Q&A: What’s Next for BizTalk Server

REDMOND, Wash. – Sept. 5, 2008 – Microsoft Corp. today provided an update on its plans for BizTalk Server 2009, which is on track for availability during the first half of 2009. With over 8,200 customers today, BizTalk Server leads the market as a solution for enterprise connectivity, and remains one of Microsoft’s most consistently-delivered server offerings.

To learn more about BizTalk Server, its evolution over the past decade and what’s ahead, PressPass spoke with Oliver Sharp, general manager of BizTalk Server.

PressPass: Can you provide us with an overview of your role and tell us what’s important about today’s announcement?

Oliver Sharp, General Manager, BizTalk Server

Sharp: I’m the general manager of the Connected Server team, which is responsible for delivering BizTalk Server. Before this, I was one of the early members of the team that developed Windows Communication Foundation (formerly “Indigo”), Microsoft’s unified programming model for service-oriented applications. Our project was focused on the vision of interoperability and connectivity as part of the Microsoft .NET Framework. About the same time, BizTalk Server was being launched and was also focused on enterprise connectivity with LOB systems and trading partners. So both projects have a similar mission — helping our customers connect their applications across platforms and across organizations.

That’s what our division is about — making it easy to build applications that span the network and bring together people, services and systems. Distributed programs have transformed the world, both in the business environment and in our personal lives, and we’re working to make it much easier to build and manage those programs. That means that the platforms we are building have three characteristics I find very inspiring: they support mission-critical applications that some of the largest global enterprises depend on, they are at the frontier of technology advances, and they solve very hard technical problems so developers don’t have to.

Today’s announcement is an exciting milestone to celebrate for BizTalk Server. Our customer base has doubled over the past four years, due primarily to the mainstream approach we’ve taken to enabling enterprise connectivity — we’ve helped eliminate some of the cost, complexity and connectivity challenges that our customers have historically faced.

We work closely with our customers, and we have seen the significant business impact from their investments in connecting systems, trading partners and people. We also have one of the largest partner ecosystems — over 1,500 global partners building solutions for BizTalk — and are proud to be a big business enabler for them. Based on this extensive ecosystem, our objective with today’s announcement is to ensure we’re providing the appropriate amount of information to customers and partners about the future of BizTalk, what to expect and a predictable road map to help them plan for future updates.

PressPass: Please tell us more about what you’re announcing today.

Sharp: The next upcoming release of BizTalk Server was announced previously, and I’m happy to say that it’s on track for availability in the first half of calendar year 2009. We’ve already delivered a first community technology preview (CTP) to select customers, and they’re giving us great feedback, and we plan on doing another broader CTP later this calendar year. We’ll use this broad feedback from customers and partners to help us validate the features and readiness of the product.

We have also updated the name of the next version from BizTalk Server 2006 R3 to BizTalk Server 2009. BizTalk Server 2009 will be a full release of the product. It delivers a full upgrade to enable customers to take advantage of the latest platform wave (delivered through Windows Server 2008, Visual Studio 2008, SQL Server 2008, .NET Framework 3.5). In particular the platform updates enable greater scalability and reliability, new Hyper-V virtualization support, and many advances in the latest developer tools.

BizTalk Server 2009 also delivers some of the top features that have been requested by our customers, including a new UDDI v3-compliant services registry, new and enhanced LOB adapters (Oracle E-Business Suite, SQL Server), enhanced host systems integration (updates to MQ, CICS, IMS, CICS), a new Mobile RFID platform and management tools, enhanced B2B capabilities (updates to EDI, AS2, SWIFT), enhanced developer and team productivity through ALM integration with Team Foundation System and Visual Studio, and a new release of ESB Guidance 2.0 patterns and practices.

We know that our enterprise customers need to make longer-term plans about their infrastructure investments, often more than five years into the future. In response to this, we are providing customers with greater visibility into the BizTalk Server release cycle. The goal is to provide a BizTalk Server release approximately every two years, plus additional interim releases of service packs as appropriate. Each full BizTalk Server release will integrate the previous major release with the latest service pack(s) and new functionality.

PressPass: How has the vision for BizTalk Server changed since its first release, and where do you see the product headed next?

Sharp: Our vision for BizTalk Server has remained pretty consistent since the product was introduced, and gained clarity through customer and partner feedback. If you think about BizTalk Server’s original charter (back when it was launched in 2000), it was focused on enabling our customers to develop secure and reliable XML-based connectivity and bringing everything together in a manageable way, thereby leading to improvements in the way organizations conduct their day-to-day business.

We’ve always been focused on making connections, and we still are, but over the years we’ve added in more systems and additional support for disparate and heterogeneous systems. Just in the past two releases we have added in over 30 adapters, four vertical industry accelerators and support for disparate protocols for mainframe, midrange systems and intelligent RFID devices.

For more information on both the BizTalk Server 2009 release and some of the priorities for the future, you can go to our BizTalk road map page and get additional details. We’re beginning early planning on BizTalk Server “7” and will have more information to share about the specific scope of that release early next year. We hope the information we’re providing today gives more transparency and predictability about the future plans of BizTalk Server.

PressPass: What are you hearing from customers and partners about the value they’re getting from BizTalk Server today?

Sharp: I frequently talk to customers and they are getting value from the immediate productivity benefits of BizTalk Server. Unlike a lot of the traditional middleware offerings available in the market, we give you all the tools and capabilities you need “in the box,” which means that our customers don’t have to do lots of custom development or purchase additional add-on components — they can get up and running quickly and with minimal effort. But we can also scale up with you as your needs grow.

Customers also tell me they’re seeing a lot of value in extending the systems that support their business processes out “to the edge” — to branch locations, business partners and vertical supply-chains. This is one of the big innovations we’re making in BizTalk Server 2009, with the delivery of a full RFID Mobile stack that enables completely remote and disconnected processing of real-time events.

PressPass: The industry has been talking a lot about Microsoft’s “Oslo” model-driven platform efforts. How will BizTalk Server take advantage of “Oslo” and also future versions of .NET?

Sharp: ”Oslo” is the code name for Microsoft’s forthcoming modeling platform. Modeling is used across a wide range of domains and allows more people to participate in application design and allows developers to write applications at a much higher level of abstraction. “Oslo” consists of a new modeling tool, which helps people visually interact with models in a rich and intuitive manner; a new modeling language, which allow developers to efficiently define domain models in a form that is natural to the author; and a new repository, which provides a shared store for linking together all the various model artifacts that describe an application across both design and runtime.

Many of our BizTalk customers are running mission-critical applications. They need choice and flexibility in adopting future technologies such as “Oslo.” Therefore, it’s an important guiding principle to our planning efforts that we preserve our customers’ existing investments in their BizTalk Server infrastructure. Current BizTalk Server 2006 R2 or BizTalk Server 2009 customers will be able to benefit from “Oslo” by being able to leverage and compose your services into new composite applications. Because BizTalk Server today already provides the ability to service enable your LOB systems or trading partners as Web services using WCF supported protocols, this allows the “Oslo” modeling technologies to compose the services you already have.

This principle applies to advances in the .NET Framework as well, such as Windows Workflow Foundation (WF). In response to customer feedback, we are committed to continuing support for BizTalk Server’s XLANG orchestration technology. We will provide XLANG compatibility for existing applications, based upon current versions of BizTalk Server, and have no plans to stop support of the existing BizTalk orchestration and messaging engine. Additional support for WF will be something that we prioritize for the coming releases based upon customer demand and scenarios.

PressPass: Based on the road map you discussed today, what should customers and partners do in the short and medium term?

Sharp: Well, actually the best way to prepare for what’s coming over the next few BizTalk releases is to begin using our current server and tools today to embrace a “Real World SOA” approach. Microsoft’s Real World SOA perspective is based upon discussions we had been having with customers who have realized business value from SOA. Our customers are delivering Real World SOA projects very pragmatically and incrementally today, using technologies such as Windows Server, Visual Studio, .NET, SQL Server and, of course, BizTalk Server.

With the enhancements coming in BizTalk Server 2009, we’re taking another significant step forward around driving broad adoption of enterprise connectivity of our application platform, so I’d encourage customers that are interested in the latest enhancements to check out the CTP when it becomes available later this year. We want your feedback, so please let us know what you think.

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