BizTalk to Incorporate Covast B2B Capabilities

A few days ago, Steve Martin announced that Microsoft have reached an agreement with Covast (the European software firm behind the Covast EDI Accelerator and the out-of-the-box Base EDI Adapter) to acquire their advanced B2B capabilities – this will be incorporated into a new feature pack which will be available as part of Software Assurance benefits to customers who license BizTalk Server, similar to the BizTalk LOB pack.

I’m reading between the lines here, but I believe Microsoft may have acquired the technology recently developed by Covast and GXS (a Value Added Network provider), otherwise known as the Covast B2B Suite for GXS Trading Grid, which includes:

  • New adapters to support Value Added Network (VAN) connectivity.
  • An EDI message repository which is stored in SQL Server offering seamless integration via EDI Explorer to Visual Studio (I hope supported by VS2008), allowing EDI message definitions to be imported as XSD schemas into BizTalk projects.
  • Real-time updates from VANs on EDI message delivery and trading partner receipt (something that was always a pain to achieve, especially when doing it through, erm…. snake based scripts).
  • New message standards for specific industry sectors.

There is no news on when this technology will be available from Redmond directly, however Steve’s post suggested that it will be available around the same time as R3. However, I’m not too sure how this fits into the bigger picture: the original Base EDI Adapter was simply the Covast EDI Accelerator with all the handy bells and whistles removed.  This accelerator did the job of EDI document translation admirably but I would have thought that after the release of BizTalk 2006 R2 and its own native EDI handling capabilities, the majority of customers would have made the transition away from costly third party software to the R2 capabilities. Releasing more Covast based technology may just muddy the waters for us EDI types…. I hope that won’t be the case and the BizTalk Team provides native R2 EDI integration into this functionality.

That said, I’m pleased to see that Microsoft believes BizTalk has many more miles to go – this new announcement should certainly keep me occupied until Oslo arrives!

More information on the Covast B2B Suite for GXS Trading Grid can be found online at the Covast website.

Add DOCTYPE Declaration Component

Our current infrastructure supports over 200 interfaces with external trading partners in the B2B role. Unfortunately, some of the cXML partners cannot handle Xml Namespaces and insist on receiving DOCTYPES.

Although DOCTYPE’s can be added through the BizTalk mapper, we needed a mechanism to remove the Xml Namespace from the resultant message before passing through to a client. As a result, I created the Add Doctype Declaration encoding component (send pipeline) to add DOCTYPE’s and remove Xml namespaces.

Encode Component on Pipeline

The component uses an Xml Document object to parse the message and add the DOCTYPE declarations. In addition, the Xml Namespace can be removed if required using the [boolean] ‘RemoveNamespace’ property (if this is set to false, the namespace will remain in the final message.

Add DOCTYPE Declaration Component Properties

A project containing source-code and binaries for BizTalk 2004 can be found in the downloads area of this blog, or via this link.

This really is the first release of the component (think of it as beta) and although it is ready for production, there are a number of enhancements I want to make, including:

  1. Produce a version in .Net 2.0 for BizTalk 2006 (our production environment is currently 2004, hence the current code is targeted to .Net 1.1);
  2. For BizTalk 2006, have the component configurable at run-time rather than design-time;
  3. Identify the root element programmatically, rather than through a component property;
  4. Remove DOCTYPE addition from the component and use the mapper to add the declaration;
  5. Create a receive pipeline component to add an Xml Namespace based on a DOCTYPE declaration;

I hope this component will be of use, either in your projects or as a starter for enhancements. I will continue to update the code and release enhancements through this blog.

Happy BizTalking!

BizTalk 02/04-06/06 R2 EDI Feature Comparison

I recently spoke with a member of the BizTalk EDI Product Team on e-mail about the feature set between 2004/2006 and 2006 R2 after reading several interesting articles about the forthcoming R2 improvements.

The team have now published a post on their blog providing a feature comparison between BizTalk 2002, 2004/2006 and 2006 R2. As an EDI junkie, the following features are particularly appealing:

  • The ability to create custom schemas (I work with a number of trading partners who use EDIFACT 92.1 as their default message set!), although there is a large set already supported.
  • Outbound and inbound message batching/de-batching, including the ability to suspend individual messages or an entire transaction.
  • No need for additional adapters – all assembling/disassembling *appears* to occur in specialised send and receive pipelines.

I hope these new features will bring BizTalk the B2B/EDI market adoption that have previously required costly (yet excellent) third-party adapters.