Taking Modeling Mainstream - It's Called "Oslo"

On the heels of the BizTalk Server 2006 R2 launch, this morning we shared some news at the Microsoft SOA & Business Process Conference. Robert Wahbe, VP of the Connected Systems Division, outlined a vision for the future of SOA and Business Process Management which highlights the increased role that Services and Models will play in the next generation of applications. Robert also talked about "Oslo" which is a codename for a set of technical investments which will help take model driven design mainstream.

Why is this set of investments needed? Boundaries. Boundaries exist in today's business that limit productivity and the role IT plays in solving business problems. These include examples such as the following:

  • Boundaries between business and IT - the inability to work as seamlessly as they would like because they lack a common language
  • Boundaries between technologies – the alphabet soup of protocol, and standards used to connect businesses and apps.
  • Boundaries across the web - the inability to easily cross the firewall due to security and identity constraints
  • Boundaries between an organization, its suppliers, and its customers – leveraging SaaS where it makes sense
  • Boundaries in time – as soon as a system is deployed, like it or not, its legacy

While modeling technology is not new, it is far from mainstream. The vision for modeling tools is the same now that it has been for years - to allow a broad set of users participate in the design of applications. The relationship between business and IT might be best described in a simple language analogy. Business speaks English, IT speaks German. They both speak a little Spanish. When the scenario is reasonable simple, they communicate without issue using Spanish. When things become increasingly complex, they both default to their native language. They didn't go wrong speaking two languages; they went wrong using a subset of a third language to try to communicate. Modeling technology today is the "third language" in this scenario. There are two major limitations with the current approach.

First, models represent the application or business logic at a specific moment in time; therefore they are rarely in synch, and generally lack the richness that the full application provides. In the finance world, this would be the equivalent of a balance sheet—that is correct when it is printed, but quickly becomes outdated as financial transactions take place. By the very nature of this type of modeling, there is a hand-off where the model leaves the designer, and is sent to the developer to be built in the form of an application. This handoff is imprecise and causes errors. Programmers are brilliant and incredibly hard workers. However, they have to make guesses in interpreting models and translating them into code. Additionally, business professionals change their mind often and tweak models—sometimes without communicating their changing needs to the IT side of the fence.

Second, having models live in isolation means that no one has a single view of the application end to end. For example, business analysts might model requirements, processes, and policy; architects might model schemas, services contracts, and high level designs; developers might create executable models for workflow and rules; IT professionals might model deployment maps and application health.

Each model is critical, but they are all trapped in silos. This is really inefficient. There is only one way to solve this — the tools need to be unified, and the models need to be the application. No more import / export. No more silos.

So hopefully this gives you a view into what we see as the problems and stumbling blocks the industry is facing, which brings us to the announcement of something we are really excited about. "Oslo"

Oslo is the codename for a set of technical investments that will be delivered through the next versions of our application platform products such as Visual Studio, System Center, BizTalk Server, BizTalk Services, and .NET Framework. Oslo will take model driven design mainstream. To make this real, we are investing in two key areas.

First, we will continue to invest deeply in our SOA platform. We will invest to make sure customers can easily span client, server, and cloud through BizTalk Server and BizTalk Services. We want to enable organizations to build applications that use web-based infrastructure, premises infrastructure or both.

The second investment area is to make modeling a mainstream part of application development. We are building a general purpose modeling language, tools, and repository to bridge across all the models within an application, moving models to the center of application development. Models will no longer just describe the application, they will be the application.

"Oslo" will surface through the products our customers already know. We are announcing investments in five key areas across the Server and Tools business.

  • Server: BizTalk Server "6" will continue to provide a core foundation for distributed and highly scalable SOA and BPM solutions, and deliver the capability to develop, manage and deploy composite applications.
  • Services: BizTalk Services "1" will offer a commercially supported release of web-based services enabling hosted composite applications that cross organizational boundaries. This release will include advanced messaging, identity and workflow capabilities.
  • Framework: The .NET Framework "4" (not to be confused with 4.0) release will further enable model-driven development with Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Workflow Foundation (WF).
  • Tools: New technology planned for Visual Studio "10" will make significant strides in end-to-end application lifecycle management through new tools for model-driven design of distributed applications.
  • Repository: There will also be investments aligning the metadata repositories across the Server and Tools product sets. System Center "5", Visual Studio "10" and BizTalk Server "6" will utilize a common repository technology for managing, versioning, and deploying models.

While the dream of model driven design is not new, our approach to solving it is.The technology investment we are making will make this real. While we are proud of our early efforts, we are even more proud that our partners share this vision with us. Having our Business Process Alliance partners see the value in this technology and commit to using it in their own offerings is a testament to its value. Having a broad ecosystem around this technology will drive additional productivity gains for customers.

So excited you want to learn more? Feel free to check out the following sites for everything from paterns and practices, to videos highlighting today's news: