Microsoft has just made the first public announcement of “Oslo” at the SOA and BPM conference, at a high level “Oslo” is an overarching initiative across multiple products and Microsoft divisions, in fact the first release as announced today will be made up of BizTalk Server “6”, BizTalk Services “1”, Visual Studio “10”, System Center “5” and .NET Framework “4.0”.   Therefore Oslo != Just BizTalk.

Official press release information can be found here and here along with a good overview by Directions on Microsoft which you can find here, but here’s my take for what’s it worth! J

Oslo is driven out of Connected Systems Division (CSD) which is the almagamtion of the BizTalk, WCF, WF, ASMX, MSMQ, .NET Remoting, etc. teams and has around 1000 people, Oslo as highlighted above is a huge program of work within CSD and across multiple divisions within Microsoft (AD, System Center, Developer Division, etc.).   It’s a huge investment. 

Two key themes for Oslo were annouced during the keynote, Models (Making models a mainstream part of development) and Services (Extending services from the client to the cloud).

Those of you familiar with BizTalk Orchestration and Windows Workflow or even “Whitehorse” style designers such as those created using the DSL Tools or the Class Designer in VS are well versed with how a modelling tool works effectively enabling you to view and modify an underlying “thing” with an abstracted graphical language. 

There has been lots of modelling attempts across the years across the industry; two things stand out for me as to why.  Firstly the model is typically a representation at a point in time, you draw a nice pretty picture either for reference purposes or to then generate some physical representation like code.   

Sometimes you get round-tripping which enables the model to be up-to-date but this becomes increasingly hard in most scenarios to the point of not being possible so invariably the model becomes out of date with the actual reality and therefore its value is minimal.

Secondly you have lots of “models” within a typical project, perhaps you have a business process modelled using BizTalk Orchestration, the physical datacenter modelled using the VS Team Architect tools and operational management within System Center.   Nothing is shared between these models and therefore everyone has their own version of reality – often out of date and there’s no knowledge transfer between the various software development lifecycle roles.

In short, the modelling vision is a great thing but has a number of serious limitations today which limits its values to small isolated parts of your solution, imagine though having one model to describe your solution that could be used across your entire solution development lifecycle (Business Analyst, Developer, Tester, Operations, etc.).

This model of course needs to be rendered into different views for each of these stakeholders, a business analyst has a different “view” requirement to a developer for instance.

All of this is fine but don’t we end up with a stale description of a solution?  Not in Oslo as the model is executed; therefore the model has to be up-to-date as its being used to execute the solution.

These models then have to “live somewhere”, firstly to make them broadly discoverable by all the stakeholders involved in the development process and secondly to enable them to be executed by some form of host.  This is where the Metadata repository comes in which leverages SQL Server.

The viewing/editing experience will be provided through a new tool offering an “office like experience”, this will be able to interrogate the repository and retrieve/persist models.  Precise technical detail of how all this hangs together isn’t available right now but more information will be available publically in due course.

So Modelling is a big focus for Oslo, basically taking the modelling concept but making it mainstream and used across the entire development lifecycle and thus connecting up all roles.

The next big focus for Oslo is around services and messaging; BizTalk today provides an incredibly powerful and flexible messaging platform through Adapters, Pipelines and the MessageBox.  We have publish and subscribe, correlation, transformation all in the box.

Through the use of adapters we can easily integrate with a variety of technologies provided by different vendors running on different platforms but this typically speaking is all about integration/messaging within your corporate boundaries.  

You can of course implement B2B scenarios where you can do cross business integration but any communication between B2B partners typically requires specific and dedicated communication links such as a leased line, VPN, SSL, etc.   This is expensive and normally only implemented by the larger organisations.

Oslo is set to address this and more through the use of what Microsoft is calling a “Internet Service Bus”, imagine being able to connect two organisations together without requiring anything more than a internet connection, no need for leased lines, NAT traversal?

This in part is offered today through the BizTalk Labs preview of the BizTalk Connectivity Services, this offers the concept of a relay which can patch two applications together even if they’re behind their own respective firewalls and would normally have no way to directly communicate with each other.

The relay offers NAT traversal technologies and once it’s patched you together it can then completely step out of the communication path enabling you to communicate together.  Now this might not see that useful on the surface but it opens up a whole new breed of solutions for the small-medium market but of course any size of user or customer.   

In short the relay enables communicate between users and applications even though there is no direct communication link between the two – of course this NAT traversal solution has been down before in silos by software such as Groove and MSN Messenger.  The key here is that the Connectivity Services  are doing all the hard NAT stuff for you and the service is hosted by Microsoft in the cloud.

A Security Token Service (STS) is also supplied through the BizTalk Labs preview which offers an identity provider to enable you to offload identity and authentication functionality.  Moving forward there is a commitment to provide workflow hosting.

All of these services are cloud hosted meaning that a Microsoft datacenter somewhere provides the hardware, resilience, software, etc. to expose these services, you don’t need to provision datacenter space, hardware, etc. but instead rely on Microsoft of another third party.  How this will be charged for hasn’t been agreed at this time.

So combining models and these cloud based services is interesting as suddenly you can develop your solution using Oslo tools and then make a deployment-time decision to host within your datacenter or to host within the cloud.   This is an interesting choice for organisations that currently maintain large datacenters and have to worry about monitoring, resilience and the like.  It also opens up completely new possibilites about how users/services can be contacted regardless of where they are, as long as they have a internet connection and can “see” the cloud they can communicate regardless of what network infrastructure is in the way.

So, all of that aside – your probably thinking about BizTalk today?  Should you continue to use it, will any new investment in BizTalk Orchestrations, Rules Engine, etc. be redundant in a few years time?  There’s also a slightly scary statement in the Directions on Microsoft report that advises that you may wish to limit new development using BizTalk Server.

I don’t speak for the product team, but can say that enabling you to run BizTalk Server 2006 artefacts within the Oslo release will absolutely be supported – Microsoft can’t turn away from the significant investment that customers have made today and aren’t planning to.

So, in short carry on using Biz Talk.  Oslo is a way away yet and there’s an incredible amount you can do with our technology stack today (BizTalk Server 2006 R2, Office 2007 Sharepoint, WCF, WF….)

That’s it for now, will provide some more thoughts and info as time goes on.