The Microsoft SOA and Business Process conference is a chance for IT professionals and other interested parties to become informed about Microsoft technologies and strategies surrounding business process management, workflow and data/application integration. The conference is being held from October 3rd to 6th at the Microsoft Conference Centre in Redmond and, this year, the special emphasis is that nebulous space called Service Oriented Architecture (SOA). I’ll probably say more about this later but, like others, I’m really not enamored with the SOA “buzziness” that is taking the technology world by storm. At a high level, SOA seems to be a grossly over-hyped re-branding of best practices that have been around for a long time. Yes, there are new concepts and patterns embedded in the SOA muck but the ill-defined and inconsistently defined SOA space is occupying a lot of brain power that is probably best spent on the development and re-emphasis of pragmatic best practices for driving organizational connectedness.
The first day kicked off with back-to-back keynote presentations. David Chappelle was the first keynote speaker whose talk was entitled SOA, BPM, and Microsoft: A Pragmatic View. David has a superb ability to capture and entertain the audience while delivering insightful content. He is one of those people that you come across who becomes registered on your “internal” list of those who are exceptional at a certain discipline. Mr. Chappelle, of course, is registered on the “Learn to Speak and Present like These Guys” list.
Here are some highlights from David’s talk:
- SOA is a loosely defined vision.
- Think of SOA as attempting to establish the equivalent of a TCP/IP for applications.
- SOA is missing an essential element: there is no WS specification to provide interoperable queued messaging.
- SCA (Service Component Architecture) is a WCF-style specification in the works by IBM, BEA and others.
- Reuse of business objects has failed; achieving reuse of business services will be very hard. I definitely agree with this view. One of the reasons for the failure is lack of investment in facilitating reuse (i.e. insufficient investment in providing the appropriate documentation, in packaging and distributing the software libraries, in communicating the object libraries).
- SOAP is not enough; need to create the necessary SOA infrastructure.
- Focus should be on the broader notion of SOA infrastructure as opposed to ESB-style definitions.
The second keynote, Real World SOA, was presented by John deVadoss, Director of Architecture Strategy at Microsoft. An overriding sales focus diminished the effectiveness of this keynote. Video case studies videos of “real world SOA” success stories did little to convey a compelling SOA message. Also, he simply regurgitated the same old technology release information that we’ve been hearing for well over a year now (i.e. WinFx, .NET 3.0, BizTalk 2006). Some highlights from John’s talk:
- He is seeing customers doing SOA for SOA’s sake. Well, this is very common problem with all technologies.
- It is important to plan for frequent deliverables that emphasize “time-to-value”. This is just another way of saying the SOA projects should adopt agile development concepts, specifically incremental and iterative practices.
- SOA “recipe”: expose, compose, consume.
- A question from the audience asked if there was a story around monitoring and managing the services. The long-term answer will involve Microsoft System Center Manager.
Following lunch came the first sessions of the day. Since I enjoy hearing David Chappelle speak (and the other sessions weren’t very compelling) I decided to attend the two back-to-back business focused presentations by David. His first afternoon session was entitled Profiting from Process: Building a Business with BizTalk Server and he did an excellent job, as usual, of presenting on the topic. Here are some highlights:
- He said that the session was focused on businesses that do not currently have an a major integration practice. However, in the end, there was still much content and lots of audience discussion that was useful for even experience integration shops.
- CIO surveys consistently show that integration requirements are one of their top 10 priorities.
- Typical sales cycles range from 3 to 9 months; expect a “long” sales cycle. One comment on this topic was that some companies, like Wal-Mart, require consultancies to complete the sale with them in a “short” time frame.
- There was a comment from a Australian Microsoft employee who said that partners are not investing enough in pre-sales.
- Someone else commented that clients who have invested in having vendors train their staff have seen the staff leave to take employment elsewhere which leads to the client re-engaging with the vendor to fulfill their integration requirements.
- An excellent point was made by Jim Boyer who said that distinguishing between “proof” and “proof of concept” was very important when deciding how to demonstrate the viability of BizTalk to solve integration problems.
- There was a great discussion on how to acquire the skill sets necessary to develop BizTalk solutions. David’s view was that you need to start with good .NET developers. Some felt that it was best to take people like analysts and train then to develop BizTalk solutions. This is an important area that probably does not receive nearly as much attention as is needed to ensure success with BizTalk.
- Jame Healy raised the issue that it was far too easy for partners to achieve the BPI competency (something like having a couple of MCP/MCSD people on staff and execution of 2 BizTalk projects). Within the next 12 months achieving the BPI competency will become significantly more difficult.
The next session presented by David Chappelle was called Selling BizTalk Engagements. Once again, David’s talk was entertaining but I didn’t really get much out of this talk as there was much overlap from the previous session on building a business with BizTalk Server.