Microsoft Oriented Architecture: Is it sooo 2003?

“I had to pinch myself and ask myself what year this is. Oh, it’s 2007, and Microsoft is finally getting modeling religion.

“I had to pinch myself and ask myself what year this is. Oh, it’s 2007, and Microsoft is finally getting modeling religion. In 2003-2004 there was a big up swell of industry interest in model-driven architecture (MDA).” –Jim Kobelius, analyst

Is Microsoft late in getting into the model-driven SOA game, and, more importantly, does it really matter if they’re late?

At its SOA and BPM conference at the end of October, Microsoft laid out more of its SOA roadmap and vision, wrapped under the codename “Oslo.” The vendor provided some specifics, particularly the product sets that would be part of Oslo, but was vague on other details. The Oslo SOA bundle will encompass BizTalk Server 6, BizTalk Services 1 (Internet Service Bus), .NET Framework 4, Visual Studio 10, and System Center 5.

I recently had the opportunity to join industry analysts Dana Gardner, Jim Kobeius and Niel Macehiter in a new SOA BriefingsDirect podcast to discuss the meaning behind this new MOA initiative. A key piece of the announcement, Dana observed, was that Microsoft intends to enable developers to write anywhere, have flexibility in their tooling, “and then coalesce around a variety of models or modeling approaches to execute through an über or federated modeling approach.”

The irrepressible Jim Kobelius pointed out that it’s no secret that “the SOA universe is heading toward a model-driven paradigm for distributed service development in orchestration,” and that “what Microsoft has discussed this week at its SOA and BPM conference was nothing radically new for the industry or for Microsoft.” Microsoft may be four years late to the game, but the industry is still sorting this out anyway.

However, Jim is puzzled by what he sees as Microsoft’s standard-less approach to the whole deal. “One thing that confuses me -- or maybe just dismays me -- about Microsoft’s announcement is that there isn't any footprint here for the actual standards that have been developed like OMG’s unified modeling language (UML), for example. Microsoft, for some reason I still haven’t been able to divine, is also steering clear of UML in terms of their repositories. I'm not getting any sense that there is a UDDI story here or any other standards angle to these converged repositories that they will be rolling out within their various tools. So, it really is a Microsoft Oriented Architecture. They're building proprietary interfaces. I thought they were pretty much behind open standards. Now, unless it’s actually 2003, I have to go and check my calendar.”

Analyst Neil Macehiter begged to differ with Jim, however. While agreeing that the software giant has always been “lukewarm” to UML, Neil observed that Microsoft “is actually encompassing management into this modeling framework, and they're planning to support some standards around things like the service modeling language (SML), which will allow the transition from development through to operations. So, this is actually about the model-driven lifecycle.”

Neil also sees potential growth of domain specific language (DSL), which underpin elements of Visual Studio as a way of supporting different modeling paradigms. “What we will see is the resurgence of DSL as a means of enabling different modeling approaches to be applied here.”

Dana observed that “Microsoft is, in a sense, leapfrogging the market, trying to project what things are going to be several years out, recognizing that there are going to be a variety of modeling approaches, and that modeling is going to be essential for making SOA inclusive, then they are also going to be federating, but doing that vis-à-vis their frameworks and foundations.”

Microsoft’s endgame may be to adopt an alternative model to the challenges of enterprise SOA, Neil continued, leveraging its

MOA approach and Visual Studio toolset around its storied developer community. “The other vendors in the non-Microsoft world might talk about enterprise-wide SOA initiatives… The reality is that the number of organizations that have actually gone that far is still comparatively small, as we continually see with the same case-study customers being reintroduced again and again.”

I opined that Microsoft’s goal is not to chase Oracle, BEA, IBM and SAP customers, but to create a whole new SOA market out of the underserved or not-served-at-all SMB sector.