I've been accused of shilling for Microsoft often enough that it doesn't annoy me anymore, and there's certainly some truth in the accusation, especially where Microsoft BizTalk is concerned. I think BizTalk is cooler than Elvis. But every so often I can actually be smug about it, and the current state of BizTalk's Adapter Pack gives me just such an occasion.
We justify paying through the nose for BizTalk licenses with its B2B capacity and sheer infrastructure muscle. But the line-of-business (LOB) adapters have lots of less glamorous uses that are so simple, fast, and useful (and above all, cheap!) that they should have a moment in the spotlight.
The LOB Adapters are canned application integration. They're designed to do easily-configured drill-down into Oracle, SAP, Seibel, SQL Server, and other data sources, surfacing data from either side of a potential transaction so you can get your mapping on, then point it where you will. And most of the time, you can do it without writing a line of code.
Codeless pitch-and-catch with data sources
When I say codeless, I mean codeless. Your database coughs up a schema of a table that needs some love, and you generate XML for the mapping (any database or ERP system will offer this up with a few mouse-clicks). You (or a user, for that matter) create a form for the transaction with InfoPath (and do a desktop deployment, or have SharePoint host it), and the BizTalk Mapper lets you hook the two together any way you please.
You can create forms for inputting data into one or more tables, for modifying existing data, for reporting, whatever you like - and you don't have to write any code. Oh, you can create the web form in .NET if you just can't help yourself, and you may need to write a stored procedure on the data source side if you're getting fancy with the data. But you can create a toy like this (or, for that matter, a great many) in one sitting, and have it deployed in production on the same day you create it, if that suits you.
Migrating data between databases
What works codelessly and painlessly between a database and a user is just as codeless and painless between two databases. Migrating a table (or many) from one back-end platform to another is just as convenient, using the adapters, as a front-to-back transaction. Source and target offer up their schemas, you map them to each other as needed, and you're in business in a single sitting.
You can do this A-to-B move manually and in real time, if it suits you, but BizTalk Server is built to facilitate automation. So a scenario that requires transport of data between data platforms on some regular schedule (or, for that matter, in some event-driven mode) is as easily built and deployed as a one-shot move. Even that is no great trick if you're skilled with T-SQL or PL-SQL or SSIS; but when SAP and Seibel enter the equation, the ease-of-use the adapters offer becomes a massive time-saver.
Talking to SharePoint
This particular adapter isn't in the LOB Pack, but it comes canned with BizTalk all the same, and is just as easy to use. What can we do with this one? If you're a SharePoint shop, you know that a SharePoint List is just a SQL table in disguise. How cool is it, to be able to populate a SharePoint list from a non-SQL source? Mixing and matching from among your enterprise data sources, you can basically publish data from ANY source to and from SharePoint sites, and let your SharePoint users drive. And with the adapters, you don't have to build any special machinery to get it done.
Okay, so I'm shilling. But I'm also pretty smug.
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.