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.

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

November 2, 2007

4 Min Read

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.


Many of the business applications that companies will use to assemble component-based composites won't come from Microsoft, an obvious weakness of the strategy. "SAP and Oracle are better-positioned in this regard," writes Directions on Microsoft analyst Rob Helm in a report. Microsoft says it will create adapters to other vendors' software and broaden the reach of BizTalk Server.

Oslo At A Glance
EMPHASIZES software services development in lieu of standard application programming

BUILDS modeling into software service design, development, testing, and implementation

ENABLES business process design and implementation on top of services

EXTENDS business processes beyond the firewall via an Internet Service Bus

REQUIRES upgrades to BizTalk Server, .Net Framework, System Center, and Visual Studio

Microsoft distinguished engineer John Shewchuk gives a theoretical example of Oslo in action: A GE aircraft engineer queries BizTalk Server, asking for engine data from partner Boeing. After getting a federated identity credential--one that satisfies both companies--the server creates a secure connection between the engineer's client and the application and performs any necessary message transformations. Client software for the application is transferred from Boeing to the GE engineer and the collaboration begins. No changes are needed to the app to make it function outside the organization other than a configuration change to realign messaging. "This is an incredibly different communication pattern than SOA normally invokes," says Shewchuk.

Oslo also will be enabled in the short term by increased use of software modeling. Modeling makes code easier to visualize, resulting in faster development, fewer bugs, and greater reliability. It will be made a standard feature in Microsoft's Visual Studio, .Net Framework, BizTalk Server, and System Center. But it may be 2009 before all the pieces are in place across Microsoft's product line to make Oslo a reality, says Ovum analyst Davis.

Information that summarizes what's in a model can move from one stage of development with Microsoft's tools--say, a software architect's system design in Visual Studio Team System--to the next, where code is automatically generated from the design and worked on further by developers. The ability of the model to follow the code is a function of the tools' underlying repositories being able to share key information about each model, regardless of the role of the model generator.

Sounds impressive, but, like the rest of Oslo, that capability is still a ways off. The repository code is being tested in different tools and will become a feature in the next releases of Visual Studio Team System, BizTalk Server, .Net Framework, and System Center, says Steven Martin, director of product management with Microsoft's Connected Systems Division.

Microsoft plans at least one major technology preview for customers in 2008. Says Martin, "We want to move models to the center of application development."

About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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