This week at PDC, the product team announced BizTalk Server 2009 R2, and previewed some capabilities of a version beyond that. This marks a continuation of the rhythm of releases every 18 – 24 months that we’ve seen over the past decade.
Note that everything I say here is based on this first announcement, as is subject to change as the product moves closer to release.
Areas of enhancement that were discussed were:
- Platform Alignment - support for the following products and technologies:
- Visual Studio 2010
- Windows Server 2008 R2
- SQL Server 2008 R2
- Productivity Improvements
- Single dashboard to apply and manage performance parameters
- Out-of-the-box support for Event Filtering and Delivery (RFID)
- PowerShell access to management tasks
- New System Center Operation Management SCOM Pack object model to better reflect BizTalk artifacts
- B2B Scenarios Made Easy
- Mapper enhancements to make complex mapping easier to create and maintain
- FTPS to provide secure transactions between businesses
- Updated B2B accelerators for latest protocol versions
This is to be expected. BizTalk is built on the Microsoft stack, and the stack is continually evolving. As such, platform synchronization needs to happen in order to align with the latest release of the Visual Studio, Windows Server, SQL Server and the .NET framework itself.
BizTalk Server, just like most software products, ships with a “average configuration” that will work for “most customers” in “most scenarios”. If you’ve been working with BizTalk at an infrastructure level, you know that there are a lot of knobs and dials you can adjust to optimize performance for your particular requirements. However, knowing which dial to turn requires knowledge and experience. The dashboard will embody that knowledge and experience, raising the configuration experience to a higher level and allowing you to more easily choose a group of settings. PowerShell access to management tasks means you will be able to use PowerShell to perform standard administrative tasks, in addition to WMI and the other existing options. The new management pack for Systems Center Operations Manager will extend the capabilities and visibility we already have with the existing management pack. Although it was not specifically called out, I believe this is also related to the PowerShell announcement, as you can invoke PowerShell commandlets from the Management Pack.
B2B Scenarios made easy
Perhaps the most attention-getting part of the presentation is the demonstration of the new mapper prototype. As any BizTalker knows, the mapper is a visual tool that allows you to connect elements on the left with element on the right by dragging a line between them. For many BizTalkers, they deal with simple schemas, and the user experience is just fine. However, when working with large schemas, such as those common in the world of EDI, you can end up with something that I’ve heard people call “black maps”, where you have so many linking lines that the middle of the mapper becomes a solid black mass. In the current version, we have the ability to move links onto up to 20 pages, and that helps, but sometimes that’s not enough.
This is actually a very hard problem to solve, and the team has done a great job. Here are some screen shots.
For comparison, here is the mapper as we know it today:
The map above shows all the links, which results in a lot of clutter in the middle that does not matter given the elements we see on the left and right. The screen shot below shows how this clutter is still shown, but it’s “faded”. Only links to the elements currently in view are in solid black. Not shown in the screen shot is the “auto scroll” feature, clicking on a link will cause the schemas to scroll so that the relevant parts of the schemas come into view.
One the innovations I thought was a great idea was the “relevance tree”. In this mode, you only see elements in the schema that are mapped, the non-relevant parts of the schema are collapsed, as is shown in the following screen shot:
Other features include:
- the “search” box that you see on top of the mapper canvas. Typing something in the search box will find and highlight it whether it’s a functoid name or element name. In addition, if there’s a match that’s on a page that’s not currently shown, then that tab gets highlighted to give you a visual cue that lets you know the non-visible page also has at least one match
- you can move links between pages by a right-click context menu operation
So, lots of work has been done to improve the productivity of people working on large complex maps, and I’m impressed at how significant an impact some of these seemingly simply changes will have.
There is more to talk about from the announcement, but those are the key points as they relate to BizTalk Server 2009 R2. As I said at the outset, this is the first announcement, so everything is subject to change as we progress through the development cycle. This announcement shows Microsoft’s continued commitment to the BizTalk platform, and BizTalk’s role as a key component of the overall data platform strategy.
You can watch the roadmap presentation online at http://microsoftpdc.com/Sessions/SVR15. This blog post only covers the BizTalk Server 2009 R21 portion of that presentation, I’ll talk about the other things show in a separate blog post.