Microsoft's Oslo: Putting SOA on the Map

Microsoft has unveiled a multi-year, multi-product initiative, code-named "Oslo," that reflects a number of its recent enterprise solution strategies. Oslo will focus on using Microsoft's "top engineering talent to build on the model-driven and service-enabled principles of Microsoft Dynamic IT and to extend the benefits of service-oriented architecture (SOA) beyond the firewall," according to the company.

Microsoft laid out its Dynamic IT strategy in June at its annual Tech Ed conference. That strategy combines two existing programs: the company's four-year-old Dynamic Systems Initiative and its two-year-old Application Platform strategy.

The Dynamic Systems Initiative is aimed at unifying hardware, software and service vendors around a single software architecture. The Application Platform strategy has evolved into a banner under which the company is collecting and integrating all of its developer technologies, including BizTalk Server, SQL Server, Visual Studio and the .NET Framework.

The Oslo initiative, announced last week (Oct. 30) at the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker's annual SOA & Business Process Conference, is basically a set of technology investments aimed at advancing the company's Software Plus Services model, says Steve Guggenheimer, general manager of Microsoft's Application Platform business.

"The Oslo technology effort is part of the work we're doing to bring broad-based modeling into the fold with services," he explains. "That's the next wave of investments we're making."

Microsoft's Application Platform
Oslo represents the first in a series of announcements that Microsoft will be making over the next few weeks about new products and technologies in its Application Platform portfolio, Guggenheimer says.

"You'll see a method to the madness," he says. "We're pulling the whole platform forward, piece by piece. You can't do a single release because they're all independent pieces, but we're working hard to make sure that the pieces work well together and with other platforms."

Guggenheimer defines the Application Platform as a set of technologies for designing, building, managing and scaling composite applications that can span the enterprise and the Internet.

"When we think about the Application Platform, we think about a set of connected capabilities," he says, "from the architecture to services to business processes to the data to the development environment, and how all of that connects at the user-experience layer."

"The Application Platform as Microsoft defines it is not a product," explains Neil Macehiter, founder and principle analyst at Macehiter Ward-Dutton. "Rather, it is a way of packaging and marketing a set of capabilities that are required to build, deploy and manage applications."

Although the Application Platform pulls together a range of tools and technologies, it is a decidedly developer-focused bundle.

"We look at the Application Platform through the lens of the developer," Guggenheimer says. "We haven't included the more IT-led stuff in that portfolio -- the management products, the security products, or some of the core Windows Server products. We're aggregating these technologies because the conversation you're typically having around most of these products today with customers and partners is a developer-led conversation. The developer is the glue that holds these things together."

Guggenheimer characterizes the Oslo initiative as "the vision for the next generation of our SOA and business process platform," and a "significant milestone in our strategy and roadmap for SOA and Software Plus Services."

Pulling It All Together
The Oslo investments will go into the next versions of BizTalk Server, BizTalk Services, the .NET Framework, Visual Studio, and System Center, Guggenheimer says -- all of which are products that come together under the Application Platform umbrella. The company also plans to align the metadata repositories across the server and tools product sets, he says. Microsoft System Center 5, Visual Studio 10 and BizTalk Server 6 will all utilize a repository technology for managing, versioning, and deploying models.

"We hear a lot from CIOs, CXOs and partners about helping IT and the dev shops to be a great partner to the business," he adds. "The bridge between the business, IT, and app-dev typically is the applications you use to differentiate your business. So the better job the development and IT groups can do in creating a platform that's agile, that allows them to map to the business needs more quickly, that allows new capabilities that help the business differentiate, the better that relationship is. And it helps that part of the house to be a great provider for the business, instead of just being considered a cost center."

The concept of an application platform (or application platform suite) is certainly not new, Guggenheimer admits. Virtually all of Microsoft's biggest competitors talk about their app platforms. The term was coined by industry analysts, observes Macehiter, and was rapidly picked up by the Java middleware vendors (BEA and Oracle) to identify a set of middleware components, typically application servers and portals, often integrated with BPM capabilities, and positioned as an integrated suite.

Microsoft is jumping on this bandwagon late, Macehiter observes, but it's making the leap with both feet.

"What distinguished Microsoft's proposition from the Java application proposition," Macehiter says, "is that the company is also beginning to incorporate aspects of the Software Plus Services proposition, for example, around BizTalk Services for messaging, identity and workflow ‘in the cloud.' This facilitates inter- and intra-enterprise deployments and allows organizations to partition their solutions to exploited hosted services (from Microsoft or others) as fits their requirements. Microsoft is also working hard to ensure that developers have a simpler job through a common development environment in Visual Studio."

The impact of Microsoft's Application Platform strategy on developers is likely to be minimal at first, but down the road, it could well push them to see their work in a broader context, says Macehiter.

"Developers will continue to work with the same set of capabilities in the short term," he says. "In the longer term, they will have to start thinking about the implications of Software Plus Services in terms of the way they architect their applications. They will also have to deal with some of the capabilities that are shared across the application platform because of things like common metadata."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].