The biggest news story last week was most certainly the end of the elections. Many of us technotypes probably missed an announcement from Microsoft updating the official release date of BizTalk Server 2000. Part of the Microsoft .NET family of servers, this product lets a company use industry-specific formats to communicate with partners, vendors, and customers.

Microsoft will license BizTalk Server 2000 in two packages: standard and enterprise. The standard edition targets small to midsized businesses and a maximum of five applications and five trading partners. The enterprise edition targets large businesses and supports clustered environments and any number of applications and trading partners. List price for the one CPU standard edition is $4999 and for the enterprise edition is $24,999 per CPU.

Ostensibly, BizTalk Server is one of Microsoft's most expensive server products, so you might wonder what this product does. Not too many years ago, Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) was all the rage. The thinking was that if everyone spoke the same language, we could trade electronically. Lots of companies changed the way that they worked just to participate. Not participating meant lost business. Although EDI is still alive, a number of things prevented it from gaining the acceptance it needed. I submit, however, that EDI paved the road for XML. XML represents the common language that companies need to speak (schema, for definition purposes) to each other. XML can also tie into existing backend systems such as Source Access Point (SAP).

Although I've covered BizTalk and the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) in previous columns, several new acronyms and terms are worth introducing to show how this approach might work. Let's say you have a purchase order (PO), for example, that you want to give to a supplier. That PO is a "Business Document" in XML. A Business Document is part of a SOAP message, called a BizTalk Document. BizTags that describe how to handle the document are part of the BizTalk Document.

The bottom line is that BizTalk, SOAP, and XML depend on HTTP, HTTP-S, or SMTP for transport. In other words, the IIS administrator will ultimately become more important. Our jobs will be even more critical to the success of the enterprise. Downtime will take on a whole new meaning.

Although Microsoft just released BizTalk Server 2000 to manufacturing, the company claims that the server will be generally available in January 2001. In the meantime, the company has just released a new version of its Framework Document as version 2.0. You can learn much more about the inner workings of BizTalk in a Microsoft document.