See how the developer experience in BizTalk Server 2006 makes it easier to integrate, orchestrate, and provide visibility to keep business process and applications.
BizTalk Server is the cornerstone product in Microsoft’s business process and integration strategy. It is through BizTalk that Microsoft is providing the tools to enable developers to integrate applications, enable business integration and EDI, and also orchestrate the integration of information systems and the business users that drive those systems and processes. In addition, BizTalk provides the developer experience, integrated with Visual Studio, to make developing these types of applications easier and more intuitive and easily integrating that development process with existing systems and tools that are used by the business. BizTalk also has the distinction of being the only server product at Microsoft built primarily on the .NET Framework. The upcoming release of BizTalk Server 2006 extends on BizTalk Server 2004 to provide an enhanced experience for developers when building orchestrations and application integration scenarios and enables developers to better provide visibility to these business processes as they’re running.
In the BizTalk Server 2006 release, there are several key enhancements to the product for developers. First, the upgrade path from BizTalk Server 2004 to 2006 is dramatically simplified. In addition, the ability to manage and deploy applications has improved substantially. Second, BizTalk’s support for Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) has been extended to provide a richer web-based portal providing visibility to end users that requires almost no code. Coupling this feature with the Sharepoint integration features in BizTalk Server 2006, developers can empower end users to see their information much more easily. Finally, BizTalk Server 2006 provides some substantial improvements in the developer tools, making it much easier to build and manage complex orchestrations and applications using BizTalk.
Easy Application Management with BizTalk
BizTalk Server provides a platform for application and business integration, development of integration and data transformation processes, provides a business rules engine, and enables users to visualize the status of their business activities. From a developer perspective, BizTalk provides a framework, infrastructure, and set of development tools to make it easier to build applications that leverage integration, transformation of data, and business rules.
BizTalk Server 2006 supports several features that make it easier to manage applications. While this may not seem like a topic that developers care about, it can be very important when managing a development and testing environment for applications. In prior versions of BizTalk, the application development and management process was not as simple as many developers expected. BizTalk Server 2006 now supports a single management console (MMC) for management and operations. This is important because Visual Studio is no longer required for any management features for BizTalk applications. Within the MMC, you can now group BizTalk artifacts into logical application groups, making it easier to view them in one place. The user interface also supports scaling, making it possible to view a large number of artifacts more easily. This is important when working between development and testing and ensuring that the appropriate artifacts are deployed and that the environments are configured correctly.
Another area that is dramatically improved in BizTalk Server 2006 is the area of software deployment, both in packaging applications to be deployed and also in the area of installing new applications or updating applications. The MMC for BizTalk now enables you to right-click on an application and export the application to a MSI or to export bindings. When you need to install an application on the server, there is a one click import process that will ensure that the appropriate assemblies are installed into the GAC and that your DLLs are registered in the BizTalk configuration database. This import process can be used to update an existing application or to create a new one.
Business Activity Monitoring
BizTalk Server 2004 provided support for BAM, but BizTalk Server 2006 has extended that support to make it much easier for developers to empower their end users with information about the state of business processes supported by BizTalk applications. Part of empowering developers is helping them to provide more functionality with less code. One major improvement that does just that is BizTalk’s BAM support. With BAM, developers can now leverage an e-mail alert infrastructure enabling end-users to receive alerts based on business activity events. This helps developers to provide a richer experience while requiring no additional code. In addition, BAM now ships with an out of the box portal experience based on ASP.NET. The BAM portal helps users to manage their activity alerts, search for activity data, and view data aggregations from a BAM database. Out of the box, the BAM portal also includes support for Office Web Components for pivot tables and enables drill-through reporting on BAM data through Sharepoint web parts.
While the new end-user features are great, most developers will be more excited by the introduction of new programmability and infrastructure features for BAM. In BizTalk Server 2004, custom pipeline components were required to call the BAM API. In BizTalk Server 2006, there is now a BAM pipeline interceptor supported out of the box, which enables a developer to easily manipulate the EventStream object in a pipeline to begin an activity or to update information in the activity. Another new feature in the BAM infrastructure is the support for relationships between BAM processes that span databases. This enables you to establish relationships between BAM processes that span across multiple activity areas, enabling business groups and processes to more effectively be leveraged together in support of the business user. Since there is an important role for a business analyst or developer in defining a BAM process, they can now share information and leverage their BAM data across business processes.
Because Web services are now ubiquitous in our development environments and tools, it is no surprise that BizTalk Server 2006 provides enhanced support for Web services in BAM. While BizTalk Server 2004 supported a BAM query web service to query activity data, BizTalk Server 2006 expands on that by providing a management service for BAM to enable the management of BAM related activity data. This enables developers to build custom applications that surface information from BizTalk and then call into the BAM infrastructure to update the activity-related information or configuration. This is a powerful tool that can be used to provide custom applications a greater deal of control over the views into business activity data from BizTalk.
Better Developer Tools in BizTalk 2006
While the management and BAM feature improvements are compelling, the developer who spends a significant amount of their time working in BizTalk will surely ask for more developer-oriented features. Most developers these days are looking to gain productivity improvements not only though the reduction of code, but through an improved IDE experience in the development platforms of choice. BizTalk Server 2006 does answer the call and provide compelling new developer tool improvements. One of the major improvements to the developer experience in BizTalk Server 2006 is the incorporation of a flat file import wizard, enabling you to more easily use BizTalk’s flat file parser to work with those file types. This takes away a lot of the grunt work associated with flat file processing in BizTalk Server 2004, such as the use of functoids for file iteration and “work arounds��? for dealing with header rows in the files. The Orchestration Designer has also been greatly improved. The designer now supports a zoom feature and supports collapse and expansion of shapes across saves. This helps a developer to better manage and work with complex orchestrations by simplifying their workspace and enabling better visualization.
From a coding perspective, there other great improvements to the development process. Developers can now consume an array from a Web service, enabling them to more easily integrate with a wide-variety of published Web services from a number of different standard applications. In addition, .NET method invocation is now supported directly. Public static methods of classes can be invoked without requiring any “wrapper��? code, making it easier to build custom logic in .NET assemblies that can be quickly and easily shared by applications in a BizTalk infrastructure.
Tools, BAM and More in BizTalk Server 2006
The BizTalk Server 2006 upgrade will include a wide range of new features and benefits on top of the improved management and development tools and the dramatic improvements to the end user experience in BAM. For starters, there are a host of new BizTalk adapters, including the POP3 adapter, the (officially supported) Sharepoint adapter, and a number of adapters for third-party applications including Oracle Application Suite, Siebel and PeopleSoft to name a few. There are also plenty of enhancements to BizTalk’s core engine, including pipeline enhancements to better support large message sizes and large message transformation along with support for recoverable interchange processing to more efficiently handle failures in multi-message interchange scenarios. BizTalk Server 2006 also provides deeper support of the Windows Server System criteria by including an x86-based 64-bit version for the Windows Server 2003 operating system, and through planned support for the latest versions of SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005, and Virtual Server 2005.
Another great addition to BizTalk Server 2006 is the out of the box integration with the next version of Commerce Server, also slated for a 2006 release. This will include adapters to support integration with Commerce Server orders, profiles, and inventory data with bi-directional functionality to enable integration with trading partner sites or with ERP systems integrated with BizTalk. This further demonstrates the commitment to integration among the business process and integration products and tools such as BizTalk and Commerce Server and also foreshadows the efforts that will be made in other solutions.
While BizTalk isn’t as commonly used as .NET by Windows developers, it provides a powerful set of features to support common scenarios for application integration, business to business integration (EDI), business rules, workflow and process management features. In BizTalk Server 2006, these features are improved through the addition of better management support for application deployment and configuration, a variety of new features for BAM, and improvements to the developer experience. These features and the continued migration of Windows developers to .NET will make BizTalk Server 2006 a compelling product for many enterprise application developers.