Looking at what’s coming in BizTalk Server 2006

I’m not a BizTalk Server expert (by any stretch of the imagination), but I do know the concepts behind the product. Just before I left Conchango, I had the opportunity to attend a session delivered by Sue MacDermott (a technical pre-sales specialist with Microsoft UK) where she outlined the new features in the next release – BizTalk Server 2006 – currently scheduled for en early 2007 release. Some of what I was told is covered by a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), but the information below is in the public domain.

BizTalk Server 2006 is not a major release – Microsoft’s current cycle is for a major release every four years and an incremental release in between, so from that we can expect to see the next major BizTalk release, making use of the Windows communication foundation (codenamed Indigo), to be released in early 2008.

It is a common misconception that BizTalk Server 2006 will be released this November, at the same time as Visual Studio 2005 (codenamed Whidbey) and SQL Server 2005 (codenamed Yukon). In fact, it is expected that BizTalk Server 2006 will be officially launched at the same November 7th event, but the only product available at that time is expected to be beta 2. At the time of writing, Microsoft expect to provide a release candidate in the new year, before the product is finally released in the spring.

The reason for the delay (and the 2006 moniker, whereas SQL Server and Visual Studio are both 2005 products) is that there is a dependency on some of the 2005 technologies that are being released in November – namely Visual Studio 2005 and the Microsoft .NET Framework v2.0. There are no hard dependencies on SQL Server 2005, and BizTalk Server 2006 can used either SQL Server 2000 or 2005, but Microsoft did say that initial testing has indicated significant performance improvements when run on the latest SQL Server build (one of my former colleagues at Conchango indicated this may be as much as 30% faster).

Detailing all of the enhancements in BizTalk Server 2006’s is too much for a single blog post, (and in any case, much of the information should soon be available from Microsoft) but the main improvements are across the following areas:

  • Management and operations, introducing the concept of a BizTalk application which groups related components such that the administrator’s view can match the application architecture.
  • Business user empowerment with real-time alerting and notification, a business activity monitoring (BAM) portal and deeper Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) integration.
  • Windows server system integration (with support for SQL Server 2005, Visual Studio 2005 and the Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0, Virtual server 2005 the 64-bit versions of Windows Server 2003).
  • Setup, upgrade and deployment, with a new installer which checks for dependencies (split into mandatory “T1” items, which will block installation if they are missing, and “T2” items such as MSXML where a .CAB file may be downloaded if necessary to ensure that the latest versions are available at installation time), simplified configuration (through the application paradigm), and improved orchestration deployment (down from 74 clicks in BizTalk server 2004 to just a few operations within the new BizTalk Administration Console).

Other improvement areas are the core engine, with improvements around:

  • Handling large messages during a transformation – writing out to disk rather than running out of memory, albeit with a corresponding performance hit.
  • Handling bad messages with out having to roll back all related messages.
  • Ordered delivery to ensure that sequenced messages arrive in sequence.
  • More granular performance counters.
  • A new flat file schema wizard.
  • Engine throttling.

There are also new adapters, with MSMQ and MQSeries adapters now available out of the box (for BizTalk Server 2004 these were separate downloads), as well as new e-mail receive (POP3) and Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) adapters. In addition, existing adapters are enhanced (e.g. e-mail compose within the SMTP adapter, usability improvements and performance counters for adapter troubleshooting). Other new features include the ability to connect to UNC file shares using alternate credentials, SOAP array support and an ability to call web services without orchestrations (i.e. messaging only scenarios) using content based routing (CBR) send ports, and the ability to suspend failing HTTP requests.

On the development front there are new redeployment tools, support for zooming in/out of large orchestrations, and collapsed shapes are preserved in the orchestration designer (OD).

Overall, administration is simplified so that most operations are controlled through the BizTalk Administration Console; although health and activity tracking (HAT) is still available and Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) is recommended for monitoring not only BizTalk (with an updated management pack) but also all of the related components (IIS, SQL Server, etc.).

The BizTalk Administration Console is a Microsoft management console (MMC) snap-in, with a new group hub concept which allows the overall status to be viewed at a glance, as well as improvements for analysing the root cause of issues, isolating errors, grouping and filtering of queries, and bulk operations (e.g. resume all, terminate all, suspend all).

Administration can also be performed via scripting APIs, or the command line (a number of sample scripts are available).

Microsoft are making a great play on the ordered processing functionality in BizTalk Server 2006 and the demonstration I saw showed a graphical application with sending and receiving components whereby the presenter wrote her name in the sending application the vectors for the pixelated data were sent to make it appear (albeit a bit jumbled), in the receiving application. Once ordered delivery was enabled, the sending and receiving copies were identical. This ordered processing can be handled in a number of ways and send-side order processing is available for any adapter; but if implemented on the receiving end, it requires an adapter with appropriate support (e.g. MSMQ or MQSeries) or for sequential data, an HTTP or SOAP adapter can be used. Orchestrations can use the ordered delivery setting on the orchestration receive port and a orchestration convoy to get the stream of ordered messages.

Looking at the new adapters, the WSS adapter features:

  • Receipt of documents from (and posting documents to) a SharePoint document library.
  • Filter inbound documents based on views.
  • Archival of documents to another document library.
  • Promotion of document properties.

The new POP3 adapter features:

  • Polling for e-mail and attachments via a POP3 receive location.
  • Population of e-mail header properties within the message context.
  • POP3 over SSL.
  • Configurable TCP port number.

Line of business adapter choices are also enhanced with Microsoft’s purchase of the iWay adapters for:

  • Clarify.
  • JD Edwards.
  • Oracle Applications.
  • Oracle DB.
  • PeopleSoft.
  • SAP.
  • Siebel.
  • TIBCO Rendezvous.
  • TIBCO JMS (EMS).

(iWay customers that have purchased licenses for the .NET-based adapters will receive a license for the corresponding Microsoft adapter with the purchase of Software Assurance).

A major enhancement in BizTalk Server 2006 is the flat file schema wizard – used to accept messages from a flat file, for example a comma separated variables (.CSV) file, an EDI document, or a text file produced by a custom legacy application. To enable processing of this format using BizTalk Server developer needs to define a flat file schema (an XSD with additional flat file annotations).

Also improved is the interchange processing related to flat file document interchange. In BizTalk Server 2004, one bad document will result in the whole interchange being suspended whereas with BizTalk Server 2006’s recoverable interchange processing, only the “bad” elements are suspended and most of the processing is carried out as normal.

For business users, BizTalk Server 2006 has improved alerting capabilities, finally providing real time information via a new out-of-the-box portal and native integration with BizTalk messaging. There is also a software development kit with a new dynamic web part generator for WSS as well as integration with the Microsoft Office Business Scorecards Accelerator and SQL Server 2000 Reporting Services.

Finally, for those who want to have a look at BizTalk Server 2006, Owen’s blog has details of where to download the latest beta.

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