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Windows Azure BizTalk Services Preview Now Available

Microsoft's BizTalk middleware solution got rolled out as a cloud-enabled service "preview" this month.

A preview of the new Windows Azure BizTalk Services is now available through the Windows Azure portal. BizTalk is Microsoft's enterprise service bus technology for integrating disparate business processes. For instance, it can be used to bring together point-of-sales data with the data that get shared with business partners. In addition to the new cloud-enabled BizTalk, Microsoft previously announced the availability of its premises-based BizTalk Server 2013 back in March.

It's not clear when Windows Azure BizTalk Services will be commercially available, but pricing was announced during the "Introduction to Windows Azure BizTalk Services" Microsoft TechEd session last week. Javed Sikander, group program manager for BizTalk, showed a slide indicating that there will be four services, including Developer ($0.065/hour), Basic ($0.335/hour), Standard ($2.015/hour) and Premium ($4.03/hour). There's a pay-as-you-go plan or six-month and 12-month plans, with details described at this page.

PaaS and IaaS Options
Windows Azure BizTalk Services is Microsoft's platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering. Last month, Microsoft rolled out its infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) Windows Azure service offering in which it's possible to run BizTalk Server 2013 in a virtual machine. That latter IaaS service is called "BizTalk Sever 2013 in Windows Azure Infrastructure Services" and it's already at the "general availability" product release stage. As part of that IaaS offering, Microsoft provides prebuilt images of BizTalk Server 2013, which are available as Enterprise, Standard and Evaluation edition images.

One big difference with Microsoft's PaaS offering is that Windows Azure BizTalk Services is run in a "dedicated per tenant environment" on Windows Azure that an organization can provision. Microsoft is responsible for managing this PaaS service. Users of the IaaS service, by contrast, are stuck with the management responsibilities.

Microsoft has been evolving the components of BizTalk in recent years, which is described in this blog post. The new elements in Windows Azure BizTalk Services, based on the talk by Sikander, mostly center on some of the messaging mapping capabilities, as well as the new BizTalk services templates that are available through a software development kit (SDK).

Sikander said that Microsoft listened to what its customers had to say from reviews of an early limited preview of Windows Azure BizTalk Service called "Server Bus EDI Labs." He said that Microsoft learned it needed to create a scalable cloud integration platform for enterprise application integration (EAI) and business-to-business (B2B) messaging integration. Per Microsoft's BizTalk explanations, the EAI transport protocol is typically used for messaging between two disparate systems. The B2B solution is used to add trading partners to Windows Azure BizTalk Services. Once added, these trading partners can send EDI messages via HTTP, AS2 and FTP transport protocols. It's possible to connect cloud-based services to premises-based line-of-business applications using a BizTalk Adapter Service component that's part of the BizTalk Services SDK.

Rapid Development
Sikander explained that Microsoft wanted to create "a more rapid development environment" and identify the common integration patterns that were being used. Customers said that no matter how many patterns that Microsoft could provide, integration was still a messy process, requiring the writing of custom code, so Microsoft also added the ability to use custom code with the service. Customers also said that they wanted BizTalk to be a managed service, but they wanted control on when to scale up or scale down operations, which is something that's possible with the new service.

Microsoft also improved some of the debugging capabilities with the new service. The design work for Windows Azure BizTalk Services is done using a drag-and-drop interface via the "design surface." Visual Studio gets used to support the design surface by way of the Azure BizTalk Services SDK installed into Visual Studio. Users can interact with the Bridges component of Windows Azure BizTalk Services, which is where users specify sources, destinations and pipelines for the messaging. It is now possible for developers to spot errors that may occur by tracking the properties of messages in the Bridges component during the configuration process, according to Microsoft.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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