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Microsoft Promises Better Server Integration

Commerce and BizTalk Server 2006 will integrate well, a Microsoft exec promises, but how Content Management ties in remains hazy.

Microsoft aims to eradicate many server integration problems with the next revision of Commerce Server, BizTalk Server and their shared .Net Framework 2.0 foundation.

With the releases, slated for the first half of next year, Microsoft plans to phase out Microsoft Solution for Internet Business (MSIB), a Microsoft executive told CRN. Many partners will say good riddance to this add-on code and documentation, which was intended to ease server integration.

But it’s still unclear if and how Microsoft will tighten integration between the next Commerce Server and the next Content Management Server (CMS), a big concern for VARs implementing e-commerce shopping and catalog sites. The next CMS, due out in the Office 12 "wave" starting next year, will be more tightly linked to SharePoint Server; in fact, the two products may converge. However, those products come out of the Redmond, Wash., company’s Office group, whereas Commerce Server remains in the Windows Server group.

That organizational division has raised concern that the integration of those products will fall between the cracks. "I don't think those guys even know each other's phone numbers at Microsoft," said one longtime Microsoft integration partner.

"The MSIB kludge was essentially trying to add Commerce Server bit buckets into CMS pages for rich product descriptions. It never really worked, and the integration was a nightmare. Just the setup instructions were 45 pages," said the integration partner, who requested anonymity. "The analytics didn't work together properly. The targeting available in Commerce Server 2002 didn't tie into the [current] Content Management Server 2002 targeting system. ... It's an integration disaster."

Markellos Diorinos, product manager for Commerce Server at Microsoft, said the company has alleviated the need for MSIB in the next server releases. "MSIB consisted of three things: a lot of documentation [explaining] the use of the product; some integration between CMS and Commerce Server, which were developed isolated from each other; and some infrastructure in the form of a Microsoft Operations Manager [MOM] management pack," Diorinos said.

With Commerce Server 2006, Microsoft is rewriting the documentation and building a MOM management pack into the server. Microsoft Operations Manager packs will funnel information about the workings of each server into the MOM console. "This pack puts more knowledge into MOM about Commerce Server,” he said. An older version of the MOM management bits previously was included in MSIB.

Still, the issue of better links between the next Commerce Server and the next CMS remains unresolved. Diorinos said he couldn’t speak about CMS, other than to say partners should not worry. "We're still one company. The foundation is common," he said, adding that Commerce Server and BizTalk Server both build on the .Net Framework 2.0 and the ASP.net Framework 2.0.

Representatives from the Microsoft Information Worker group in charge of Office servers couldn’t be reached for comment.

The possibility of a communications or technology gap between Office and Windows servers plays into the fears of some solution providers. They cite political sniping and turf wars between the two Microsoft groups. CMS, for example, once belonged in the Windows Server group but was moved over to the Office group in what some saw as a power grab by the Office/Information Worker team.

Other integrators see unfinished links as a full-employment opportunity. "Hey, the less integration there is, the more they need us," said one longtime East Coast Microsoft partner.

Another integrator partner, who asked not to be named, said the Microsoft road map calls for "Indigo APIs that will easily allow CMS and CS to integrate, but the real deal will have to wait until the Platforms Group gets the Longhorn servers out in 2007." Indigo is the code name for what Microsoft now calls the Windows Communication Foundation underlying its next-generation products.

Diorinos said the vision of an integrated set of e-business servers remains intact, despite Microsoft's decision a year ago to ax a planned suite that would have put CMS, Commerce Server, BizTalk and other capabilities into a Jupiter "mega server" in which users would license and use only what they needed.

"These guys won't have a clue until the e-commerce pieces of Great Plains, Solomon, Axapta, Navision and Commerce Server are all on the same code page and easily integrated with CMS and SharePoint wired in as a content source," said the longtime integration partner. "It isn't that the Jupiter vision reached too far conceptually. It was dead on target as a concept. It overreached the politics of internal Microsoft, which owns the cash cows now and as a result controls which direction the cows are moving."

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