If you have been keeping up to date with developments within the Connected Systems Division within Microsoft you will be aware of the “Oslo” initiative. Microsoft has released information about this here, and Charles Young has a very informed summery of the initiative here.
I’m not going to discuss too much about what Oslo is, what I will look at is how current and future BizTalk developers can start to consider the impact that Oslo will have on development, and how we can start looking at technologies and developing skills that will be relevant on the new platform. This is just my opinion, as a BizTalk developer I’m keen to keep up to date with new developments, and I’m currently following these guidelines myself.
The first version of Oslo is scheduled for release sometime in 2009, which means we may see TAP, CTP and Beta releases sometime in 2008. If you are a seasoned BizTalk developer or a newbie, Oslo will have a major impact on your development over the next few years. So how should we go about navigating the road to Oslo?
What if I am a BizTalk 2004/2006 developer?
It remains to be seen what the general architecture and feature set for the first release of Oslo will look like. One thing that Microsoft has promised us is that “nothing is going away”, meaning that we will still be able to develop using the tools that we are familiar with, and the applications we are developing today will still work on the new platform. This is very different from the transition from BizTalk 2002 to 2004, when people were saying that having no knowledge of BizTalk 2002 was an advantage to learning 2004, and migrating applications was often more of a re-write than a migration.
We are already seeing some of the technologies that may be refined to make up parts of the Oslo platform; some of those are available in BizTalk Server 2006 R2, others as side projects. These are discussed in the “How do I get a head start in Oslo” section. If you are working with BizTalk today and want to start planning for the future, it’s maybe worth spending time checking them out.
I need to start an integration project, should I use BizTalk 2006 R2?
Absolutely. Since the 2004 release BizTalk Server has been the natural choice for developing integration solutions on the Microsoft platform. The feature set has been strengthened considerably in the 2006 and 2006 R2 releases, including strong EDI and WCF support in 2006 R2. As mentioned earlier “nothing is going away”, so if you need to start a project in the near future, BizTalk 2006 R2 is still the best choice.
When we get nearer the release dates, have more concrete information on the architecture and feature set, and CTP or Beta releases become available the choice of going for Oslo may start to become an option. There may be a chance to become involved in the TAP program and have early access to the bits. Bear in mind that in the early days Oslo will be a very new platform, whilst BizTalk has a wealth of documentation, knowledge, books, courses, blogs, and community experience, Oslo will be a voyage of discovery for everyone, and you will need to plan for this in your development cycle. If, like me, you were an early adopter for BizTalk Server 2004 you will know what I’m talking about.
I want to start learning about BizTalk, what should I start looking at?
Depending on your experience it can take up to twelve months to become a proficient BizTalk 2006 developer (I’ve been hard at it for over four years and am still learning new stuff about the core BizTalk engine). As Oslo is scheduled for a release some time in 2009, we may well see public Betas and CTP releases within twelve months. If you are planning on learning BizTalk to strengthen your CV it may be more worthwhile looking at the new technologies that are becoming available rather than learning BizTalk Server 2006 R2.
As Microsoft are keeping many of the details about the Oslo feature set under wraps it may be the case that if you spend the next twelve months learning 2006 R2, things change significantly and you will be back to the tutorials again. It could also be the case that your 2006 skills are very relevant and applicable to the new platform, so again it’s a bit of a gamble.
One thing we can be certain of is that WCF will increase in importance in the BizTalk feature set, and WCF will be more applicable to general development as well. If you have the time to develop your skills, you could consider looking at the WCF features in the current BizTalk release, and other related technologies, (BizTalk’s WCF adapters, WCF LOB adapter SDK, BizTalk Labs). The next section will discuss these technologies.
How do I get a head start in Oslo?
There are a number of technologies that Microsoft has been releasing that may, in a more mature form, go on to form part of Oslo. If you are keen to get ahead and stay ahead on the Oslo platform it would be well worth investing some time in them. Be aware that plans change, promised features change, and strategies change (remember “Jupiter”?), so be aware that investing time in the bleeding edge technology can be a gamble.
If you are keen to be an Oslo early adapter, here’s some stuff to look at: (Be aware that this is just my personal opinion.)
Windows Communication Foundation
WCF is becoming increasingly important on the Microsoft platform, especially the “Connected Systems” projects. If Oslo is to be a SOA platform, WCF will be the foundation that platform will be built on. We are already seeing WCF being adopted in the BizTalk product line (WCF adapters in R2, WCF Line of Business Adapter SDK, BizTalk Adapter Pack, BizTalk Labs), expect this trend to continue. Having a solid knowledge of WCF will likely be one of the core skills required for the Oslo platform.
Considering the importance of WCF on the Microsoft platform, it should be on most developer’s to-do lists. If you run Vista, or can run a virtual image with Server 2008 (you need a fast PC to do this!) check out hosting WCF in WAS.
Windows Workflow Foundation
WF has been around for a while now, and it has been discussed as a replacement for the BizTalk Orchestration Engine in BizTalk vNext ever since it appeared. As we know that the Orchestration Engine will still be present (“nothing goes away”), it remains to be seen how much of an impact WF will have on Oslo development. If Microsoft can deliver a solid workflow host with comparable development and management tools to the current orchestration designer, WF may be the weapon of choice for building business processes. As we know Oslo will be a long term strategy, there is a chance that we may still be choosing to build orchestrations rather than workflows on the early versions of the platform. It will be a while before we can make a decision on this.
If you will be looking at WF, the integration between WCF and WF in .net 3.5 looks like something worth exploring. The first version of WF had no concept of sending and receiving messages, the core functionality of most BizTalk orchestrations. In .net 3.5 we have a SendActivity and a ReceiveActivity, allowing WF workflows to publish and consume WCF endpoints. WF may be a skill worth having, but I’d prioritise on learning WCF if you are limited for time.
WCF Line of Business Adapter SDK
Microsoft’s strategy to migrate adapters to use WCF instead of being dependent on BizTalk makes a lot of sense. In the future we will be using .net adapters, rather than BizTalk adapters. The BizTalk Adapter Pack is making a start on this move; expect to see more adapters migrated in the future.
A great way to learn about the new adapter framework is to download the WCF LOB adapter SDK and take a run through the tutorial. Even if you are not going to develop your own adapters, it will give you an insight into how the new adapters will be built, it’s also great to look at the more advanced aspects of WCF development.
BizTalk Labs is a pilot project to investigate the use of an Internet Service Bus (ISB) in connected system development. The future of BizTalk labs has not been determined, but there is a good chance that one of the aims of running this project is to prototype ideas that may form part of the Oslo platform. If you want to explore BizTalk labs, there is an SDK to download, and you will need to set up an account. As it’s an experimental project it’s not guaranteed that the servers will running 24/7.
The relevance of BizTalk labs to the Oslo platform will not become clear for a while (the FAQ is worth reading for more info), so investing a lot of time learning them is a bit of a gamble, but it may well pay off in the future. BizTalk labs uses WCF as a framework, rather than BizTalk, so it’s another chance to get more WCF experience.
It’s all about WCF
The WCF-WF integration in .net 3.5, the BizTalk WCF adapters, the WCF LOB adapter SKD and BizTalk Labs are all based on WCF as their foundation. It’s fairly easy to conclude that WCF is going to be the key technology to understanding and leveraging this new wave of products.