Biz Talk Server R2 Offers Peek at Microsoft's SOA Strategy

Loraine Lawson

Microsoft doesn't enjoy the best reputation in the tech community as what you might call a "team player." Part of this is the open source community's doing: They're vocal and they value open code, which obviously hasn't been a big priority for Microsoft.


Because of this, people tend to talk about integration, and particularly integration involving SOA and Web services, in very un-Microsoft ways. You'll see tons of posts on the importance of open standards, and companies like IBM, Oracle and SAP talk a lot about their SOA efforts.


Oddly, though Microsoft commands a big microphone, it's been pretty quiet about its SOA efforts. Some think this is because it doesn't have a SOA strategy. But I think that's because Microsoft loves to play the strong, silent role. It seems to me if Microsoft can't control the hype, it tends to sit back, monitor the situation, strategize internally, and then, one day, boom! You're hit with a veritable storm of Microsoft-packaged solutions, stats, case studies and "messages" on the topic. The result is that Redmond appears to offer a more mature, studied approach. Note, I said "appears."


The Microsoft SOA picture is slowly starting to unfold. First, IDC released a study in August that looked at how companies use Microsoft. Mind you, Microsoft sponsored the survey, but IDC is a serious research company and, let's face it, the findings reflect what most of us already knew: Microsoft is embedded in corporate systems up to the elbows and that means any integration efforts -- EAI, SOA, Web services, whatever you've got -- are going to have to deal with Microsoft technology.


The survey questioned participants about projects involving application integration or new application development. When it asked which application platforms they used for the majority of their mission-critical applications, the plurality -- 46 percent -- answered Microsoft .NET.


When it asked what application server their primary projects used -- at least for those whose primary projects used app servers -- the plurality, 29 percent, said Microsoft .NET.


And when it asked what vendor companies used for Web services and SOA, the majority said -- guess what? -- Microsoft, at 35 percent for Web services and 36.4 for SOA.


EAI is the only integration area where Microsoft faltered. Microsoft's Biz Talk Server came in fourth at 11 percent.


It's also worth noting that overall, those surveyed were more satisfied with Java technologies, but that was closely followed by .NET.


My point is, even if you disapprove of Microsoft's work -- or lack thereof -- with SOA, Microsoft matters and it looks like it will for a long time.


The problem is, many technologists say Microsoft is being a bit vague and noncommittal about SOA. They wonder if Microsoft even has a real strategy for a service-based architecture. Subscribers to IT Business Edge's free Integrating the Enterprise e-newsletter can read more on this next week, when we feature an interview with Mulesource CEO Dave Rosenberg. Rosenberg claims Microsoft's lack of SOA strategy is a disservice to its developers and a hindrance to SOA adoption.


I do think Microsoft understands SOA. That's obvious from reading the various Microsoft employee blogs, even if sometimes they appear to be unclear on what Microsoft's SOA strategy may be. I think what's confusing matters is Microsoft's inability, thus far, to reconcile SOA's demands for open code and standards with a business model that's thrived on proprietary solutions.


But we could be on the cusp of learning more about Microsoft's real SOA strategy.


This week, Microsoft announced Release 2 of its Biz Talk Server 2006. Word is, Biz Talk is a preview of sorts for Microsoft's "software plus services" strategy -- which, on the face of it, seems to be what the rest of us would call SOA. So far, techies haven't been impressed.


Internetnews.com quotes Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group (and a blogger here with us) as calling BizTalk Server 2006 R2 "a proof of concept for SOA."


Eric Roch at IT Toolbox blogs also takes a critical look at Biz Talk Server 2006, R2, and how it relates to Microsoft's SOA strategy. Overall, he says the effort is "pieced together" bits from third-party adapters and SOA governance vendors. He also points out that Microsoft is offering to "let" you build your own ESB, rather than offering an integrated ESB.


Beyond Biz Talk Server, R2, look for more from Microsoft later this year after its 2007 Microsoft SOA & Business Process Conference, scheduled for Oct. 29 - Nov. 2. It will be held at the Microsoft Conference Center, which, of course, is on the Redmond Campus. According to the Web page, participants will learn about Microsoft's current portfolio and its long-term strategy for SOA & Business Process initiatives.

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