By Bill Valle

Microsoft will be introducing a product in the third or fourth quarter of this year that will play a pivotal role in the company’s acceptance into the core business processes of corporations. That product is BizTalk Server 2000, a new system based on the BizTalk Framework.

BizTalk Server 2000 is an XML-based messaging engine that can facilitate business process integration by streamlining application-to-application data passing and by communicating with e-commerce platforms.

What it can do for you
BizTalk Server 2000 enables:

  • Business-to-business electronic commerce.
  • Integration of internal business processes.
  • Integration of external business processes.

BizTalk Server is platform, application, and protocol independent, providing a robust system for document interchange and intelligent, rules-based routing. Essentially, data is sliced into XML streams, which are then passed to the target system by the server.

BizTalk can speak the language of traditional EDI, whether it be ANSI X12 or EDIFACT based. Data can be transported over HTTP, HTTP/S, SMTP, FTP, or FAX. DCOM and MSMQ can used to move data to and from Windows (NT and 2000), UNIX, and MVS systems.

The heart of the system is the creation and linking of XML schemas. A schema is a structure of XML data that can be defined by the BizTalk Editor, one of the tools provided with BizTalk Server 2000. Elements of XML data are specified within the schema and can be parsed by the server to allow the routing of this data to another process or application. The second major tool comes into play to accomplish this: the BizTalk Mapper, which defines linkage between schemas and subsequent routing of the data elements.

The advantage of this integration process is in the relative simplicity of the development effort versus the more traditional methods of business process and application integration. Instead of creating specialized code to connect business processes on a one-to-one basis, the data is brought to a least common denominator (XML) and moved via queues through a messaging engine (the BizTalk Server). As the number of interfaces increases, as is the case with most corporations having many legacy systems, the development and maintenance of the interface software becomes cost prohibitive. These interfaces are a necessary evil, as some of these legacies—“FISH” legacies (First In, Still Here)—never go away.

Specific applications for BizTalk Server 2000
BizTalk Server can be used in business process integration between existing legacy systems and newer ERP platforms. Many of the current ERP vendors are co-developing interfaces for BizTalk Server with Microsoft. These code enhancements are called an Application Integration Channel, or AIC. There is already one for SAP/R3 that uses DCOM to communicate at the IDOC level. In addition to code that is developed from the vendors, third parties may post schema examples that can be used for reference on the forums within the site.

Connectors will be available for the major electronic commerce players, such as Ariba and CommerceOne. Microsoft will also provide out-of-the-box integration with its new e-commerce platform, Commerce Server 2000, to be released in a similar timeframe to BizTalk Server 2000. BizTalk will facilitate exchange of documents and data from the older EDI standards to the newer, XML-based systems. In many cases, it may even replace the existing EDI platforms, as the industry eventually moves toward XML in general. This will have a great impact on trading partner integration within the e-commerce industry and will affect areas of supply chain integration, order management, invoicing, and shipping coordination.

BizTalk Server 2000’s automated document interchange and intelligent routing capabilities make fully automated procurement processing possible. Traditional methods used for maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) will be expedited in purchasing, order-tracking, and government procurement. Document security is ensured by several methods: secure sockets (SSL), digital certificates, signatures, and encryption. These may afford cost savings over the more traditional use of value added networks (VANs) used by many EDI systems.

  • Ease of integration of business processes
  • Reliable method of business document interchange
  • ERP and legacy interoperability
  • EDI and Web-based e-commerce interoperability
  • XML-based solution for comprehensive process management

Deployed along with Commerce Server 2000, a robust, secure platform for a business-to-business portal can be developed with relative ease. These corporate extranets will allow companies to create virtual trade communities with sophisticated personalization that makes available customized content tailored to each customer for better post-sale management. This customization is a key factor in creating and maintaining customer and partner loyalty. Services such as this will be as important as the products themselves, perhaps more so, as it will be value added over the typical price and availability of the products.

Simplification of trading partner relationships is made easier via another tool: the BizTalk Management Desk, whose two major features are the Agreement Editor and the Pipeline Editor. The Agreement Editor specifies the rules stipulated by the source and destination organizations. The Pipeline Editor determines the routing of the documents via rules that are defined by the administrator. There is also a tracking utility that logs all document activity.

The clustering and load-balancing features of the Windows 2000 Server platform provide reliability and availability that are required by these business processes. With the addition of another product, Appcenter Server 2000, a single console can be used to manage multiple discrete machines and appear as one system.

Bill Valle is Principal Architect of Technology and Research at Standard Register in Cincinnati, OH. He has spent more than 27 years programming and speaks at many national and international conferences.

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