There are some rumours for the next version of BizTalk (after BizTalk 2010) to be available in the Cloud. A sort of BizTalk Azure. That’s interesting news for sure.
Some are wondering how that will fit with Windows Azure AppFabric. Well, for sure, you’ll need your AppFabric Service Bus in order to allow Azure to access your Enterprise Application. Although, there are now provisions in the Azure stack (or at least, they have been announced) to extend your network / domain to Azure without AppFabric.
Anyhow, Microsoft is announcing the offer will be built on top of AppFabric:
Our plans to deliver a true Integration service – a multi-tenant, highly scalable cloud service built on AppFabric and running on Windows Azure – will be an important and game changing step for BizTalk Server, giving customers a way to consume integration easily without having to deploy extensive infrastructure and systems integration.
In my own opinion, BizTalk is due for a major overhaul like the one there was between BizTalk 2002 & 2004. Everywhere I’ve seen this technology used, the feedback was that the development was longer than expected and that it was hard to find experts. The reason for this is that BizTalk has an entirely different way of seeing the world than the rest of the .NET stack. Whereas WCF, for instance, sees endpoints, service contracts and service behaviours, BizTalk sees send / receive ports, message schema, promoted properties and message pipelines. If what I’ve seen deployed is representative, at least %30 of those customers are using BizTalk to monitor an FTP folder in order to call some custom code on reception, ie not exactly the full extend of BizTalk capabilities. Now there are 10 000 customers for BizTalk in the entire world. So, of course, the number of people with hands on experience is quite low and BizTalk is so different than anything else in the .NET platform that your senior .NET developer will perform poorly.
Now I don’t know if the overhaul required necessarily pass by the cloud, but these days, what doesn’t? Seriously, it makes sense for a great deal of scenarios where BizTalk is used to mesh together systems for different companies or even different departments: in big enterprises, connecting two departments IT infrastructure isn’t always much easier than connecting to a partner.
Quite often your BizTalk solution is a single point of failure in your organization, since it’s the glue between multiple system. Having something as reliable as Azure hosting is definitely a plus there. EAI solutions usually have quite a good volume and that wouldn’t hurt Azure division’s bottom line either 😉
Since moving BizTalk to the cloud will certainly require changes on the platform even from the developer stand point, it would be a great opportunity to modernize the product and ease the entry-level. The challenge of course, is to keep your customer base while doing major changes.