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Microsoft's SOA Strategy Is Ambitious, But Half-Baked

Oslo promises to integrate applications in new ways, but all the pieces aren't here yet.

Microsoft last week unveiled what will become known as its Oslo vision: a simpler, cheaper service-oriented architecture for Windows that can be implemented inside and outside the corporate firewall.

Oslo is a major departure for Microsoft. Instead of hinging on the virtues of integrated layers of Windows software, it's a plan to cross heterogeneous systems and generate composite applications, and to link different organizations in the process. Speaking at Microsoft's SOA and Business Process conference in Redmond, Wash., Microsoft VP Robert Wahbe said customers may be able to achieve tenfold increases in productivity and equally drastic decreases in cost of ownership with the strategy.

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Skeptics respond they've heard it before. "Much of what Microsoft is discussing is a reprise of the Dynamic IT concept that the company began promoting in June," says Ovum analyst Dwight Davis. Dynamic IT is a method of reducing complexity and improving front-end software design for operational efficiency.

But there's undeniably something new about Oslo. It proposes a Microsoft-hosted Internet Service Bus, which links data sources inside the firewall to those outside with no advance programming. A future version of Microsoft's BizTalk Server would serve as the integration hub with help from Internet services, such as an ability to publish information and service updates to subscribers.

It's as if Microsoft has suddenly figured how the Internet could best serve Windows, and vice versa. Consistent with Microsoft's "software plus services" strategy, Oslo capitalizes on the growing acceptance of Web services standards as a basis for collaboration and automated linkages among companies.

Microsoft may be playing catch-up to BEA Systems, IBM, Oracle, SAP, and Sun Microsystems in SOAs, but if it's late, at least it arrived with an interesting game plan. Emphasis on plan since parts of Oslo are more than a year away. Still, the capability of building 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 in which connections to partners are as important as ties between general ledger and inventory.

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