Q&A: Burley Kawasaki Lays Out Microsoft's Oslo Initiative

At its fifth annual SOA & Business Process Conference this week, Microsoft laid out from soup to nuts its vision for simplifying the process of designing, building, deploying and managing composite applications across organizations. What appears to be at the heart of this vision is a serious commitment by Redmond to model-driven programming.

This deeper commitment to model-driven programming is part of the Oslo initiative, a series of technical enhancements made over the next few years that will be incorporated into several core products. Oslo's technical "innovations" are also designed to further Microsoft's software-plus-services strategy by supplying extensions to the application platform to help developers bridge on-premise and off-premise projects, according to company officials.

Burley Kawasaki, director of Microsoft's Connected Systems Division, sat down with me to discuss Oslo and its impact on a number of key Microsoft initiatives and products.

Redmond Report: What is Oslo and what are the longer-term strategic goals behind it?
Kawasaki: It is essentially the code name for technical investments we are making that will be delivered across products within our application platform, including Visual Studio, System Center, BizTalk Server, BizTalk Services and the .NET Framework. We are making this investment in order to address some bigger issues. To frame this: It has to do with the clock speed of business increasing and IT being constrained by a number of long-lasting boundaries that prevents them from keeping up with business. There are boundaries between IT and the business because they do not speak the same language or they just work differently.

There are also boundaries across technologies. We still have the alphabet soup of protocols and standards, so how do we connect the different platforms that my applications are built on top of?

Another boundary that is becoming increasingly challenging is how to span across the Web over organizational boundaries. People want to connect with customers or suppliers across the firewall or to take advantage of Software as a Service-type apps. But there are boundaries there that are new in terms of how apps have to be constructed.

How does Oslo further evolve your existing SOA strategies?
There are two key investment areas with Oslo. First, we continue to deeply invest in our SOA platform. So with things like BizTalk Server and BizTalk Services, we really made those the anchor for our SOA investments in order to make it easier to write services and deploy them, not only across a heterogeneous enterprise but also stretching to the cloud, which is what BizTalk Services is targeting. So by deepening investments in both BizTalk Server and Services, Oslo expands the capabilities of our SOA platform. That is the first big bet with Oslo.

And is there a second big bet?
Yes. The second big bet for Oslo is around model-driven development. This will be the anchor for a new generation of application development. It will take model-driven development techniques mainstream and really deliver a faster clock speed to IT that it needs in order to keep up with the pace of business.

Microsoft has talked about model-driven programming before. What will be different this time?
Yes, we have talked about model-driven design for a long time. And the industry has been pursuing this Holy Grail of...sketching out visually an application that automatically generates code.

Largely, I would say, this has been unrealized. The first piece that has not been delivered, I would argue, is these models are only accurate at a very specific moment in time. They are there when you define the model but then they get out of synch because there is some type of handoff where the business person prints it out and hands over the spec to the developer and he has to fill in the gaps. You are guessing around what was meant. People are always bridging the communications gap that exists because of the differences between business and IT. So at some point, the application becomes completely different from what the business side thought it was.

The second piece is people have pursued this dream of model-driven design in silos. You typically have all these models in isolation from each other. Your business analyst might think about how they model requirements or business processes, but an architect thinks about modeling schemas, services contracts, high-level designs. An IT professional might have an entirely different set of models around deployment or health models. And because each of the models is built with different tools or standards, they are all non-unified. The challenge is, as people bring all these together into a composite application, the model breaks down. So you have to have the model not just describe the application, but the model must become the application. So that is something fundamentally unique that we are investing heavily in with Oslo.

How and when will Oslo enhancements get incorporated into some core products?
It starts with the .NET Framework version 4, which is the next version. The framework will continue to enable some of the workflow foundation and communications foundations types of concepts, which are model-driven today, but you will see us further enabling model-driven types of behavior on the framework itself.

The framework will then be expanded and built upon by both BizTalk Server version 6 and BizTalk Services version 1, which will be the first commercial version of our hosted services. BizTalk Server will still be that core foundation for distributed SOA and BPM types of solutions, but you will see it take on the ability to develop, manage and deploy composite apps, as well. So you can create these models to look at what a whole app looks like and be able to run them and execute them on BizTalk Server. BizTalk Services will do some similar things but in the cloud. So you can really create these composite apps that span organizational boundaries. You will see Visual Studio 10 with significant strides in tooling around apps lifecycle management, specifically around model-driven design and composition of services and apps together. It provides some of these types of visualizations and composition techniques that are important, especially for bridging the business and IT together.

Posted by Ed Scannell on November 01, 2007