A Real World Use For Oslo

I’m going to take a small detour from my series on a fluent interface for Oslo’s System.Identity schema to propose a real world scenario where Oslo could be leveraged. This post has its genesis in Kraig Brockschmidt's recent post “What Exactly Does One Do With ‘Oslo’”. While I think Kraig’s post covers a number of important ideas regarding the potential applications of Oslo, the responses to the post nevertheless contain a strong undercurrent of “Great, I still don’t how I would use Oslo in the real world”.


I figured, at the risk of arrogance and ridicule, that I would offer such a scenario.


Oslo – It’s About Architecture

As I’ve written about previously, I find Oslo an immensely interesting technology (although at first, like many, I didn’t think much of Oslo). One of the significant triggers for my “flipping the bit” on Oslo was reading Chris Sells’ excellent MSDN article on Oslo. Like anybody who has been following Oslo, I’ve seen all the video and web content illustrating Oslo’s DSL capabilities – and like anybody familiar with ANTLR I was intrigued, but not blown away. However, what Chris’ article showed me was that despite all the focus on what was formally called MGrammar, Oslo is actually most interesting as an accelerator for building metadata-driven applications (OK, metadata-driven applications that leverage DSLs ;-).


This is significant because Oslo does not provide a targeted implementation solution like ASP.NET or SQL Server do, Oslo provides a solution to address architectural concerns.


Kraig validates this view of Oslo when he writes:

  • “What's more valuable is to create a runtime that effectively implements a class of applications, where each specific application is wholly defined by metadata alone. That is, the runtime is a kind of generic application engine for that class. One essentially configures that generic engine with specific metadata to thereby produce any number of particular, custom "applications" (you know, the thingies that are visible on the screen that users poke at all day). From this one realizes a significant productivity gain in comparison to writing each such application from scratch.”

Those readers familiar with Microsoft will undoubtedly recognize in the passage above some ideas that are akin to the Software Factories approach to improving software development. Like Software Factories, Oslo is an attempt to improve the efficiency and quality of application development via an architecture-centric approach.


Real World Oslo – It’s About Reusable Architecture

For the sake of argument, if we accept that Oslo is tool to address architectural, rather than implementation, concerns (check out this post for definitions) then it stands to reason that real world applications of Oslo would involve using the technology to address opportunities that are inherently architectural in nature.


For example, the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) provides just such an opportunity in the concept the SEI calls “software product lines”:

  • “A software product line (SPL) is a set of software-intensive systems that share a common, managed set of features satisfying the specific needs of a particular market segment or mission and that are developed from a common set of core assets in a prescribed way.”

While the software product line concept is similar to Software Factories, SPLs have a much lower barrier to entry and have had documented success in the real world. The following SPL case studies are taken from the book “Software Architecture in Practice”:

  • “Cummins, Inc., was able to reduce the time to it takes to produce the software for a diesel engine from about a year to about a week.“
  • “With a family of satellite ground control systems it commissioned, the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office reports the first product requiring 10% of the expected number of developers and having 90% fewer defects."

As a career Fortune 500 IT weenie, I can attest that there exists a class of applications that fit both the architectural characteristics that Kraig and the SEI describe above – enterprise business applications.


Real World Oslo – Building a SPL for Enterprise Business Applications

It is possible (I’m asking for some trust on this ;-) to illustrate through architectural analysis that a software product line for enterprise business applications would focus on building reusable software assets/platforms that are:

  • Multitenant
  • Metadata-driven
  • Capable of automating workflow

The above is obviously a non-exhaustive list of the potential characteristics for an enterprise business application software product line, but it clearly illustrates that Oslo is a potential accelerator for any organization (e.g., a large IT shop or ERP software vendor) that builds enterprise business applications.

As Kraig correctly points out in his blog post, use of Oslo is only realistic in situations where economies of scale are to be gained. The ROI of creating a metamodel, DSL, and runtime using Oslo for a single application will typically not compute. This is where the SPL concept starts to make sense. If an organization will be building multiple enterprise business applications, then the creation of core Oslo architectural assets (i.e., metamodels, DSLs, and runtimes) to be reused across development efforts could drive a favorable ROI – both in terms of overall time to market and quality.

Now I realize that what I’m talking about here won’t apply to a wide swath of Microsoft’s customers. I won’t lie to you. If you’re working in a small IT shop then the current state of the Oslo technology is not likely to be interesting to you. If you’re working for a Gold-certified Partner then the current state of Oslo is also not likely to be interesting to you (although you may want to look at MS CRM as an app plat for your clients ;-).

However, I don’t see this being a problem at all. As I stated above, tools like ASP.NET and SQL Server are implementation solutions and are applicable to a wide swath of Microsoft customer problems while Oslo is only applicable to those customer’s facing the architectural problems that Oslo addresses. Logically, Microsoft developing and selling Oslo (assuming we end up selling it ;-) is no different than Microsoft developing and selling AX.


Oh, Wait. I’m Also a Real World Example

Not to be ham-handed, but it seems appropriate to mention that I’m also a real world example for Oslo (although a biased example ;-). One of the things I spend a lot of time thinking about is how to accelerate the efficiency and quality of delivering business systems to Microsoft. As you might imagine, as the world’s largest software company Microsoft has a number of rather unique requirements in terms of its enterprise business applications – but they all share architectural characteristics. As such, I’ve been exploring and watching Oslo with great interest – maybe your organization should as well. 

As always, feedback is greatly appreciated.