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What Is BizTalk Server 2000's Role in Microsoft's E-Business Architecture?

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BizTalk Server 2000 is the EDI and workflow-integration centerpiece of Microsoft's ambitious e-business architecture. BizTalk Server 2000 provides interchange-processing services to Microsoft applications (such as other Microsoft Server application servers) and non-Microsoft applications (such as ERP and CRM systems). In this article, Jim Kobielus discusses how BizTalk Server 2000 is the EDI and workflow-integration centerpiece of Microsoft's ambitious e-business architecture.
James Kobielus is a contributing editor for Network World and writes its popular column "Above the Cloud." He is the author of more than 150 columns, books, feature articles, and buyers' guides. This article is excerpted from his book BizTalk: Implementing Business-to-Business E-Commerce (Prentice Hall PTR, 2000, ISBN 0-13-089159-2)
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Microsoft has a two-pronged e-business product strategy, encompassing both server-based software and small-business-oriented online services. Microsoft's e-business software architecture revolves around the notion of "pipelines," or "channels," which are transactional workflows available to developers as Component Object Model (COM) objects from various programming languages. BizTalk Server 2000 is the "commerce-interchange pipeline" component of Microsoft's server software strategy. Commerce Server 2000 is the "order-processing pipeline" component.

Both of these products descend from a common predecessor—Site Server Commerce Edition version 3 (SSCE3)—which supported both the commerce-interchange and order-processing pipelines; but they lacked much of the functionality, scalability, and reliability found in the new generation of Windows 2000-based products. Microsoft also upgraded its existing Microsoft Server database, host-integration, clustering, development, and administration products to support scalable e-business transactions.

Microsoft's commerce-related software products fall into several categories:

  • Operating environment: Windows 2000 (as well as its predecessor, Windows NT 4.0)

  • Application server software: BizTalk Server 2000; Commerce Server 2000 (as well as its (and BizTalk Server 2000's) common predecessor: Site Server Commerce Edition version 3); SQL Server 2000 (as well as its predecessor: SQL Server 7.0); Host Integration Server 2000 (as well as its predecessor: SNA Server 4.0)

  • Development tools: BizTalk Server Software Development Kit (SDK)

  • Visual Studio

  • Administration tools: BizTalk Management Desk, BizTalk Server Administration Console, Commerce Desk, Application Center 2000

BizTalk Server 2000 is the EDI and workflow-integration centerpiece of Microsoft's ambitious e-business architecture. The product's purpose is to integrate applications within the enterprise and between businesses through the structured interchange of structured documents. It is, in effect, the functional "middleman" or middleware in B2B and EAI interchanges.

BizTalk Server 2000 provides interchange-processing services to Microsoft applications (such as other Microsoft Server application servers) and non-Microsoft applications (such as ERP and CRM systems). BizTalk Server 2000 provides a rule-driven workflow engine (which Microsoft calls an "orchestration engine") that allows applications to interchange BizTalk Messages—and their component BizTalk Documents and Business Document—with each other. It also routes and processes EDI and other file formats that are not wrapped in BizTalk envelopes. The server integrates with other applications through various transport protocols, message-brokering services, object-brokering services, data-access interfaces, and other technologies. It may be deployed within an intranet, extranet, or Internet-based EDI or EAI environment.

Developers define BizTalk workflow routes, rules, and roles with a combination of tools that include BizTalk Management Desk, the BizTalk SDK, and/or BizTalk Orchestration Toolkit. BizTalk Orchestration Toolkit is a visual flowcharting tool that outputs process definition files in Microsoft's proprietary "XLANG" schema, which drives execution of "orchestrations" (that is, workflows) within one or more networked BizTalk Servers. Administrators can monitor those workflows with the BizTalk Server Administration Console.

BizTalk Server 2000's primary functions are as follows:

  • Application integration

    • Connecting, integrating, mapping, and translating between applications' various EDI formats, XML schemas, transport protocols, object brokers, message brokers, transaction monitors, data-query interfaces, ERP and CRM applications, and file formats

    • Defining schema mappings between data elements in source and destination documents

    • Defining and maintaining trading partner, application, and security profiles

    • Defining and maintaining trading partner agreements for data interchange

    • Modeling document routing and processing workflows between applications and organizations

  • Content processing

    • Receiving incoming data items, parsing them, and validating their structural and semantic integrity

    • Transforming data items between source and destination formats according to predefined schema mappings

    • Supporting content digital signatures, confidentiality, integrity, and nonrepudiation services on data items through integration with public key infrastructure

    • Storing data items and tracking information locally

    • Queuing inbound and outbound data items pending further processing and routing

    • Routing and delivering outbound data items reliably to their intended recipients

  • Service management

    • Implementing, configuring, administering, and troubleshooting BizTalk Servers, receive and transmit services, shared queues, and document-tracking databases within server groups

    • Monitoring and administering document routing and processing pipelines or workflows between applications and organizations

    • Tracking and analyzing data on interchanges

Implementing, monitoring, and administering BizTalk Server 2000 requires several Microsoft software tools:

  • BizTalk Server SDK. Provides programmatic access to BizTalk Server 2000 functionality, supports integration of external applications with the server, and supports extension of server functionality.

  • BizTalk Server Administration Console. Supports the configuration, operation, optimization, and administration of BizTalk Server 2000 and associated databases, queues, transmit and receive components, and other features.

  • BizTalk Management Desk. Supports the administration of organizations, agreements, documents, maps, envelopes, and tracking on BizTalk Server 2000. It includes the BizTalk XML schema editing and mapping tools.

  • Visual Studio. Microsoft's popular development toolkit that supports the building of rich COM, COM+, and DNA applications using Visual Basic, C++, and Java.

  • BizTalk Orchestration Toolkit. Microsoft's BizTalk Orchestration Toolkit for defining visual workflow process maps.

  • Application Center 2000. A tool for integrated management of BizTalk Server 2000 and other Microsoft application servers as components of a scalable Web-farm deployment.

About the Author

James Kobielus has more than 15 years experience as an analyst in the distributed computing and telecommunications industry. He is a recognized authority on strategic telecommunications and information systems topics, and is an occasional speaker at network-computing industry conferences. He is a contributing editor for Network World, and writes its popular column "Above the Cloud." He is the author of more than 150 columns, books, feature articles, and buyers' guides, including Measuring Business Value of Information Technologies (International Center for Information, 1987, ISBN 0-9450-9802-2) and Workflow Strategies (IDG, 1997, ISBN 0-7645-3012-7). His latest book is BizTalk: Implementing Business-to-Business E-Commerce (Prentice Hall PTR, 2000, ISBN 0-13-089159-2).

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