It’s SOA No Matter What They Say

Have you heard what a certain software company has been saying about next-generation IT development and deployment strategies?

There’s this gem about service-oriented architecture: SOA “is not about a product or skill, but rather it’s about style of how one comes up with a system.” Or: SOA should allow “basic approaches [for] replacing or rewriting, depending on the particular business situation.”

These sound bites could very easily be coming from IBM, HP, BEA or Oracle — but they came from Microsoft. Yet, at the November Dev Connections conference in Las Vegas, there were few, if any, utterances of the term “SOA.”

Infrastructure in Place

Yes, Microsoft is walking the SOA walk but not yet talking the SOA talk. This should soon change. The next generation of Microsoft’s development and deployment arsenal is as much about SOA as it is about client/server or Web-based computing.

The .NET Framework, Windows Communications Foundation, Windows Server System and other infrastructures are designed for, of and by services. Indeed, Microsoft was a pioneer and driver of many of the Web services standards that form the essence of SOA.

Because of Web services, developers are gaining more choices than ever for leveraging common services in order to provide client/server applications and Web applications, and for loosely coupled services that tie Office applications (or browsers) with standardized application interfaces and XML data.

The message is: Build in .NET and be able to embrace more services, applications, resources and data.

At the same time, Microsoft has deeply embraced SOA and its predecessor, object-oriented programming, in the way it architects its own infrastructure. Reuse is a common theme across the assortment of server-side infrastructure elements in Vista server, Visual Studio 2007 tools and even the new Live offerings.

The .NET 3.0 Framework includes support for Windows Workflow Foundation, an engine for building manual or automated workflows with Office 2007, SharePoint and eventually the BizTalk process server. Here we have common services supporting and integrating applications, data and business processes.

Sounds like SOA to me.

The only thing missing is whether or not the SOA computing concepts evident inside of the Windows arsenal will be equally exploited outside of it. That is, will SOA as an IT concept framework and methodology operate above the Windows environment, and integrate it with other legacy and new services (leaving SOA as the dog that wags the Windows heritage tail)?

Or, will next-generation Windows (with perhaps not even mentioning SOA) be broadly inclusive enough to act as the hub to the heterogeneity that is common across most enterprises?

Waiting on Vista?

As developers build components, services and applications in Visual Studio and .NET 3.0, they’re increasingly ready-made for interoperability via loosely coupled standards and APIs with a broad assortment of non-Microsoft-deployed services.

It seems clear that the Microsoft technology that’s so appealing to developers because of the built-in simplicity and integration could also form the basis for managing a large assortment of IT assets — from mainframe batch transactions to Enterprise Java, and into open source-engineered, rich Internet applications and Web portals.

So far, we don’t hear much from Microsoft about SOA governance, BPEL support, enterprise service buses and a business process management layer. That is, unless they’re Windows-specific concepts carrying Microsoft-specific names.

Why dodge industry SOA lingo when talking about the larger value proposition of SOA? It could be due mostly to timing, priorities and the need for Vista to mature in the market.

As I said, my hunch is that Microsoft is on the verge of making SOA a very big part of its positioning and definition of providing business value to its customers — whether they’re enterprises, ISVs, service providers or channel partners.

A clue that this “Big Picture SOA” pressure is building came from none other than Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates during a keynote address at the company’s first Convergence EMEA event in November. In that speech, he pointed out the “results gap” that exists between back-office applications and businesses, along with the user’s ability to exploit them.

“Getting rid of the gap is something we feel we are uniquely able to do,” said Gates. “We see huge efficiencies, big improvements — if we get rid of that gap.”

Sounds like SOA to me.

We can soon expect Microsoft to lift a page from IBM, SAP and BEA on SOA. The goal will be to make .NET 3.0 and the Visual Studio environment super appealing, allow for broad deployment of Vista Server and then begin a modest embrace of SOA terminology and methods.

The big-picture question will then be clearer: Is SOA a superset beyond Windows, or is Windows the best way to enjoy SOA benefits across the enterprise; or, more importantly, the extended enterprise?

Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts, and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients.

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