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.

Microsoft’s SOA & BPM Conference lands in the UK

The Microsoft SOA & BPM Conference finally landed at the Microsoft Campus in Reading yesterday and I had the opportunity to represent Edenbrook at the event. Although the majority of my time was spent talking to delegates, I managed to attend several of the excellent seminars and demos including the new WCF LOB Adapters (to be released in January of 2008) and PNMSoft’s workflow tools. Of particular interest however was the closing address from Mike Woods, BizTalk Server Product Manager at Microsoft, who gave the ‘Oslo’ brief.

Following on from Tim Rayburns Oslo thoughts after the Keynote, here are my notes from the keynote:

Oslo – ‘Delivering the Vision’

Oslo is aiming to move services from the server into ‘the cloud’, giving architects much more freedom on where to deploy services, allowing services to be much more accessible. Furthermore, it plans on increasing functionality across a range of applications to increase development productivity by a factor of 10, primarily through new unified Business Process Management (BPM) modeling tools.

Oslo will incorporate the following technologies and is likely to be available in beta at the beginning of 2008:

  • Windows Server 2008
  • BizTalk Server v.6
  • BizTalk Services v.1
  • Visual Studio v.10
  • The .Net Framework 4.0
  • System Centre v.5

Oslo will introduce new versioning strategies that span across the technology stack (above) rather than each technology having separate versioning policies [answered during the Q&A and not that much detail offered].

During the Q&A it was also revealed that every element of the Oslo platform will be natively 64-bit capable, however there are no intentions to make BizTalk Server 64-bit only during this next release cycle.

BizTalk Services – ‘The Cloud’

Microsoft see the emerging BizTalk Service as Software plus Services (S+S), rather than Software as a Service (SaaS). Microsoft see S+S as the encapsulation of a number of internally hosted and cloud services in an enterprise mashup fashion, rather than a single completed service (SaaS).

BizTalk Services enables firewalled applications to create publically available endpoints and currently supports federated identity and message routing. Further features will come on-stream during the beta and RC phases. BizTalk Services is not built on top of BizTalk (and therefore does not require a BizTalk licence).

Any WCF enabled .Net application can publish messages on the BizTalk Services platform and equally subscribe (via WCF) to messages published from other sources (Mike presented an excellent manufacturing stock allocation demo based on BizTalk Server and BizTalk Services with a great Live Earth mashup showing worldwide factories sending stock availability messages back over the BizTalk Services cloud).

Enterprises are encouraged to start using the BizTalk Services functionality, however it is unlikely to be released for production use until this time next year. They are not yet certain on the pricing structures for the service – some elements will be free (but without SLA’s) and others will be chargeable. They are looking for feedback on the services as a whole and suggestions on pricing are welcome.

With regards to hosting, Microsoft will be providing the hosting platform for the initial release, but plan on offering the platform for other hosting companies post Oslo, similar to the Exchange model. It is also hoped that the service will be available for hosting internally within the enterprise, allowing companies to move from a hosted to internal platform simply by deploying a copy of the [hosted] configuration locally and changing WCF relevant pub/sub end-points, similar to the hosted CRM model. Unfortunately, there are no firm plans on when this functionality will be available.

Further details about BizTalk Services, including the beta, can be found at:

Business Process Managed (BPM) Modelling

The new unified BPM modeling platform aims to take current ‘siloed’ view of BPM (where each department only looks at its own processes) and generate models of the business process across the whole enterprise, describing them in a new modeling language, which is likely to be similar in concept to MSIL.

Although this new language is not yet finalized, the product team do want to submit it to the standard bodies at a later stage. Furthermore, it aims to overcome the difficulties encountered with Case Management tools in the early- to mid-nineties by having the new abstracted language executed directly, rather than compiling down into C#, losing essential definition and meaning (apparently the cause of Case Management’s downfall)

Modeling will be accomplished in four stages:

  • Analysts will create models that define both electronic and human business processes.
  • Models will be translated into a common ‘model language’, stored, versioned and shared in a central business-visible repository (possibly Sharepoint). This repository will serve as the reference environment for future review.
  • Development teams will enhance the process models with process functionality.
  • Models will be deployed to processing servers (BizTalk v.Next) or The Cloud’ for execution, also allowing services to discover and communicate with each-another.

Managed Services Engine

Mike outlined a new product to be released as part of Oslo, called the Managed Services Engine (MSE). From what I could tell, MSE is designed to act as a broker between apps calling web-services and the those exposing web-services. Details were a bit scant, so I’m including the following from the Codeplex site:

The Managed Services Engine (MSE) is one approach to facilitating Enterprise SOA through service virtualization. Built upon the Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and the Microsoft Server Platform, the MSE was developed by Microsoft Services as we helped customers address the challenges of SOA in the enterprise.

The MSE fully enables service virtualization through a Service Repository, which helps organizations deploy services faster, coordinate change management, and maximize the reuse of various service elements. In doing so, the MSE provides the ability to support versioning, abstraction, management, routing, and runtime policy enforcement for Services.

The beta of the MSE can be downloaded from Codeplex at:

Update: Jesus Rodriguez has a bit more on the Managed Services Engine at: Managed Services Engine

And Finally

I remember reading on one of the BizTalk blogs when the SOA & BPM conference started that said WCF was the next big thing for us BizTalkers and that ‘if you’re not doing WCF at the moment, you should be’. That prompted me to go out and buy O’Reilly’s ‘Learning WCF’, but following this closing speech I would like to add a caveat to that statement: If you are a developer, I would agree that WCF will start to play a big part in your career post Oslo, if it doesn’t already. However for the system architects out there, I believe that the cloud (and similar services) is likely to play an even bigger part in future projects and this area that should be given serious focus. Time to download the BizTalk Services SDK……

Finally, I was lucky enough to introduce myself to Mike which was a little like meeting a celebrity – especially after dedicating your professional career for the last four years to the product he manages!