Ties that Bind

Tech-Ed 2007: Microsoft calls for agile, business-focused IT through tighter links between development and operations.

Microsoft unveiled a still-gauzy strategy for facilitating more dynamic enterprises -- through tighter integration of software development, infrastructure and business operations -- early this month at its Tech-Ed 2007 Conference in Orlando, Fla.

In laying out Redmond's vision for nimble, business-focused enterprise IT during his keynote address, Senior Vice President of Server and Tools Business Bob Muglia let fly with lots of feel-good Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) buzzwords such as "agile," "user-focused" and "service-enabled," but mostly steered clear of the SOA acronym itself -- a term Redmond maintains isn't broad enough to encompass its dynamic strategy.

"The thing to think about here is that it's very focused on real world things," Muglia told show attendees. "It's about how we can deliver things in the short run, but there's also a focus on long-term plans."

Talking Dynamic IT
Microsoft had little choice but to articulate a vision of more dynamic enterprises through modeling -- the tying of development and deployment with operations, portfolio and change management -- particularly as IBM Corp.'s Tivoli unit, Hewlett-Packard Development Co. and CA have advanced such efforts, says IDC analyst Melinda Ballou.

"They had to talk about it," Ballou says of Microsoft's focus on dynamic IT at Tech-Ed. "This is the way they have to go. Resources are constrained. If organizations don't pull everything together, they'll fail in their attempt to globalize."

At Tech-Ed, though, Microsoft's call for businesses to become agile consisted mostly of a conceptual framework outlined in broad strokes as opposed to a concrete plan of action buttressed by major product announcements.

"The question," Ballou says, "is where are the integration points, and what is the time frame? How do you make dynamic IT real?"

Steve Guggenheimer, Microsoft's general manager of application platform and development marketing, characterizes the new strategy as one that's evolving from the company's modeling- and management-themed Dynamic Systems Initiative.

"Now you see it go up to the next level of development and management and security and development, and maybe the project management office, and over time the developers themselves and the applications they are building," Guggenheimer tells RDN.

"Modeling has had some bad context in the developer world," he adds, "because at one point, model-driven was going to save everything, but it hasn't. Microsoft takes big, long-term bets. Using models to abstract away some of the changes in IT and development are things we think we can do. If you promise to make it all occur in two years, that's not realistic."

Gartner analyst Tom Bittman also took the stage in Orlando to talk about the need for parceling out enterprises' technology needs into manageable pieces.

"As we know, long-term projects in IT inevitably fail. We need to break them up into smaller chunks," Bittman told the attendees, who were also reminded during the keynote presentation that some 70 percent of IT budgets are spent perpetuating the status quo rather than working on new initiatives.

News, but No Blockbusters
Tech-Ed attendee Josh Daugherty, senior Web developer for the Michigan-based financial services software maker Greatland Corp., feels that this year's show is not focused as much on developers as past conferences.

"Last year, I seemed to have a lot more programs I wanted to go to," Daugherty says. "This year, the particular ones I wanted to go to were for Silverlight stuff, and just getting a feel for how that's going."

Guggenheimer acknowledged this year's Tech-Ed wasn't as heavy on news and announcements as usual. Microsoft recently cancelled its Professional Developer Conference, which had been set for later this year. Guggenheimer says the company is considering several scenarios around its trade show scheduling, including the possibility of following the model it uses in Europe, where there's a separate Tech-Ed show for both IT pros and developers.

"We're not ready to announce anything yet," he stresses. "It's something we're thinking about. We're thinking about all kinds of things."

While Tech-Ed may not have packed any blockbusters, the show did produce some news of note to the .NET development community. Among the news coming out of the show was a Microsoft agreement with Linux vendor Xandros Inc. to license Redmond's intellectual property for use in its Linux distribution. Microsoft inked a similar deal with Novell Inc. last year that proved highly controversial.

Microsoft also announced its acquisition of Engyro Corp., a purchase that ties into Microsoft's System Center Operations Manager 2007, and highlighted the availability of two community technology previews (CTPs) released in recent weeks, one for the .NET Framework 3.5 and another for BizTalk Services.

Shell Game
Also at Tech-Ed, Microsoft officially christened Visual Studio "Orcas" as Visual Studio 2008, and announced the company will offer what it calls Visual Studio Shell-a scaled-down version of its flagship developer tool suite intended to allow developers to build Visual Studio functionality atop their own vertical tools as well as integrate various languages such as Fortran, Cobol, Ruby and PHP. Microsoft plans to release a beta version this summer, and Visual Studio Shell will ship with Visual Studio 2008 at no additional cost.

"It's intended to let developers integrate their products directly into Visual Studio and then ship them as if they were their own products," says Joe Marini, group product manager for Microsoft's Visual Studio Industry Partner (VSIP) program.

While it's primarily aimed at ISVs, Microsoft is also targeting enterprise developers who may want to build Visual Studio Shell into their internally developed tools or those they have acquired from third parties.

"We're actively in discussion with enterprises who have expressed an interest in this," Marini says. "You can imagine any part of the software development lifecycle that requires tooling. This would be a good fit for modeling, for example, requirements generation and analysis. All kinds of things can be built using this."

Katmai Coming
Microsoft released at Tech-Ed the first CTP of SQL Server 2008, the official name for what was previously code-named "Katmai."

Redmond is positioning the new server, set to ship next year, as a central thrust of its push into the business intelligence space. But the company says it's also building a number of developer-specific capabilities into the next-gen server release: The ADO.NET Entity Framework (EF) and the Language Integrated Query (LINQ).

Developers can use EF to program against data defined in a conceptual way, instead of having to work with information organized in tables and columns.

"With the Entity Framework, we're essentially programming at the conceptual level rather than at a logical level or a physical level," Francois Ajenstat, director of SQL Server product management, has told RDN.

Michael Swindell
In his Tech-Ed 2007 keynote address, Senior Vice President of Microsoft's Server and Tools Business Bob Muglia pushed the company's Dynamic IT initiative.

LINQ enables developers to tap various sources from within VB.NET and C#. The LINQ to Entities specification will ship as part of the EF, and, like the EF, will be supported by Visual Studio tools. Other improvements slated for SQL Server 2008 include added support for various data types, including spatial and unstructured data.

In related SQL Server news at Tech-Ed, Microsoft announced that it had acquired technology from Dundas Data Visualization Inc. for the creation of charting in SQL Server Reporting Services.

Open Sesame
Redmond released a preview of a new software development kit (SDK) for use with the Open XML standards native to Office 2007. The company says the SDK is meant to streamline development chores for coders creating Office Business Applications (OBAs). It contains instructional articles and sample code regarding a number of tasks, including programmatic document creation, tweaking document properties and working with custom XML within documents.

Brian Jones, an Office program manager, discussed the SDK's high points in a blog post during Tech-Ed. "The goal in this first CTP was to provide some additional structure on top of what was already provided by System.IO.Packaging in .NET 3.0," Jones wrote. "Now instead of just generic parts and relationships, you actually have each part from the Open XML spec available as a strongly typed part. The API also provides package level validation so you'll know you're creating all the necessary content type declarations and relationship type references."

New Controls in the Works
Beyond the Microsoft announcements at Tech-Ed, presentation component vendor Infragistics Inc. took advantage of the gathering to announce it's developing tools for Microsoft's Silverlight cross-platform browser plug-in as well as a new set of server controls that will work on both ASP.NET 2.0 and an upcoming version of ASP.NET. Bulgaria-based tools vendor Telerik Inc. has also previously announced tool support for Silverlight.

Among the Infragistics Silverlight controls demoed at the show was a charting component based on a control the vendor is developing for Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF).

Infragistics is calling its upcoming ASP.NET product suite "Project Aikido." The tools, which the company bills as "lighter" and "faster," are being developed using ASP.NET AJAX extensions 1.0 and ASP.NET.

Product Manager Devin Rader notes the overall advancement of UI technologies in the past five years, saying, "Developers' expectations have changed in that time period."

Rader is bullish on Silverlight's potential, saying it appeals to a broad range of developer skill sets. "It doesn't matter whether you're a Web developer or a WPF developer. It's really in the middle," he says.

"Microsoft takes big, long-term bets. Using models to abstract away some of the changes in IT and development are things we think we can do."
Steve Guggenheimer, General Manager of Application
Platform and Development Marketing, Microsoft

More New Tools
Meanwhile, Oracle Corp. announced an upgrade of its .NET tools as well as the addition of a new item to the company's .NET toolbox. At Tech-Ed, the database giant released beta versions of the free tools intended to provide Visual Studio 2005 developers improved access to the Oracle 10g database. The tools have some capabilities that take advantage of its forthcoming Oracle 11g database due out by year's end.

The company is upgrading Oracle Data Provider for .NET, known as ODP.NET, and Oracle Developer Tools for Visual Studio.NET. The new tool added to the suite is a data provider for ASP.NET development.

While the company isn't saying when it will make the new tools generally available, officials describe the betas as ready for use in development environments. "It's a very high quality beta, so people can start using the Visual Studio tools immediately," says Christian Shay, an Oracle product manager for .NET and Windows technology.
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