BIZTALK: R2 Launch


The BizTalk 2006 R2 launch last Friday was a surprisingly small event (perhaps only 200 people?) but none the less very worthwhile – especially since it was free.

The event started with the keynote from Don Ferguson which I found very stimulating. (By the way, I forgot to mention in my last post that Don has co-authored a great article in issue 13 of The Architecture Journal about the Internet Service Bus (click here to download the PDF 4MB).

After that, Oliver Sharp gave an overview of the new features in BizTalk 2006 R2. The marketing schpeil goes something like this:

1. BizTalk is enterprise proven (which is true, especially given it is now in it’s 5th version, and is implemented in 90% of the Fortune 100 companies. Mick Badran has further trivia on BizTalk here.)

2. BizTalk is focussing on interoperability with other products both externally (as evidenced by the vast array of adapters that it now ships with), and internally (eg consider its WCF and WF foundations)

3. BizTalk sits on the ‘edge of the enterprise’ – there were a few different explanations of this over the day, but the analogy that I related to best was from Rahul Garg with this: ‘If Visual Studio, Office and other development products are the tools to build the buildings of your city, then BizTalk is the tunnels between them.’

Oh, and did I mention RFID? Yep, pretty important.

Sessions from Raymond Denton (from HP) and Kerry Krause (from Intel) highlighted the global support and success BizTalk is garnering. Michael Woods (from Microsoft) highlighted BizTalk in action with a simple Adventure Works based online store demo using BizTalk to provide the orchestration.

A few comments on BizTalk VNext were illuminating, with Software + Services being a key focus along with tight integration into Office 14. The latter will be crucial for widespread uptake in my opinion (once we start seeing BizTalk wizards and other hooks in Office then developers as a whole will start taking more notice). Interestingly most of the people I spoke to at the event were from the infrastructure side – BizTalk is still a mystery to many developers it would seem.

Other session highlights were from Steve Martin (excellent) covering real world examples (he covered an interesting implementation of BizTalk using RFID to power a sushi restaurant).

An interesting statistic that he noted with regard to IT budgets was this: 80% of IT budgets (in general) are directed towards maintaining existing infrastructure and processes, with the remaining 20% on new projects and innovation. This leads in turn to a focus on getting the maximum value from this 20%. And thus the old ‘Build versus Buy’ decisions become even more important… In light of this there is change in the way business logic is being considered. No longer satisfied with having to pay developers to customise logic within the applications (ie ‘application logic’) customers now want to directly enable ‘commodity logic’ within off-the-shelf applications. The advantage being that the customers themselves can enable all kinds of new logic without the need for developers to be involved. This harks back to what Don was discussing in his Software Breakthroughs trend.

Later Anush Kumar discussed the Real Time Enterprise with a particular focus on RFID. He claims that the inflexion point of RFID has arrived, where it is no longer a technology used in endless pilot programs, but is now quickly turning up in many real world implementations. I can only take him at his word and assume he is correct. He pointed to an impressive implementation of RFID in a Taiwanese Fish Supply Chain where fish are tracked (using RFID) all the way through the chain from fish farm to testing house to distributor to restaurant, with full details on the fish available to the end consumer (ie the restaurant guest) if desired. In this case the example was for a particular kind of fish (in the $100 per fish category) so the cost of implementation is small as a percentage of sale price.

As Anush helpfully pointed out, the ‘magic’ of RFID is of course in the software (ie there is nothing particularly special about RFID) in the same way as the ‘magic’ of the internet is in the software built on top of it (ie not the IP stack).

Phil Kenny from the RFID Association of Australia (yes it is a real organisation :-) outlined how we now have an Australian National Livestock Identification System in which all of Australia’s 80 million cattle are RFID tagged – a good example of RFID in action.

The final session for the day was Lawrence Crumpton discussing the Microsoft Customer Care Framework (CCF). An impressive demo from the passionate and likeable Crumpton, but as I discovered speaking with people afterwards, the amazing claims of some of the CCF projects is disputed by some.

CCF for those who don’t know (like me – I’d never heard of it) is a Microsoft framework for pulling legacy apps into a central ‘view’ and automating steps along the way. Thus, for example, a call centre, using multiple applications for managing client accounts (including legacy, DOS based, Mainframe based, and web based applications) can use CCF to automate many of the login and customer record look up functions. The result: a huge time saving. CCF doesn’t aim to replace any of the applications – rather it pulls them together. In fact, the next release is going to be renamed to SingleView. I thought the session was amazing (although with only minimal reference to BizTalk?) but perhaps I was too easily caught up in the marketecture hype… at least based on the real life experience of a person I spoke with afterwards. You can never really know I guess, with things like this, unless you are personally involved in an implementation. But a very thought provoking session to say the least. CCF v3 has just been released.

The day finished with drinks and every attendee receiving a free full copy of Vista Ultimate (yes, you read that right). Suhhhweeet.

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By Craig Bailey