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Microsoft's BizTalk Services: ESB in the Cloud

Microsoft cooks up an online enterprise service bus with BizTalk Services.

Steven Martin, Microsoft's director of product management in the Connected Systems Division, says the company's recently launched BizTalk Services initiative is Redmond's "best-kept secret."

The ultimate goal of the effort is an Internet Service Bus (ISB): something that mimics the functionality and role of an enterprise service bus (ESB), such as BizTalk Server, except up on a hosted server instead of behind corporate firewalls.

"If we can take a concept like an ESB and make it work at Internet scope -- meaning firewall-friendly messaging, building an app that assumes that the app lives in multiple DNSes, assumes that identity could be inside or outside the firewall -- we can drive a lot of benefit for users," he says.

To hear Martin talk, Microsoft's work on BizTalk Services was inevitable: "One of our axioms here is, any time in history where the Internet has met the enterprise, the Internet always wins. Always."

The Start of Services
BizTalk Services is based on Windows Communication Foundation, the Web services stack that is part of the .NET Framework 3.0. So far, Microsoft has released a software development kit and a pair of services, which are available at labs.biztalk.net.

While developers would use the BizTalk Identity Service for dealing with access and identity issues, the BizTalk Connectivity Service is meant for composing composite apps. It provides a secure method of exposing a firewall-protected service and a globally addressable namespace for services, according to Microsoft. The company is also working on a Workflow Service based on Windows Workflow Foundation.

Martin stresses that BizTalk's Web standards-based underpinnings make it viable within heterogeneous environments. "These are services that we're making available in the cloud for developers to build on that are completely agnostic to what their on-premise technology is," he says. "If I'm building a WebSphere app, I can use BizTalk Services for inter-organizational messaging just as well as I could if I was using a .NET stack internally," he says.

Preparing for Prime Time
So what type of scenarios might BizTalk Services enable? A Microsoft white paper for BizTalk Services describes a hypothetical school Web site that involves interaction with parents and is hosted on an internal server.

The school may use the site to provide various notifications to parents about school events. However, this means the intended recipients of this information must have access to a Web browser, the paper notes. Through the BizTalk ISB, the school could reach these individuals more quickly and in a customized manner, Microsoft argues in the white paper: "For example, when school is closed due to weather, a workflow kicks off. As part of that workflow, the system can notify parents, teachers, and bus drivers, as well as food service vendors, snow plow operators, and local police, using the ISB to traverse networks across these disparate organizations."

Microsoft has one eye on Google as it prepares BizTalk Services for prime time, according to Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) consultancy. "I think Microsoft is really rethinking a lot of their server infrastructure because Google is a competitive threat," Schmelzer says.

Schmelzer says he expects mostly .NET-oriented enterprises and smaller companies will gravitate toward BizTalk Services for building service-oriented apps that straddle departments and divisions. "They may find the BizTalk services are lower-cost and easier to try than developing their own service," he says. "They're appealing to folks who can't make the investment in infrastructure."

About the Author

Chris Kanaracus is the news editor for Redmond Developer News.

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