How Does BizTalk Fit Into the Microsoft.NET Initiative?
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. His latest book is BizTalk: Implementing Business-to-Business E-Commerce (Prentice Hall PTR, 2000, ISBN 0-13-089159-2).
As we all know from long experience, Microsoft delights in crafting Windows-centric application architectures. And it is not shy about using all its clout and resources to get users and other technology vendors to buy into its grand plans.
Microsoft's latest strategy, announced in June 2000, goes by the name of ".NET" (pronounced dot-net). The press has shed a lot of ink trying to explain what .NET does and doesn't cover (a thankless job, considering that Microsoft continues to define the strategy as it goes). Much of the discussion pivots on concepts such as "software as a service," and on technologies such as Extensible Markup Language (XML) and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). BizTalk Server 2000 and the BizTalk Framework specifications are also components of the .NET strategy, but they are just details in a much larger tableau.
Microsoft.NET is an umbrella term that applies to new network-oriented architectural features common to the next generation of the vendor's software products and services. Fundamentally, .NET represents Microsoft's continuing attempts to transform Windows 2000 into the industry's pre-eminent environment for developing and hosting Web services. Under the initiative, Microsoft also intends to provide software functionality as subscription-based Web services under MSN and its other online properties, although Microsoft in no way intends to give up its traditional reliance on software license revenues.
In many ways, .NET represents a marketing-oriented renaming and repackaging of technologies and directions to which Microsoft has been committed since the mid- to late '90s. The term supersedes the previous "Windows Distributed interNetworking Architecture" (DNA) framework for three-tier computing, introducing the concept of "n-tier" computing based on use of SOAP, XML, and HTTP as the basis for pervasive Web services. The company has already introduced support for many of .NET's signature technologies—such as XML and SOAP—into Windows 2000, BizTalk Server 2000, and other server and client software products.
Perhaps the best way to describe .NET is by presenting the various "next-generation" products, services, technologies, and standards encompassed by the term:
Operating environments. The strategy leverages new Web services-oriented features to be incorporated into the next two versions of Windows 2000 server, currently code-named "Whistler" (2001 release) and "Blackcomb" (2002 release).
Protocols. The initiative defines SOAP as the common XML-based remote procedure call (RPC) technique. It binds distributed services across multiple network tiers, and leverages the native XML parsers and SOAP interfaces built into Windows 2000 and all future Microsoft client and server products.
Development environments. The initiative defines a ".NET Framework" for programming that essentially takes up where COM+ left off, offering greater support for multilanguage programming and including richer object-oriented class libraries. Microsoft has already released "Visual Studio.NET," which enables development within the .NET Framework and supports a new Microsoft-developed programming language called C# (pronounced "C-sharp"). In future releases of Windows operating systems, Microsoft will expose all .NET class libraries using the XML-based Web Services Description Language (WSDL). Microsoft is extending its Active Server Page (ASP) programming technology to enable SOAP-based RPCs, under the heading of "ASP.NET." Similarly, the company is enhancing its ActiveX Data Objects (ADO) programming technology to support SOAP and WSDL; this upgrade is called "ADO.NET." BizTalk's XML-based "XLANG" language will support the definition of intricate programming workflows under .NET (a technology that Microsoft calls "orchestration").
Application servers. The strategy encompasses the full suite of application servers that Microsoft previously called its "Windows DNA 2000" product family. This suite includes existing products such as BizTalk Server 2000, SQL Server 2000, Commerce Server 2000, Host Integration Server 2000, Exchange Server 2000, and Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2000. It also includes new products expected in 2001, including Sharepoint Portal Server and Mobile Information Server.
Application services. The strategy encompasses Web application services defined under the "Hailstorm" codename, which will be supported under the "Blackcomb" version of Windows 2000 (expected in 2002). These services will include identification and authentication (based on MSN Passport technology); messaging and notification (based on Exchange, HotMail, and MSN Messenger technology); storage (based on SQL Server, NT File System, Exchange, and MSN Communities technology); calendaring (based on Outlook and HotMail Calendar technology); directory; search; personalization; and software distribution. Microsoft also intends to support the hosting of its Office applications as .NET Web services. And it plans to provide the full range of .NET applications, for a fee, in its MSN and bCentral online environments.
BizTalk Server 2000's role in the .NET environment will be pivotal. BizTalk Server 2000 is the centerpiece of Microsoft's SOAP/XML-centric middleware environment, binding Microsoft's products with an increasingly multivendor, standards-oriented, Web-facing world. It is Microsoft's primary application-integration "glue" for bridging SOAP with the other middleware environments, transport protocols, message envelopes, and document formats that bind enterprises internally and externally. And it will increasingly drive the workflow logic behind Web-based e-commerce online services, including those that Microsoft provides under its MSN and bCentral brands.
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).