In December 2000, Microsoft finally completed the release to manufacturing (RTM) version of BizTalk Server 2000, the company's XML-enabled business-to-business (B2B) solution. BizTalk lets corporations use simple graphical tools to integrate, manage, and automate dynamic business processes and integrate internal applications with external businesses' applications. The product became widely available in January 2001.

"BizTalk Server 2000 is signed, sealed, and delivered, and ready to solve the industry's biggest IT challenge of integrating disparate applications and businesses into a single solution," said Chris Atkinson, vice president of the .NET Developer Solutions Group at Microsoft. "The powerful capabilities of BizTalk will make it fundamentally easier to build the next generation of corporate and Web solutions. BizTalk is enabling the new agile enterprise by allowing companies to quickly react to customer demands, competitive pressures, and changing trading-partner relationships."

The road to BizTalk Server's RTM hasn't been an easy one. Microsoft first publicly discussed the product in March 1999 and expected BizTalk Server to enter beta later that year. But the company overhauled BizTalk Server in early 2000 and didn't make the product available as a public beta until last summer. (BizTalk Server was one of the last .NET Enterprise Servers that Microsoft completed. Only Mobile Information 2001 Server is still pending as of this writing.) Despite the delays, Microsoft was able at the .NET Servers launch to drum up impressive support for the fledgling product—including more than 50 customers who participated in an early-adopter program and began deploying BizTalk Server based business solutions before the product's RTM.

Microsoft is offering two versions of BizTalk Server. The Standard Edition, which targets small and midsized businesses, supports integration of as many as five internal applications with as many as five external business services. This version will cost about $5000 per CPU. The Enterprise Edition, which targets large corporations, has unlimited integration capabilities. This version supports multiple processors and clusters and will cost about $25,000 per CPU.

In addition to the release of BizTalk Server, Microsoft also completed the final version of the BizTalk Framework 2.0 architecture, which specifies how businesses should implement XML and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) in their processes. The BizTalk Framework, which builds on industry standards for data exchange and security (e.g., XML, SOAP 1.1, Secure MIME—S/MIME), enables the secure and reliable exchange of business documents over the Internet. In an attempt to make BizTalk Framework a de facto standard, Microsoft has created the BizTalk Steering Committee—which comprises industry partners, consortiums, and standards bodies—to oversee the technology's implementation.