Microsoft readies application server strategy

With the release of Windows .net later this year, Microsoft plans to offer users a platform for building Web services by...

With the release of Windows .net later this year, Microsoft plans to offer users a platform for building Web services by positioning .net as an application server

Now available, the first release candidate of Windows .net intensifies Microsoft's assault on the Web application server market, dominated by Java 2.0 Enterprise Edition.

Brian Valentine, Windows division senior vice-president at Microsoft, said, "With Windows .net server and beyond we will really target enterprise class applications."

He said the company's mission was to provide a platform for global scale computing.

Bill Verghte, corporate vice-president .net server management, said Windows .net offered developers an entirely new way to program applications. Verghte said the combination of Visual Studio .net, released earlier this year, and Windows .net provides developers with a server platform to develop, deploy and run Web services applications.

One of the key components in Microsoft's application server strategy is support for UDDI (universal description discovery and integration) within Windows .net.

In Microsoft's vision, application software is developed using in-house and external software components that encapsulate business functionality. These components are stored within a Web service, which describes what it does (in other words, the data it provides back to an application) and the data it requires in order to work.

In software development terminology, Microsoft's approach "is a classic old-school repository", said Angela Mills, product unit manager for UDDI at Microsoft. "We are driving the efficiency of [component] reuse throughout a company."

Mills said that once users have a central repository they are able to provide a degree of standardisation for software development within the company. "It is possible to abstract the client application from specific instances of the backend," she added.

In other words, the same back end system can be used to provide services for a multitude of front end IT systems.

While UDDI promises to revolutionise software development users face the prospect of an immense task cataloguing all the functions in their existing software, so that they can be reused as web services.

The task is, in some ways, similar to enterprise application integration. The good news, according to Microsoft, is that reverse engineering work from Y2K projects can be reused to load Cobol applications into the UDDI.

This repository-based approach to development is not a new concept but previous attempts have been proprietary.

Ovum analyst Gary Barnett said that one of the problems with traditional software framework tools was that they required "an all-or-nothing approach".

He said they were very closed environments and did not support external interfaces properly. Since UDDI is open and supports XML, Barnett believed Microsoft had a good chance of migrating developers onto its repository-based approach to software development.

But there could be a hidden cost in doing so. In a report published in June, Gartner analysts Ray Valdes and Mark Driver highlighted a number of hidden costs users would incur on moving from existing Windows development to the Windows .net platform.

Although .net builds on the established Microsoft technology, users needed to take into account training time for their developers. Gartner said the learning costs can be amortised across a number of projects, but the impact on schedule needs to be taken into account.

The analysts urged developers to work on pilot projects or non-critical applications to gain a working knowledge of .net that goes beyond the concepts covered during training.

Another big cost for reworking applications for .net is testing, taking at least 20% of a project's overall budget. Irrespective of how much of an application's code is redeveloped for Windows .net, Gartner said the whole application would need to be tested before it is put into production.

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