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BizTalk - yet another launch

It's deja vu all over again

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BizTalk Server 2006 was half-launched last year. Yesterday it had a proper launch (with general availability etc.) at the London Stock Exchange.

As it has already been in production use for some time with favoured customers, so why have a launch at all?

It's a chance to discover how paranoid the London Stock Exchange is about security - and these days, the press at least can ask real Microsoft techies the hard questions in "chalk and talk" sessions and get informed answers. But you don't need a "launch" for that.

I came away with a feeling of deja vu all over again.. Remember when BI - in general perception anyway - was an expensive toy for Very Important People? And then SQL Server came along with cheap and cheerful BI, suitable for most people, charged nothing for it - and suddenly the revenue stream which financed R&D for the BI specialists looked at risk. Now Microsft's BI tools look rather less cheap and cheerful than they did - even though they're still free.

Well, it may be happening again with Business Rules. Biztalk Server 2006 has what looks like a perfectly adequate Rules Engine. On a brief look, it's nothing like as sophisticated as JRules 6 from Ilog or Fair Isaac's engine - but it should help developers use simple rules for business logic which changes frequently, as well as code for more static logic, and thus more transparently align automated systems with the business.

But there's a real risk here...

Rules are powerful things. Get one wrong (a decimal point in the wrong place when assigning discounts perhaps) and you can lose a lot of money or customer goodwill very fast (you mostly don't use rules in low-volume applications). Unlike BI, rules immediately affect production.

So, you need lots of process around rules engines. Testing, simulation of ihe overall effect of overlapping rules, configuration management, instant revocation of "broken" rules. And if you change rules, what of long-running half-completed transactions still using the old rules?

Rules are business-friendly - but does the business understand the process involved in deploying rules safely? And, does the business even understand its own business process, in any formal way, without assistance from Systems Analysts? Or will we only use commodity Rules Engines for very simple applications?

I wonder if we'll see some BizTalk disasters - that aren't really BizTalk's fault? ®

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