Microsoft unveils cross-product SOA development plan

'Oslo' initiative aims to add features to BizTalk, Visual Studio, .Net and System Center

Microsoft this week plans to unveil a new initiative that will focus on taking model-driven design mainstream, easing the process of developing composite applications within a service-oriented architecture (SOA).

Code-named Oslo, the new project -- which was scheduled to be announced Tuesday in the U.S. at Microsoft's SOA and Business process conference -- calls for Microsoft to quadruple its investment in updating BizTalk Server and to add new features to BizTalk, Visual Studio, the Microsoft .Net Framework and System Center, Microsoft said.

Steven Martin, director of product management in Microsoft's connected systems division, said that the tools that come out of the Oslo initiative can help companies build applications to run both "on-premise" in a data center or "off-premise" in a software-as-a-service model.

For example, he noted, a car rental company and an airline need an easy way to link systems when they work together on marketing campaigns to award frequent flyer miles for renting a car. Modeling is the first step needed when multiple companies want to collaborate to build an application that crosses firewalls and mixes services and software, he added.

Current modeling techniques only give a limited view of the models at different points in the life cycle, he said. "It only describes what the application might have looked like at one point in time, [but it is] never up to date, not holistic," Martin said. "Models need to not just replicate the application, they need to be the application. [Oslo] is an effort to build a set of technologies to unify pieces of the application platform and take model-driven development mainstream."

To that end, Microsoft plans to upgrade metadata repositories in the next versions of System Center, Visual Studio and BizTalk so they can be used for managing, versioning and deploying models, Martin said.

In addition to the metadata repository, Microsoft said the Oslo initiative:

  • Will enhance BizTalk Server by allowing it to develop, manage and put into production composite applications.
  • Will add a commercially supported release of Web-based services to BizTalk Services so it can support hosted composite applications that cross organizations.
  • Will add advanced messaging, identity and workflow capabilities to BizTalk Server.
  • Will further enable model-driven development within the .Net Framework.
  • Will add new tools for model-driven design of distributed applications to the next release of Visual Studio.
Beta version of tools containing the Oslo-initiated updates will be available in 2008. None of the already announced ship dates for the products to be included in Oslo will be affected, he said.

Massimo Pezzini, an analyst at Garner, said that the announcement is part of Microsoft's effort to play catch up to Oracle, BEA Systems and IBM in critical components like workflow technology, business process management tools, and registries and repositories to support an SOA.

Still, Microsoft is raising the bar with Oslo by attempting to create an integrated metadata repository for the entire life cycle of a model-driven application, he added.

"Everybody from a business analyst, all the way to deployment managers will use [tools that come out of] the Oslo vision," he said. "Nobody has been able to achieve a set of integrated tools so far. Through the Oslo technology users can deploy applications both on-premise and in the cloud. Microsoft is the first one to come out with a vision for that."

A company could, for example, have an application that typically runs on-premise, but also runs as a service for disaster recovery purposes or to handle peak loads, he noted.

"The theory is, you can build an application [that] can be composed of .Net components components and some non-Microsoft components," Pezzini added. "You have a model describing how these various components tie together."

Still, he predicted that Microsoft is still 12 to 24 months from delivering any technologies born from the Oslo project, which he noted is "more a vision than a concrete deliverable" at this point. In addition, he said that Microsoft has yet to outline backward compatibility for the next versions of products like BizTalk, Visual Studio and System Center incorporating the features developed as part of Oslo and the current versions of these products.

"The big question is what is the immigration path ... for current BizTalk users," he said. "It's not really clear how much of Oslo is backward compatible with the current .Net technology. This is a historical problem of Microsoft. They don't usually pay attention to backward compatibility."

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