At TechEd 2008, I manned the Microsoft BizTalk Server booth. Nearly every question I got was, “I’ve heard of BizTalk, but what does it do?”. If you are like me 3 years ago which is sounds like many people are, I wish someone would have just came out and given me a simple description of BizTalk. Now that I know BizTalk, here is the *simple* description/FAQ of what it is and why it is a great product.
What is BizTalk?
BizTalk is a message conversion system. You give it MessageA and it converts it to MessageB. For example, if MessageA is an EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) message, then BizTalk is able to easily read the message and convert it into just about any other message type such as an XML document (MessageB). Will it convert a Word document to a PDF document? It can, but it was really designed to allow businesses to easily communicate with each other using practically any message format and nearly any network protocol.
I can just code this in .NET why do I need BizTalk?
Sure, you can fire up Visual Studio and write this on your own, but did you think about guaranteed delivery, disaster recovery, tracking, troubleshooting, security, or authentication? What if the network protocol to receive and send these messages needs to change? How long would it take to change your custom application compared to a simple configuration change (no recompile necessary) in BizTalk. When you keep creating monolithic applications to handle your business to business (B2B) transactions, it becomes increasingly difficult to manage it and you find yourself trying to write an infrastructure to handle it. BizTalk provides all of this infrastructure for you. It has guaranteed delivery, standardized tracking, a business rules engine, redundancy, and much more.
I am not doing B2B. Is BizTalk still helpful?
Yes. Many people use BizTalk as an integration platform – meaning all of those old systems that you have that don’t communicate with each other can be bridged together with BizTalk. The marketing term for this is Solution Oriented Architecture (SOA). Also, many companies love BizTalk so much that all of their business logic internally in their company flows through it with the confidence of BizTalk’s ability to make nearly any business process a structured transaction.
BizTalk is *huge*, do I really need all of that infrastructure?
BizTalk is not for everyone. Again, you can certainly write your own .NET application to do very basic message conversion, but once your company matures and needs enterprise level messaging, reliability, and flexibility, then that is when you get BizTalk.
What is BizTalk really good at?
BizTalk is great when dealing with frequent changes in how you do business with other businesses. For example, if you deal with a lot of businesses that have different message requirements, frequent network protocol changes, then BizTalk is for you. Also, many customers really like how easy it is to map the schemas of messages. For example, FName in MessageA can be easily mapped to FirstName in MessageB regardless of how the messages are structured.
You keep talking about “messaging”. Does this mean that BizTalk does email?
The messaging we are talking about would be something like reading in a purchase order from CompanyA and sending the order to your fulfillment and shipping departments. BizTalk can also send email if you want it to, but it’s really designed to get businesses to talk to each other hence why it is called “Biz-Talk”.
One of my colleagues at Microsoft requested that I include information on some of the other features that BizTalk Server provides:
- Multiple adapters provide support for most industry standard transports (FTP, HTTP, File, SOAP, WCF, SQL, etc.)
- Multiple accelerators are available that support for industry standard document formats (HIPAA, EDI, SWIFT)
- RFID Platform
- High availability
- Fault tolerance
- End to end message tracking (including message body tracking if needed.
- Messaging subsystem accommodates transactional messaging, i.e. BizTalk can send to/receive from trading partners within the context of a distributed transaction as long as the adapter supports transactions.
- XLANGs workflow engine
- Business Activity Monitoring
- Business Rule Engine (BRE)
- Management functionality via Management console
- Integration with MOM
- Integration with Enterprise Single Sign-On
These features are available in BizTalk Server, which allows you to quickly integrate your business processes with other internal business processes and with external trading partners. Several of these features are described in further detail at http://www.microsoft.com/biztalk/en/us/capabilities.aspx.
Thanks to Trace Young (BizTalk Technical Writer) for this bit of information.