BizTalk enters crowded market

Citing its improved .Net integration and an ability to support faster rollouts, Microsoft Canada Co. officially unveiled its BizTalk Server 2004 suite in Toronto Tuesday.

Integration is a top priority for many corporate IT departments, and a host of partners were on hand at the official launch to talk about integration improvements in the software, an upgrade to BizTalk 2002.

First conceived in 1999, BizTalk is designed to help companies integrate applications and automate business processes including, for example, the process of approving loans at a bank. It competes with rival suites such as IBM Corp.’s WebSphere, as well as offerings from webMethods Inc. and BEA Systems Inc.

Among the major changes in 2004 is the fact that “the development tools are all hosted in the development environment,” said Eron Kelly, lead product manager for e-business servers, based in Redmond, Wash. “They don’t have to learn a new (user interface).”

This means .Net users will build apps within BizTalk in a familiar .Net environment, instead of working in several different, and often unfamiliar, environments.

BizTalk 2004 also features a revamped business rules engine and a common set of reusable integration services, tools that allow users to monitor transactions and processes in real time, in addition to improved scalability (up to servers with eight processors, versus six in the previous version).

“(BizTalk 2004) is a brand new product, we’re really impressed,” said Mitch Barnett, president of 5 by 5 Software Ventures Ltd., a Calgary-based integrator. 5 by 5 was among a handful of vendors that were the first to see the latest version last summer, and has worked with the product since its inception.

“They really addressed all the issues,” specifically, the addition of a business activity monitor,” Barnett added.

Enterprise integration suites can cost companies millions of dollars to purchase and rollout, but Microsoft competes very well on cost — “by a factor of four, I’d say,” over competing offerings from IBM and webMethods, said Mike Hilton, president of Sunaptic Solutions in Vancouver.

He pointed to the dominance of Windows on the front end, and the resulting familiarity many companies have with Microsoft product, thus reducing the training burden, as major factors. Its ability to cross application boundaries is another, Hilton said, pointing to the inclusion of W3C XML and the ability to make Microsoft Office into a portal of corporate information.

“That’s a very powerful add-on,” he added.

The Enterprise edition of BizTalk Server 2004 sells for US$25,000 per processor, US$7,000 for the Standard edition and US$1,000 for the Partner edition. A Developer edition is also available for US$750.

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