The BizTalk Server team announced today that BizTalk Server 2010 has RTMd. That's a relief, as my reputation was on the line regarding RTM before the end of the month. Just this Tuesday I confidently told a prospective customer to expect an imminent announcement.
I've been playing with BTS 2010 for a little while now. It has been my constant companion while writing several chapters for the forthcoming BizTalk Server 2010 Unleashed. It looks great. As well as bringing BTS up to date with Visual Studio 2010 and SQL Server 2008 R2, it introduces some welcome improvements. First and foremost, for developers, is a re-worked mapper. A decade ago, the mapper was the 'killer app' (as Clemens Vasters put it at the time) that sold BTS 2000 licences. A lot has changed since then, but the mapper, although much copied over the years, remains a vital part of BizTalk tooling. The new version is head and shoulders over the previous version and, frankly, over much of the competition as well. In the last few days, I've constructed a couple of medium-complexity maps in BTS 2009. I really, really wished I was using BTS 2010. Even though the maps were not by any means the biggest and ugliest I have worked on, things would still have been much easier with the new version. Better still, you can use the new mapper in conjunction with WCF/WF workflow services in .NET 4 (under the beta, you had to have AppFabric installed - I haven't tested this yet on the RTM version). It's a great indication of how, as time goes on, BizTalk Server is supporting and extending WCF/WF to an ever-greater degree. There is much more water to flow under this particular bridge.
One more point about the mapper. It seems the hilariously named 'Suggestive Match' feature in the beta (wink, wink) has been renamed 'Predictive Match'. They are a bunch of killjoys over there in Redmond, but I suppose double entrendres have no place in enterprise-level platforms.
The Trading Partner Management features have had a welcome makeover. Some of us older folk remember how BTS began life as the Commerce Interchange Pipeline (CIP) in Microsoft Site Server (ah, what a trip down memory lane!). BizTalk Server was originally conceived principally as a B2B product and has always had some TPM features. Over the years these have languished. BTS has excellent support for EDI standards (EDIFACT, X12 and AS2), but the TPM was relatively poor. That has changed in BTS 2010 with the introduction of a completely reworked model with new support for agreement templating and onboarding as well as new models for centralised management of identities, message types, validation, etc.
There are new features to please the operations guys who have to maintain BTS, including a new improved SCOM management pack, new rapid tuning features and data compression for backups. RFID Server has also been extended with a number of new event handlers and other features.
Looking through the official announcement, I am clearly going to have to revisit some of the adapter content I've recently been writing for BizTalk Server 2010 Unleashed. When looking at the beta, I discovered the SSL extensions to the existing FTP adapter, but MS keep on talking about a new FTPS adapter as if it is a separate item. This is currently confusing me. They also talk about new features of the File adapter which I didn't discover in the beta. [UPDATE 26/09/2010] The list of new features in the BizTalk Server Team blog is confusing. There is no new separate FTPS adapter, but simply a set of extensions to the existing FTP adapter, including SSL support. Also, I misinterpreted the list of features assuming that they referred to extensions to the File adapter. Not so. They are new features of the FTP adapter which I had actually discovered previously! The beta documentation clearly stated that the old SQL Server adapter has been removed from the product, but it was still there in the beta. I will be interested to see if it is in the RTM version. If it is, I understand that it will not be supported. [UPDATE 26/09/20010] The SQL Server adapter is still included in the product, BUT is no longer supported, except in certain cases. It appears that the help documentation has been tidied up in order to clarify the situation. Here is what it says:
"BizTalk Server no longer supports the SQL Adapter. We recommend you use Microsoft BizTalk Adapter for SQL Server to achieve the same functionality.
However, BizTalk Server supports the SQL Adapter with the components shipped with BizTalk Server, like EDI Control message SQL receive pipeline, or AS2 resend control message receive pipeline."
The old SOAP adapter, I believe, retains its deprecated status but is still supported. [UPDATE 26/09/20010] Yes, this is the case. This caused me some pain earlier this year when we discovered that a customer, new to BizTalk Server, needed to integrate with a central system via web services written in an older version of Apache Axis. Axis used to use RPC/Encoded as the default SOAP style, and I had to explain to the customer that, having spent all that money on a bright shiny new integration server, the only way it could support this part of the SOAP specification was through a deprecated adapter. The WCF adapters have no support for RPC. Also, publishing ASMX web services via BizTalk with RPC support is not handled well. You have to make changes to the code generated by the publishing wizard to get everything working as required. <rant>For BizTalk Server to fail to provide good support for a major, if unfashionable, part of the SOAP spec, and to only support RPC via a deprecated adapter verges on the incredible. In the rush to adopt pristine-pure WCF, there is always the fear that Microsoft could lose sight of the whole purpose of BizTalk Server and the value proposition it offers to companies. It is an integration server. It is there to cope with mess and confusion, mediocre and bad practice, delinquent systems and ancient protocols. Supporting things like RPC is what makes the cost of the license worthwhile.</rant>
I can't yet comment on the stability of the development tools in BTS 2010. I haven't experienced any major problems with the BTS 2010 beta, but I've yet to do any serious development in the new version. BTS 2009 dev tools were delivered in a poor, sometimes barely usable, state although subsequent hotfixes improved things significantly. The biggest issue in BTS 2009 remains the poor handling of references amongst multiple BizTalk projects. There were other problems as well. On my current project, I've been struggling just today with very peculiar and wrong behaviour when deploying a small cluster of BizTalk projects to a single application. I really hope that some headway has been made on these issues in BTS 2010 as they are an open sore in this otherwise excellent, stable and mature product.
So, welcome to BTS 2010, and congratulations to Microsoft on getting this version out of the door in the stated timeframe. Keep up the good work.