As promised, Microsoft is formally releasing the second version of BizTalk Server 2006. There is little secret about the new features of BizTalk Server 2006 r2, but the highlights of the release are some extra goodies that have not previously been disclosed.
Ironically, they include a community technology preview (CTP) of a new set of application adapters that you can deploy for point connections without using BizTalk itself.
According to product management director Steven Martin, these adapters are intended for point-to-point connections or for startup scenarios where you want to connect something like a Microsoft SharePoint portal or other .NET application with Oracle, Siebel, or SAP.
"Until you have at least three systems to integrate, it probably does not make sense to have a middle tier," Martin said.
Martin added that the new point adapters could be used as stepping stones for future BizTalk projects, by providing an entry point where you can postpone installing BizTalk itself.
At this point, these new adapters are released for preview, with pricing yet to be disclosed. But Martin said when the adapters enter general release, they obviously will not be priced higher than BizTalk itself, which comes with a number of basic adapters bundled.
Nonetheless, the likely scenario is that you might pay slightly more for such a phased scenario, but the difference will probably not be huge (compared to if you started with a full BizTalk implementation).
The other new item accompanying release of BizTalk Server 2006 r2 is what Microsoft terms 'ESB guidance'. By that they mean sample code, patterns, components, and suggested best practices for rolling your own enterprise service bus (ESB), using BizTalk Server and WCF. "Many customers have gotten into trouble with cost-prohibitive implementations. We think that this guidance will improve that."
As to migration path, Martin said it would be simple. Just switch the 'channel' in the adapter form the target application to BizTalk.
As to the r2 release itself, Microsoft disclosed months ago its pricing ($8500/server) and new features, which include bundling of four supply chain messaging format adapters including HL6, HIPAA, Swift, RosettaNet; RFID; and Edifact-based EDI transaction sets that formerly were offered a la carte. Release 2 also includes a branch office pack to lower the cost of connecting satellite locations, plus support of the latest Vista and Office 2007 platforms.
Martin also noted that Microsoft would be issuing a flurry of SOA announcements at its fifth annual SOA and BPM conference, which will be held in Redmond next month.
Obviously, there is little surprising about r2 itself because Microsoft let the cat out of the bag a month ago. The interesting parts are the new add-ons, which in one case ironically has nothing to do with BizTalk itself.
We are obviously speaking of the point-to-point adapters, which are an acknowledgement that Microsoft's sweet spot in the market is small-midsize businesses that often have relatively modest needs. At some point, Microsoft had to package its connectivity features in smaller bundles, and the new set of standalone adapters are just that.
This could be a rich opportunity for Microsoft VARs, especially if Microsoft also develops a simplified migration path because, while it might be fairly simple to 'change the channel' on an adapter, installing and configuring BizTalk would likely be over the heads of the type of customer targeted for this new offering.
The other offering, which consists of best practices and patterns for ESB, amounts to the Ikea approach to ESB. While Microsoft does not have an ESB in its catalogue, it provides the piece parts for one, and like Ikea, encourages the user to assemble it at home. It is a well-worn Microsoft strategy to offer such kits and then simplify the instructions for assembly. It should also provide another nice opportunity for Microsoft's huge VAR channel.