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.

Prerequisites

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
  • IIS
  • 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.