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BizTalk Server 2006 R2 raises partners' drooping expectations

Microsoft partners expect BizTalk Server 2006 to drive sales, thanks to new features in R2 -- despite BizTalk's lackluster performance so far.

Microsoft partners expect BizTalk Server 2006 R2 to reverse their experiences with the slow-selling business process management (BPM) and service-oriented architecture (SOA) application.

BizTalk Server 2006 R2, released in September, includes radio frequency identification (RFID) technology, increased interoperability and an enterprise service bus (ESB). These features will finally enable Microsoft to compete in the BPM and SOA markets with IBM, Oracle and other market leaders, according to Phillip Miles, a senior account executive with CTS Inc., a regional systems integrator (SI) in Birmingham, Ala.

"I would be very surprised if Microsoft was not able to capitalize on this," Miles said.

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BizTalk Server 2006 is Microsoft's BPM and SOA product, which partners typically use to integrate customers' various business applications. Microsoft estimates show 7,000 BizTalk customers -- a number that executives hope to increase through the new release and an adapter pack, due early next year, that will allow BizTalk to connect to back-end databases.

CTS is having its best financial year ever, but BizTalk Server 2006 had not been part of that success before the release of R2, Miles said. The company is already using the new release to create an ESB for one customer and to help another integrate its business processes in the aftermath of a merger, Craig Butler, a senior consultant, said.

"We believe in the product and the direction it's going," he said.

BizTalk Server 2006 may have been "underperforming" because other vendors had such a lead over Microsoft, Miles said, even though customers of earlier versions were "thrilled" with the product. David Pawloski, product director with SOA Software Inc., a Los Angeles-based independent infrastructure provider, said the new version should change customers' perceptions of BizTalk Server, especially regarding its ESB capabilities.

"Microsoft was a little late to the marketing game as far as branding BizTalk Server as an ESB product," he said.

eBridge Software Inc., a Burlington, Ont.-based SI, has been on the rolls as a BizTalk Server partner since the product was launched in 2000, but did not really embrace it until recently because of the "cost and complexity" of earlier versions, said Alex Stewart, vice president of operations. New features in R2, including RFID and electronic data interchange (EDI) support, reduce that complexity.

"R2, out of the box, has a lot of the features that we would have built," Stewart said. "It made it much simpler from our own perspective."

And to reduce costs, Microsoft partners can now offer BizTalk Server 2006 as Software as a Service (SaaS), which has the added benefit of making it more attractive for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), Stewart said. eBridge already has 66 customers on the SaaS model.

"Opening up an application like BizTalk to small businesses is huge," Stewart said.

SOA Software started working with Microsoft about four months ago and already has 25 joint accounts, said Roberto Medrano, the company's executive vice president. Microsoft has said that 80% of all BizTalk Server deployments involve the channel in some way, and utilizing the experience and expertise of partners will be the key to the new version's success, he said.

"They're leaving it up to us to do what we do best," he said.

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