Tech Ed drills into IT challenges

Microsoft trained its focus on concrete challenges facing IT at its TechEd 2004 conference last week, rolling out products designed to enhance security, productivity, and integration.

Emphasizing the role of the application developer in his opening keynote address, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer discussed the company's broad vision for its products and tools.

"We do really think about our tools broadly and our products broadly as part of an application development platform," Ballmer said. "Each and every one of the products that we build isn't just an application, it also is an extensible piece of software that -- if we give you the right capability -- you can extend."

To that end, Microsoft unveiled a trial release of Office Information Bridge Framework, a software bundle that allows developers to link business systems to Office applications using Web services. The bundle includes an Office add-in for interpreting XML metadata; a server component that exposes data, views, and actions of a Web service; and a metadata designer that plugs into the Visual Studio developer tool.

The Office Information Bridge Framework allows developers to add functionality to Office applications such as Outlook and Excel so users of those apps can access information in back-end business systems from within the Office apps.

Aiming to help developers build secure Web services based on the latest standards, Microsoft unveiled WSE (Web Services Enhancements) 2.0, an add-on for Visual Studio .Net and the .Net framework. WSE 2.0 provides support for Web services specifications such as WS-Security, WS-Policy,WS-SecureConversation, WS-Addressing, and WS-Trust, allowing developers to easily write secure and interoperable Web services.

The Ohio State University Medical Center is an early user of WSE 2.0. The center wanted a secure way to correlate typically isolated hospital data such as vital signs and medications from various sources including patient monitors and operating rooms, said Furrukh Khan, director of technology at The Ohio State University.

WSE 2.0 let the medical center implement the latest Web services security specifications, which is critical in a health-care environment, Khan said. "WSE 2.0 comes out of the box with an almost military-grade security," he said.

In addition, WSE 2.0 can separate business logic from security concerns, which allowed the medical center to correlate data from multiple systems, Khan said. "Our security people can write policies that don't interfere with business policies," he said.

Attempting to lessen the complexity of IT environments, Microsoft introduced the Common Engineering Criteria for 2005, a set of capabilities designed to improve integration between Windows Server System products. The capabilities include MOM (Microsoft Operations Manager) Management Pack support, support for Windows Installer and Windows Update with transaction capabilities, and prescriptive guidance.

Microsoft's efforts reflect a shift toward day-to-day IT concerns, said Peter Christy, principal at NetsEdge Research Group. He listed Windows Server System integration plan as an example. "To have all the pieces fit together and operate together, that is the right idea. The Unix world should be scared," Christy said.

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