Oslo could simplify work for Microsoft SOA solution providers

Oslo, a new Microsoft SOA initiative to simplify BizTalk Server, BizTalk Services, .NET Framework and Visual Studio, could make it easier for solution providers to integrate customers' business process applications.

This week's announcement of Oslo, a Microsoft initiative to simplify service-oriented architecture (SOA), could help solution providers better meet the needs of clients -- if and when the company's vision becomes a reality.

Oslo will bring BizTalk Server, BizTalk Services, .NET Framework and Visual Studio onto one Microsoft SOA services platform with one set of development tools.

Microsoft said the SOA platform will make it easier for developers to collaborate on and deploy applications and for customers to manage their business processes both behind and in front of the firewall.

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The potential to make integrating business applications a lot easier is good news for solution providers, to whom customers often turn first for help doing more ad hoc integration. Oslo will create a much-needed set of standards that will improve interoperability among applications, according to Alex Stewart, vice president of operations for eBridge Software, a Burlington, Ont.-based systems integrator (SI).

"Business integration is more difficult than you'd ever imagine it to be," he said. "There are no standards. It's a very cumbersome process."

As it is now, CTS Inc., a Microsoft SI in Birmingham, Ala., can provide clients with business process solutions, but there's no easy way to make them manageable or to make the applications work well together, according to senior consultant Craig Butler. Managing the applications on the same Microsoft SOA platform on which they were developed would reduce a lot of the complexity for integrators without negative impact on customers, he said.

"CFOs and CIOs don't really care how their problems get solved," he said.

Butler also said that simpler integration will free up time and resources to let Microsoft channel partners offer additional services, or expand to new customers. But Microsoft SOA solution providers won't be able to take full advantage of Oslo if customers and developers don't make the same investment that Microsoft is making. And that could be a ways off, Butler said.

"It's all going to depend on the customers and the maturity of their business," he said.

By giving customers and partners the tools to make integration easier, Oslo is taking a "huge step," Stewart said. Plus, most customers already work with some Microsoft products, which could make them more willing to go the Oslo route.

"If anyone can be successful, it's Microsoft," Stewart said. "Microsoft has the clout to create standards and enforce them."

Microsoft executives declined to address Oslo's effect on systems integrators like those Butler and Stewart talked about, compared to its effect on partners who do little more than resell BizTalk Server.

Burley Kawasaki, Microsoft's product management director for connected systems, issued a statement that said: "Partners have [been] and will continue to be a core part of customers' success in the SOA and business process management space, and we're confident this will continue to be the case with Oslo and beyond."

Microsoft will release a community technology preview of all Oslo products next year and make them fully available in 2009.

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