I know that many of you have been wondering if BizTalk is just going away, and Microsoft has been particularly closed mouthed about their plans for it of late. After a period of relatively rapid growth, with BizTalk 2006 R2 in 2008, BizTalk 2009 and BizTalk 2010, all in rapid succession there has been nothing new except a few patches out of the BizTalk team for 2+ years. Information about the latest cumulative update for BizTalk Server 2010 is available here.
With Microsoft pushing AppFabric and Azure as they have been, and with so much of the functionality seeming to overlap with BizTalk who could blame us for wondering? Many have hypothesized that BizTalk would simply be subsumed into AppFabric and disappear forever. Why wouldn’t Microsoft push for just such an agenda? Wouldn’t you rather rent customers their software for an ongoing monthly fee as opposed to selling the software just once that runs and runs and runs? Since most BizTalk customers acquire their licenses through an enterprise agreement, this has effectively already been the case. Moving BizTalk to a cloud-hosted tool solidifies this arrangement and makes it much easier to add new customers. This effectively is the concept behind SaaS (Software as a Service) and the more recent incarnations of PaaS and IaaS (Platform and Infrastructure as a Service respectively).
The most official communication regarding the future of BizTalk was conveyed by Tony Meleg last year at various conferences (including the 2011 World Partner Conference). He stated that over the next several iterations, spaced approximately 2-3 years apart, BizTalk would evolve to become more cloud based and more integrated into a SaaS type product. This would seem to indicate about 10 year evolution cycle. Not a bad timeline for a product that has only been around for about 10 years, (let’s face it BizTalk really started with BizTalk 2004!)
At TechEd 2012 in Orlando there were two sessions on BizTalk Server. Oh you say, you missed them? Not surprising as only one had BizTalk in its name and it was a late entry, and both sessions were scheduled at the end of the conference; the last two session of the last day (AZR207 and AZR211 if you have access and want to watch them yourself).
In these sessions Balasubramanian Sriram, Javed Sikander, and Rajesh Ramamirtham shared several very promising particulars regarding BizTalk Server 2010 including: of the 12,000 worldwide customers for BizTalk Server over 79% have already upgraded to BizTalk Server 2010. I take this as a very positive number since this indicates a strong and interested base. Also, any future upgrades will be made easier by having 80% of customers ready to go (historically “in-place” upgrades are only supported for the current version). Of course for those of us that love BizTalk like I do, we hope to see this number grow by 100 fold or more! However, that will only come if the product gets easier, and cheaper for customers to use.
Here is what I took away from these sessions. Microsoft intends to continue to innovate in the integration space with improvements to BizTalk server in three primary areas.
BizTalk Server on-premises: Microsoft will continue to support new platforms including Windows 8 Server, SQL Server 2012, Visual Studio 2012, Office 15 and System Center. The proposed release date for this next version is about 6 months after the release of Windows 8 Server, so late 2012 or early 2013. While it is currently being called BTS 2010 R2, we have verbal confirmation that Microsoft understands it would be more aptly named BizTalk Server 2012, or more likely 2013. An R2 probably doesn’t make sense three plus years after R1!
The newest version will include:
- Support of the latest B2B standards including HL7, Swift and EDIFACT and X12 EDI schemas. Considering the huge uptake in customers using BizTalk Server for EDI transactions this is a pretty big deal.
- Improved performance for dynamic send ports including the ability to specify the host to be used, (yay).
- Integration of ESB functionality into the core of BizTalk Server (installation will just be a checkbox?)
- Better manageability to view artifact dependencies through the Administration console, for example what map is used in what port.
- Improvements to several adapters, including SharePoint, HIS, SMTP and the ability to consume RESTful services directly from BizTalk.
- And easy integration with BizTalk on Azure…
BizTalk on Azure (BizTalk IaaS): The new on-premise BizTalk will be offered as a hosted service available “in the cloud” to make provisioning additional servers faster, easier, and we can only hope, less costly. The time-line for this is the same as BizTalk on-premise since it is virtualization of the same technology.
- This would provide the ability to easily move applications developed for on-premise hosting to the cloud, and vice-versa.
- Initially this will only be available for development and test but Microsoft will obviously make this feature available for production relatively soon.
BizTalk PaaS: The timeline for this one is a bit less clear, but it is happening to some extent already. For those customers that don’t have need of heavily customized BizTalk deployment and maybe don’t have a volume that would justify a multi-server installation, some BizTalk functionality will be offered as a cloud-hosted service. I don’t think that anyone sees this as a replacement for on-premise BizTalk servers however in messaging only scenarios this makes a lot of sense.
- The primary benefit is for route and transform functionality where no custom orchestrations would be required. This provides an easy entry point for customers which will later probably require more power and will end up with custom BizTalk solutions. For BizTalk to be viable going forward the customer base must expand from the current 12,000.
- Most new innovation would take place in this area and then the capability would be moved into the on-premise (or hosted) versions of BizTalk.
- Best use case here would be companies that buy BizTalk purely for the EDI capability. Today this requires dedicated hardware and a development staff when really all they need are the schemas and some configuration all hosted in the cloud.
- Another likely scenario would be integration between various enterprise applications where once the schemas are defined the processing is completely automated.
What all this means is, after an extended period of seeming inactivity on the BizTalk Server front, I am pleased to inform you that BizTalk Server is not dead! The “key takeaways” from the sessions sum this up very clearly:
- Microsoft is committed to releasing a new version of BizTalk very soon with additional versions to follow on a 2-3 year cadence as in the past.
- Conventional on-premise BizTalk, plus BizTalk IaaS, plus BizTalk PaaS is the way forward and it should drive higher adoption and more innovation in the integration area that we all know and love.
- Continue to bet on BizTalk as Microsoft continues to invest in BizTalk, (their words, not mine, but I agree).
In several discussions that I have had with BizTalk MVPs, students, customers and Microsoft employees over the years, my feeling for years is that as awesome as BizTalk is, it has needed update, a big one, and that this update would require quite a change in thinking. I am thrilled to see them releasing more definitive plans that we can tie our futures to.
It looks like we will have several years of BizTalk development and support ahead! Long Live BizTalk!