it would support asynchronous, XML-based communications—now that is called Web services. It has been designed from the ground up to handle Web services. For example, it was the first integration broker in the industry to support SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol].
We have always had Web services support in the product [BizTalk 2002], but we have taken some leaps forward with ease of use, largely because of our integration with VisualStudio.NET. This allows us to do some really cool stuff with BizTalk Server. The integration allows us to turn an entire business process that you build inside BizTalk Server into a Web service by writing a single line of code. So you could build a procurement business process that talks to SAP or that talks to a warehouse or a supplier that touches hundred of thousands moving parts, and with one line of code expose [the process] to anyone in your organization to place an order.
The second cool thing about the integration with VisualStudio.NET is that you can call a Web service from within the business process. So, if I am writing a business process and I want to call that procurement process that was exposed as a Web service, we can very easily do that by dragging it on to our business process designer. This point will increase in importance as enterprises start to have more Web services. They are going to need ways to manage them, or a “traffic cop,” something that controls the business process, and this is one of the primary values of BizTalk. It [BizTalk] is not a development tool. You are not going to use it to write a single application, but use it to orchestrate interaction between these applications, partners, and ERP systems.

BizTalk 2002 product review

Read contributor Scott Wilson’s review of BizTalk2002 and find out if Microsoft’s enhancements will solve your integration headaches.

Planting the SEED What is BizTalk Server 2002’s SEED technology?
Wascha: Outside of Web services, SEED is one of the best features in the product. Here’s a little bit of the business background for SEED. Customers like Ford and Boeing come to us and say, “We have tens of thousands of suppliers and we have no way to manage all of them. Give us a solution to managing this problem” because it is expensive [in terms of the people and time needed to set up the transaction] to build an electronic connection with a supplier, trading partner, or customer. The flip side for small businesses is that you can’t afford to get in the game because you lack the people on staff to build an electronic connection.
SEED solves this problem in the following way: It allows one end of this interaction between two organizations to gather up all the information that you need [in order] to have these two BizTalk servers communicate with one another…. It is very easy to do because we keep all the configuration information in the database as XML documents, so we create an XML document that we called the SEED.
For example, if you are Ford and I am Joe’s Bolts, you create a SEED [XML] document that you [Ford] would forward to me [Joe’s Bolts]. I would open up the SEED Wizard in BizTalk 2002. I open the SEED document in the wizard, and the wizard automatically configures the company’s server with everything that it needs to know to communicate with you. So it essentially creates the connection. The second thing it does is test it—locally and against Ford’s server with dummy data. The last thing it does is turn on the connection.
So it is a five-step process, walking through a wizard, that now connects me [Joe’s Bolts] and you [Ford]. This simple five-step process eliminates great barriers in the industry, complexity, and costs.

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