Microsoft goes vertical with .Net

.Net for manufacturing, healthcare and banking? Microsoft offers a glimpse of how it intends to extend .Net into companies

While Microsoft has talked up the core infrastructure components of its grand .Net plan, it has offered few details about how it intends to extend Microsoft .Net into companies.

This week, however, the company provided a glimpse of how it intends to take its software-as-a-service vision to vertical industries. Microsoft took the wraps off its ".Net for Manufacturing" strategy at the ISA 2000 Expo in New Orleans.

At its core, .Net for Manufacturing is Windows DNA (Distributed interNet Architecture) for manufacturing, renamed.

DNA for Manufacturing, like Microsoft's other vertical industry initiatives, is a strategy aimed at encouraging large corporate customers, software vendors, hardware makers and trade associations in a handful of key industries to cooperate on standards that are based on Microsoft's plumbing and products.

In cooperation with Microsoft, companies in each segment hammer out a set of low-level protocols and standards that will allow their equipment to interoperate.

In many ways, these vertical initiatives were meant to be industry-specific electronic data interchange (EDI) blueprints. In manufacturing, for example, such a blueprint would provide standards and plumbing guidelines to link shop-floor equipment with back-room servers.

The primary difference between DNA for Manufacturing and .NET for Manufacturing seems to be the incorporation into the .NET version of the strategy support for wireless devices, such as pagers, cell phones, PDAs and the like.

And, as is the case with the rest of Microsoft's .NET products and strategies, .NET for Manufacturing relies heavily upon Extensible Markup Language (XML) for interoperability.

"With DNA for manufacturing, we talked about taking it from the shop floor to the top floor," said Andy Hoover, Microsoft's director of industry management for the manufacturing and engineering sectors.

"In the .Net world, we are talking about leveraging the Internet as our medium for information exchange."

Before Microsoft used the DNA moniker to describe its vertical industry initiatives, it used a variety of other terms.

The first iterations of its vertical attempts were part of the company's Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) vision. Thus was born OLE for process control, OLE for life insurance and OLE for design and modelling.

Subsequently, Microsoft used ActiveX when naming its vertical efforts, resulting in efforts such as ActiveX for health care. Then the vertical architectures were rechristened yet again and brought under the Windows DNA naming convention.

"Their core strategy has been through some iterations," said Summit Strategies analyst Dwight Davis. "They are still trying to insert Microsoft's core technologies, from COM [Component Object Model] on up into verticals. It was a pretty good strategy on Microsoft's part. The goal was to make [the architecture] part of the way these verticals do business."

As Microsoft works to map its vertical initiatives to .Net, it will be able to fill two gaps it has experienced with its Windows DNA-based vertical efforts, Hoover said.

The addition of XML to the frameworks allows for better orchestration of business processes, he said. And by making many of the features of its server software products -- such as security, directory, storage, notification and calendaring -- available as "services in the .Net cloud", which it is doing via its .Net plan, Microsoft will make them available to its vertical initiative partners and customers, Hoover said.

These vertical .Net approaches show "how to build applications around distributed services", said one of Microsoft's integrator partners, who requested anonymity. ".Net is still very vague, but it seems Microsoft has as good a plan as anyone else on this front."

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