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Microsoft's Oslo Vision: Windows Becomes A Platform For Heterogeneous SOA

Microsoft is boasting of Windows future ability to cross heterogeneous systems, generate composite applications, and even link different organizations.

Microsoft unveiled Tuesday what is sure to become known as its Oslo vision: a simpler, cheaper service-oriented architecture that can be implemented by the Windows platform both inside and outside the enterprise firewall.

For Microsoft, it's a major departure. Instead of talking up the virtues of vertically integrated layers of Windows software, it is instead boasting of its future ability to cross heterogeneous systems, generate composite applications, and even link different organizations.

"We think we can achieve a 10X increase in productivity, agility, and [reduced] total cost of ownership," said Robert Wahbe, corporate VP for the Connected Systems Division in a keynote address to 1,000 attendees of Microsoft's fifth annual SOA and Business Process conference at its Redmond campus.

"You're going to see us double down on services and extend our services platform from the client all the way out to the cloud [the wide area network and Internet]," he added.

Skeptics say they've heard it all before. "Much of what Microsoft is discussing this week is a reprise of the Dynamic IT concept the company began promoting in June," said Ovum's Dwight Davis. Dynamic IT was a method of reducing complexity and improving front-end software design for operational efficiency announced at its annual TechEd conference in Orlando, Fla.

But in addition to something old, there was undeniably something new. For one thing, Oslo proposes a future Microsoft-hosted Internet Service Bus, which links anything inside the enterprise firewall to whatever it wishes to talk to outside, with no presetup. A future version of the BizTalk Server would serve as the integration hub, but it would be supplemented by other Internet services, such as an ability to publish information and service updates to those parties that subscribe to them.

It was as if Microsoft had suddenly figured how the Internet could serve the Windows platform, and vice versa. Oslo is an enlargement of its previous "software plus services" thinking. And it capitalized on the growing acceptance of Web standards as a basis for inter-organizational collaboration and automated linkages.

When it comes to SOA, Microsoft may be playing catch-up to IBM, Sun Microsystems, BEA Systems, and application vendors SAP and Oracle. But if it's late, it's at least arrived with an interesting game plan. The capability of building, not only internal services, but cross-organizational services that are a close match architecturally to those inside the enterprise is more than a good talking point. It's part of a new business reality, where connections to partners are as important as ties between general ledger and inventory. Wahbe used the example of an airline travel company needing to be linked to car rental business partners.

Many of the business applications that will be used to build future component-based composites, however, aren't Microsoft applications, which remains a weakness of the overall strategy, points out Directions on Microsoft analyst Rob Helm.

"SAP and Oracle are better positioned in this regard, so their customers will want to investigate these vendors' composite application platforms alongside Microsoft's," he noted in a report the same day as the announcement.

Microsoft could neutralize some of that advantage by supplying adapters to other vendors' applications, and broaden the reach of its BizTalk Server integration software, and that's the road down which Microsoft officials expect to proceed, spokesmen at its SOA conference indicated.

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