Microsoft touts RFID, EDI in BizTalk Server upgrade

Edition for hub-and-spoke architectures also unveiled as Microsoft expands the horizons of its business process management platform

Microsoft is adding capabilities for RFID and EDI to its BizTalk Server business process management platform as well as making BizTalk friendlier for application developers.

Being released Monday, BizTalk Server 2006 R2 adds a device abstraction layer enabling it to record information from RFID systems. Relevant RFID reads are connected to core supply chain processes or enterprise applications. Business rules can be applied to the data coming from the RFID readers.

"This is the first time that we've shipped any RFID technology from Microsoft," Burley Kawasaki, director in the Microsoft Connected Systems Division, said.

BizTalk Server enables exchanging of business processes. "It's all about connecting your systems regardless of the age, protocol, or vendor," Kawasaki said. Microsoft is maintaining the BizTalk Server 2006 nomenclature in the upgrade to send the message that upgrading is easy, according to Kawasaki.

Also featured in R2 is out-of-the-box support for business-to-business integration standards, including EDI, the HIPAA and HL7 standards for health care, and SWIFT for financial trading. Pre-built classes and schemas are featured with users able to integrate BizTalk Server with partners' systems compliant with these standards. Real-time visibility is provided into supply chain operations.

"With the R2 release, we're including these [standards] just out-of-the-box," said Kawasaki.

Adding EDI support helps users, an analyst said.

"One of the big [features in the release] is the increased EDI capability, which customers will now be able to get from a single vendor instead of having to go to multiple vendors," said Ken Vollmer, principal analyst at Forrester. "I think that's a smart move."

EDI basically runs industries like retail and health care, Vollmer said.

For developers, Microsoft is linking parts of the .Net Framework -- the ECF (Windows Communication Foundation) and Windows Workflow Foundation -- to BizTalk Server, enabling developers to develop composite applications, such as a front-end system that brings data from multiple back-end systems.

"Probably the most notable part of R2 is that it provides seven adapters and wizards that enable easy communication to and from BizTalk Server and Web services-based applications via WCF," Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink, said. "This means that they are pulling it into their Web services infrastructure and unifying a larger part of their platform."

With the product introduction, Microsoft is releasing BizTalk Server Branch Edition, which creates a hub-and-spokes model in which a branch location can automate event collection in real-time and send key information back to the central BizTalk Server hub.

Also part of the rollout is a Beta 2 of the planned BizTalk Server Adapter Pack. This serves as an abbreviated version of BizTalk Server providing for point-to-point integration between applications. Initial systems supported are SAP and Siebel applications as well as the Oracle database. Adapters are scheduled to be available in the first half of 2008.

In the interoperability space, Microsoft is bolstering interoperability with mainframe and IBM AS/400 midrange systems by including capabilities of the company's Host Integration Server software within BizTalk Server. Host Integration Server is being discontinued as a separate product.

"You now get that capability as part of BizTalk Server," Kawasaki said.

Microsoft also is releasing version 1 of its Enterprise Service Bus Guidance manual. "Our customers have been using BizTalk and .Net for many years to build ESB architectures," Kawasaki said.

The free manual features pre-built code as well as guidance, patterns and practices. It can be downloaded off the company's CodePlex site.

While some companies like Progress Sonic view an ESB as a specific product category, Microsoft sees ESB as an architectural model for connecting systems together using a bus.

The Enterprise Edition of BizTalk Server 2006 R2 is priced at $34,999 per processor. The Branch Edition costs $1,799 per processor.

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