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Microsoft sets Oslo project for model-centric apps

Microsoft plans on Tuesday to unveil what could be an industry-changing effort in application modeling and SOA with its "Oslo" project, which could significantly change the equation in the Windows application deployment space.

Part of Oslo involves delivering a unified platform integrating services and modeling, Microsoft said. But instead of models describing the application, models are the applications themselves.

Oslo is a code-name for a set of technical investments that will be delivered in the next major versions of Microsoft's platform products, said Steven Martin, director of product management in the company's Connected Systems division. These products include Visual Studio, System Center, BizTalk Server, BizTalk Services, and the .Net Framework. Beta releases of Oslo technology are due in 2008.

"Oslo is a set of technologies that we think will help take model-driven design mainstream," Martin said.

With Oslo, Microsoft is making investments aligned with a vision to simplify the effort needed to build, deploy, and manage composite applications within and across organizations. The effort builds on model-driven and service-enabled principles and extends SOA beyond the firewall.

Release dates of Oslo-driven products have not been set. "This will make existing products we have better. Oslo doesn't have any new products. It's being injected into existing projects," Martin said.

The products include:

* Microsoft .Net Framework "4," which will further enable model-driven development within the Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) Web services platform and Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF).

* Visual Studio "10," to follow the upcoming Visual 2008 package. Version 10 focuses on application lifecycle management with tools for model-driven design of distributed applications.

* BizTalk Server "6," which will continue to offer technology for distributed SOA and BPM and include capabilities for composite applications.

* BizTalk Services "1," which provides BizTalk capabilities within the cloud, will feature Web-based services for hosting composite applications that cross organizational boundaries. Advanced messaging, identity, and workflow will be featured.

* Metadata repositories will be aligned across server and tools products, including System Center "5," Visual Studio "10," and BizTalk Server "6." Each will utilize repository technology for managing, versioning, and deployment models.

"System Center will be able to grab an application from the repository and deploy it easily without any intermediate steps," said Martin. Also, Microsoft anticipates that WCF and WWF will collapse into a single technology, he said.

Analysts at Gartner called Oslo "ambitious."

"It's pretty ambitious, and as a matter of fact, I believe we're not going to see anything concrete until well into 2008 and possibly 2009," said analyst Massimo Pezzini, vice president of the application platform strategies group at Gartner.

Featured in Oslo are three fundamental components: a modeling environment, a business process server, including a significant evolution of BizTalk Server, and a new deployment model, Pezzini said.

Oslo makes sense on paper, he said. "So far, there are only ideas and plans and prototypes, etc., so we have to see," said Pezzini.

He added that he senses Oslo is mostly focused on enabling Microsoft Dynamics applications as work as enterprise applications via a SaaS (software as a service) model.

Microsoft will need industry backing for Oslo to succeed, said analyst Nick Gall, vice president at Gartner.

"It's doubtful that it could really have the kind of major impact that I'm sure Microsoft and all of us would like to see unless they get the industry behind the approach," Gall said. Microsoft said it is evaluating whether to submit Oslo to an industry standards body and whether to seek industry-wide use of Oslo.

SOA is related to Oslo because a services piece is offered, in which tooling and integration are improved with the .Net Framework. Also, there will be better connectivity to BizTalk Services, which provides Web-based services for messaging, identity, and workflow.

Modeling, meanwhile, is important to application development, said Martin. Microsoft sees stumbling blocks with modeling as it is now: that modeling represents the application or business logic at a specific time, thus providing only a snapshot, and that models exist in isolation.

"Anytime you're looking at a model, you're only looking at a piece of the application because each of those models is separate," Martin said.

Solving these problems involves taking modeling mainstream, he said. "Today, modeling is really only something that a select group of users and a select group of companies can do," said Martin.

Whether a user is designing, developing, or deploying applications, Oslo "will simplify your job," Martin stressed.

Microsoft's approach is not about Unified Modeling Language (UML), a technology of which Microsoft has not been a big supporter. But UML is a great example of a modeling language and Microsoft wants to unify its approach to modeling in general, Martin said.

A modeling language is part of Oslo, but Microsoft is building a modeling language, a set of tools, and a unified repository. Microsoft's modeling language provides a way to unify existing modeling languages, similar to Microsoft's Common Language Runtime for application development.

Oslo expands beyond UML to cover deployment and management, which UML does not address, Pezzini said.

Key to Microsoft's effort is a unified metadata repository. Users get a view of a model being pulled out of this repository, Martin said. Deployment and policy information, workflow, and rules are maintained in one location, to prevent loss of data useful when deploying and managing an application or writing business rules against it.

"We think this will allow a much broader set of users to collaborate on applications," Martin said. "We think the process of building applications will be more efficient when anybody can see the application holistically."

If Microsoft is successful with its plan to have application components automatically deployed based on models in the repository, it will be "a very huge benefit for the IT operations," said Pezzini.

Microsoft is making available tools and guidance to take advantage of "real-world SOA." Featured are SOA resources from Microsoft and industry partners. Meanwhile, the new Microsoft SOA and Business Process Solution Center offers resources such as patterns and practices based on customer implementations.

Microsoft's approach to SOA is to start out with a business problem and build services. The company will continue to work with partners such as AmberPoint and SOA Software to help round out SOA offerings, said Martin.

Also at the conference, Microsoft plans to demonstrate an upcoming technology preview of BizTalk Services, with additional support for interoperability, Web 2.0 services, identity standards, and workflow in the cloud.

The Oslo vision will be the subject of a keynote by Robert Wahbe, corporate vice president of the Connected Systems Division at Microsoft, at the Microsoft SOA and Business Process Conference in Redmond, Wash., on Tuesday morning. Microsoft's SOA strategy will be covered in the presentation.