Category Archives: Oslo

The necessity of PaaS: Will Microsoft be the Singapore of Cloud Computing?

From ancient Mesopotamia to, more recently, Holland, Switzerland, Japan, Singapore and Korea, the success of many societies has been in part credited to their lack of natural resources. The theory being that it motivated them to rely on human capital, commerce and innovation rather than resource extraction. This approach eventually put them ahead of their better-endowed neighbors.

A similar dynamic may well propel Microsoft ahead in PaaS (Platform as a Service): IaaS with Windows is so painful that it may force Microsoft to focus on PaaS. The motivation is strong to “go up the stack” when the alternative is to cultivate the arid land of Windows-based IaaS.

I should disclose that I work for one of Microsoft’s main competitors, Oracle (though this blog only represents personal opinions), and that I am not an expert Windows system administrator. But I have enough experience to have seen some of the many reasons why Windows feels like a much less IaaS-friendly environment than Linux: e.g. the lack of SSH, the cumbersomeness of RDP, the constraints of the Windows license enforcement system, the Windows update mechanism, the immaturity of scripting, the difficulty of managing Windows from non-Windows machines (despite WS-Management), etc. For a simple illustration, go to EC2 and compare, between a Windows AMI and a Linux AMI, the steps (and time) needed to get from selecting an image to the point where you’re logged in and in control of a VM. And if you think that’s bad, things get even worse when we’re not just talking about a few long-lived Windows server instances in the Cloud but a highly dynamic environment in which all steps have to be automated and repeatable.

I am not saying that there aren’t ways around all this, just like it’s not impossible to grow grapes in Holland. It’s just usually not worth the effort. This recent post by RighScale illustrates both how hard it is but also that it is possible if you’re determined. The question is what benefits you get from Windows guests in IaaS and whether they justify the extra work. And also the additional license fee (while many of the issues are technical, others stem more from Microsoft’s refusal to acknowledge that the OS is a commodity). [Side note: this discussion is about Windows as a guest OS and not about the comparative virtues of Hyper-V, Xen-based hypervisors and VMWare.]

Under the DSI banner, Microsoft has been working for a while on improving the management/automation infrastructure for Windows, with tools like PowerShell (which I like a lot). These efforts pre-date the Cloud wave but definitely help Windows try to hold it own on the IaaS battleground. Still, it’s an uphill battle compared with Linux. So it makes perfect sense for Microsoft to move the battle to PaaS.

Just like commerce and innovation will, in the long term, bring more prosperity than focusing on mining and agriculture, PaaS will, in the long term, yield more benefits than IaaS. Even though it’s harder at first. That’s the good news for Microsoft.

On the other hand, lack of natural resources is not a guarantee of success either (as many poor desertic countries can testify) and Microsoft will have to fight to be successful in PaaS. But the work on Azure and many research efforts, like the “next-generation programming model for the cloud” (codename “Orleans”) that Mary Jo Foley revealed today, indicate that they are taking it very seriously. Their approach is not restricted by a VM-centric vision, which is often tempting for hypervisor and OS vendors. Microsoft’s move to PaaS is also facilitated by the fact that, while system administration and automation may not be a strength, development tools and application platforms are.

The forward-compatible Cloud will soon overshadow the backward-compatible Cloud and I expect Microsoft to play a role in it. They have to.

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Filed under Application Mgmt, Automation, Azure, Cloud Computing, DevOps, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Linux, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Middleware, Oslo, PaaS, Research, Utility computing, WS-Management

Updates on Microsoft Oslo and “SSH on Windows”

I’ve been tracking the modeling technology previously known as “Microsoft Oslo” with a sympathetic eye for the almost three years since it’s been introduced. I look at it from the perspective of model-driven IT management but the news hadn’t been good on that front lately (except for Douglas Purdy’s encouraging hint).

The prospects got even bleaker today, at least according to the usually-well-informed Mary Jo Foley, who writes: “Multiple contacts of mine are telling me that Microsoft has decided to shelve Quadrant and ‘refocus’ M.” Is “M” the end of the SDM/SML/M model-driven management approach at Microsoft? Or is the “refocus” a hint that M is returning “home” to address IT management use cases? Time (or Doug) will tell…

While we’re talking about Microsoft and IT automation, I have one piece of free advice for the Microsofties: people *really* want to SSH into Windows servers. Here’s how I know. This blog rarely talks about Microsoft but over the course of two successive weekends over a year ago I toyed with ways to remotely manage Windows machines using publicly documented protocols. In effect, showing what to send on the wire (from Linux or any platform) to leverage the SOAP-based management capabilities in recent versions of Windows. To my surprise, these posts (1, 2, 3) still draw a disproportionate amount of traffic. And whenever I look at my httpd logs, I can count on seeing search engine queries related to “windows native ssh” or similar keywords.

If heterogeneous Cloud is something Microsoft cares about they need to better leverage the potential of the PowerShell Remoting Protocol. They can release open-source Python, Java and Ruby client-side libraries. Alternatively, they can drastically simplify the protocol, rather than its current “binary over SOAP” (you read this right) incarnation. Because the poor Kridek who is looking for the “WSDL for WinRM / Remote Powershell” is in for a nasty surprise if he finds it and thinks he’ll get a ready-to-use stub out of it.

That being said, a brave developer willing to suck it up and create such a Python/Ruby/Java library would probably make some people very grateful.

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Filed under Application Mgmt, Automation, Everything, Implementation, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Modeling, Oslo, Protocols, SML, SOAP, Specs, Tech, WS-Management

So long Oslo

This post is a farewell to Microsoft’s Oslo project. Not primarily because the name Oslo will be phased out at the next PDC as Doug Purdy reports. More importantly because Doug’s post puts Oslo so far on my back burner that I am unlikely to ever get back to it.

I have mostly been tracking Oslo (the modeling part of it, i.e. the “D” and then “M” stacks and associated tools) from the point of view of its applicability to IT management and Microsoft’s DSI effort. That made sense at first and I found some encouragements in this direction by (see the partial transcript of David Chappell’s video). But from the start there were also many signs of a very different vision for Oslo, as a software development tool with only a peripheral relationship to IT management.

As time went by it became clear that that vision was the real one and Doug’s announcement that Microsoft will “merge the Data Programmability team (EDM, EF, Astoria, XML, ADO.NET, and tools/designers) and the Oslo team (Quadrant, Repository, M) together” is the final confirmation.

M is still a very interesting piece of technology and I’d like to keep track of it, but it’s now too far removed from my focus area for me to justify paying much attention to it in the foreseeable future. Good luck to the team.

In the meantime, this brings back the question of what’s the current modeling story in the System Center team. SDM? SML? Some M-based replacement? Back to CIM? I am just asking because they had been a lot more public and proactive on this than other management vendors, but this has stopped abruptly.

[UPDATED 2009/8/28: Doug responded with enough of a teaser (“some things coming out of incubation in the management space”) to give me a justification to keep at least an eye on Oslo. At the very least I’ll keep monitoring his blog, waiting for this DSI link to emerge.]

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Filed under Everything, Microsoft, Modeling, Oslo

First in-depth look at Microsoft’s Oslo and the “M” modeling language

Microsoft’s PDC is taking place this week and more details were shared with the attendees about project Oslo, an effort announced last year to drastically improve the use of models across the application lifecycle. Some code is available (I think the Quadrant code is only for PDC attendees but the Oslo SDK is available to everyone). I am not at PDC, I didn’t see any presentation and I didn’t download any code. But Microsoft has also posted technical details on MSDN and, as far as I am concerned, that’s the most time-effective way to spend a couple of hours learning about Oslo. BTW, the way they share these early design descriptions and accept to make their evolution public is admirable.

For those who only want to spend 10 minutes rather than 2 hours, here are the thoughts that came to my mind as I was reading.

Overall I am somewhat underwhelmed, but not necessarily in a bad way. I know that’s a little schizophrenic so let me explain. After hearing a lot about how Oslo was the next big thing in modeling, it is a little surprising to read a document that can be summarized as “modeling is good, so go create some SQL tables and store them in a RDBMS”. That’s the underwhelming part. But on the other hand, it is more down to earth and practically-minded than I feared. And this is just a summary, in truth there is more than just “use SQL”.

Half of the MSDN documentation basically explains how to use SQL Server to store application models (as of today, the “Developing Models for the Metadata Store” section has only one sub-section, “SQL Server Guidelines for Modeling in the Oslo Repository“). Does this mean that all .NET applications will eventually have to carry with them a deployment of SQL Server 2008 even if they don’t use it to store the their operational data? Sure there are a few extra repository services (e.g. finer-grained change auditing) but most Oslo repository services are generic SQL Server features. That section has quite a lot of T-SQL, but it’s pretty readable. It also has a lot of dependencies on following naming conventions which makes me think that directly creating T-SQL code is not the best approach.

Fortunately there is an alternative, the “M” language. It’s a schema language with a built-in constraint mechanism. I found it more data-oriented (as opposed to resource-oriented) than I expected. Even though “each model is really a set of data structures, relationships, and constraints in serialized form“, there is a lot more support for data structures and constraints than for relationships. It’s just a foreign key. Relationships aren’t items and don’t have any property (or “field” as they’re called in “M”). For example, the relationship between a student’s enrollment record and a given class can’t have, as property, the grade that the student got for that class (as in the example in section 4.1.4 of the second LC of SML). To model this in “M” you need to create another item (e.g. “courseEnrollment”) and have a relationship from the student to that item and another one from that item to the “course” item itself. Or to replace the foreign key in the student table with a complex structure that contains both the foreign key and the properties of the relationship. At the end it has the same expressiveness potential, but in a less streamlined form. I assume Microsoft took this approach for performance reasons.

I am going on a limb here, but it may also be a difference between development-time concerns and operation-time concerns. During development (all the way to testing and packaging), you can still mostly get away with a relatively simple containment structure. You care about the components of your application and how they are packaged inside or next to one another. Sure you care about who calls who outside of the deployment unit but that’s not as core a concern as getting your class dependencies right, your tests in order and your installer configured. In fact, some of the “who calls who” bindings will be only be realized at runtime. Oslo, at least so far, clearly seems more focused on development time than operations so support for a relationship-rich model may not seem critical. At operations time, on the other hand, you don’t really care so much about how things were packaged before installation. You care a lot more about who invokes who (especially for modern distributed applications), what the network layout is, what resources a ticket is attached to, etc. The model looks a lot more like a graph with complex relationships. Something that “M” doesn’t seem ideally suited for.

Except for this caveat, I like “M”. It’s not anti-XML (you can represent values as XML if you’d like) but it avoids the “the answer is XML/XSD what is the question” approach to modeling that is sometimes a little too prevalent. “M” is a much better schema language for IT systems than XSD. I especially like its approach to types. A value is not intrinsically of a given type. A type is a condition that you happen to meet or not at the current time (“take heart little field, you can be anything you want when you grow up”). As such, you can be of several types at the same time. Refined types are potatoes inside potatoes (not sure if “M” supports definition of types as unions and/or intersection of existing types, for intersection I want to write something like”type NewType : OldType1 where this in OldType2” but there is no “this” in “M”). That approach to types (and the way constraints leverage types) is reminiscent of RDF/OWL. It’s a classification more than a typification, but I understand why they didn’t want to call it “class”. The similarities with RDF/OWL don’t go any further. As I wrote earlier, “M”is very data-focused and not resource-focused: as far as I can tell “M” types are defined syntactically, not semantically (the semantics come as a consequence). For example, I don’t think that you can assert that a given item representing a person is of type “friendly” if there is no corresponding data in the item. You’d have to first create a boolean field called “friendly” and define that those that have that field set to “true” are of type “friendly”. Unlike in RDF/OWL where you can just assert that a subject is “friendly”.

Here is another reason why you can’t have “semantics-only” types: “if you do not specify the type of a field or value, M infers a type for it“. Two things don’t sound quite right to me here. First a detail: the sentence (like others in the doc) talks about “the” type of a field of value, while there can be more than one. More importantly, what’s the point of this feature? How does it help me to have my IRC nickname classified as a post code or as a password just because it happens to be made of a compatible combination of letters and numbers? Maybe it makes sense as a storage optimization, but why does it make sense to expose this to the user?

I also like the way “extents” work. The current description of that feature is pretty limited, but based on how it is used in other parts I think one of its usages is to support a non-OO equivalent to inheritance: create two extents, one for the “superclass” and one for the “subclass” where each only contains the properties/fields defined at that level. You should get both of them in order to have the full picture (all the fields). This is, if I understand it correctly, similar to something I have been (unsuccessfully so far because “XML doesn’t do it this way”) trying to sell to the DMTF CMDBf working group: model inheritance through a set of non-overlapping records rather than dealing with a type hierarchy on record types. It’s not just that it makes relational storage easier (even though it does and that’s probably why “M” does it this way), it also makes your query/select operations a lot easier to specify and implement.

All in all (and without having gone through the exercise of defining actual models in “M”), it seems like a fine schema language (except that its dependency on the CLR base types is unpractical for users outside of the Microsoft universe) but I am not sure if it is beefy enough to be a good IT management metamodel. When the document says that “the Oslo repository provides open and flexible access to the data it contains, which enables direct access to SQL Server views of the underlying data. There are no complex data access layers or APIs” it sounds better than saying “it’s just SQL, so map your model to it and if you want relationships or type inheritance just build it on top of it and quit whining”. But it is an admission of limitation at the same time as a claim of simplicity. I also smell an assumption that LINQ will provide enough hand-holding that non-SQL-savvy developers will be ok. We’ll see.

And then there is MGrammar. Things get a little confusing at that point if you try to relate MGrammar to “M”. Actually, the FAQ states that “the M language consists of three parts: MGraph, MSchema and MGrammar“. This came a bit as a surprise to me since at that point I had finished reading (not in details but not too quickly either) the “M” documentation and I hadn’t seen these names mentioned once. Looks like there is some documentation consistency issues here, but that’s hardly surprising considering this is a “hyper-early (pre-alpha)” release as Doug Purdy puts it.

I think that everything that I have referred to as “M” above is MSchema.

MGrammar is something different altogether: it’s the source of the Domain Specific Language (DSL) references we’ve been hearing in relationship with Oslo. Technically, MGrammar is a BNF on steroids plus an automatically generated parser for your syntax. Cute. I assume that “M” (i.e. MSchema) is built as MGrammar-defined DSL but I am not sure why I would care. I am all for reuse and if someone at Microsoft thought that there was something reusable in the way they defined MSchema then it’s a good thing to expose this tool. But where does it come into play in application modeling? The last thing I want is people inventing completely independent languages to describe different domains. I am all for specialization, but a common underlying metamodel is pretty nice when you have to make sense of a whole system. I don’t see any such commonality in MGrammar: as far as I can tell it can be used to define anything from PostScript to sonnets.

From the FAQ, the connection point between MGrammar and MSchema is MGraph (MGrammar languages are parsed into an MGraph, MSchema “builds on MGraph”). That’s nice, but since neither the MSchema nor the MGrammar documentation mention MGraph I don’t really know what to make of this. David Chappell’s white paper also mentions MSchema and MGrammar but not MGraph. The introduction to the MGrammar Language Specification states that “the data that results from Mg [a.k.a. MGrammar] processing is compatible with Mg’s sister language, The Oslo Modeling Language, M, which provides a SQL-compatible schema and query language that can be used to further process the underlying information“. Compatible? I need more information here. In any case, MGrammar sounds like a fun project for a techie. Who am I to deny Microsoft engineers their fun. Jokes aside, I am probably missing something here seeing how prevalent the DSL message is in all discussions of Oslo. Look at the “highlights of this book” section for the upcoming Oslo/M book from the creators of the “M” language: half of it is about the DSL support and there must be a reason beyond pure geekery. As a side note, if you buy this book you need to understand what little shelf life it will have (I can give you a good price on a lightly-used Hailstorm/”.Net my services” specification book).

Aside from the “M” language itself, there are a few models described in the documentation. One corresponds to BPMN (actually, it says that it “closely aligns with” BPPMN 1.1, does this imply that they are not quite the same?). The fact that this model supports imports from Visio is a nice feature.

The Application model (one of the places where you can see “extents” in action) scares me a little bit because I doubt that two different people would use the same “extents” to describe the same software elements. Unless of course that’s being done for them by a pre-defined mapping to their development framework (.NET) enacted by their common development tool (Visual Studio). Which may be the assumption. Yet, the Application model is defined in generic terms, not Microsoft-specific (with a couple of slip-ups, like a WebApplicationModule being defined as a “Web application (module) implemented by IIS or WAS“. Maybe I’ll feel better about the generic applicability of this Application model when I see a full-fledged description (e.g. including relationship semantics as captured in foreign key field names) and an example.

At the bottom of that Application model, there is a lonely “Manageable” type to use if you have a LifecycleState field. This reinforces my impression that despite the claims to link development time with operational time, a lot of the focus to date has been on the former rather than the latter.

The ServiceModel model will look familiar to people familiar with SCA and is presumably complementary to the WorkflowModel and WorkflowServiceModel models, both of which are directly mapped to Windows Workflow Foundation. I guess that’s where Oslo and Dublin touch one another. I am still glad they are now clearly separated.

There is also a “Quadrant” model which concerns me a bit (it seems to be used to store customization of the Quadrant UI which, while convenient to store straight in the repository, doesn’t strike me as necessarily belonging there).

At this point, the question is not whether Microsoft can build Oslo as it is currently defined. SQL Server 2008 already exists, the usage guidelines aren’t unrealistic and even the “M-to-T-SQL” translation doesn’t seem too hard for Microsoft to implement (the SDK presumable already contains an implementation). I have no doubt they can deliver the system they describe. What I don’t know is whether and how it will be actually useful.

Describing “M” in details is good. Describing how the repository is implemented on top of SQL Server 2008 is interesting but not so relevant. What I’d like to see is a description of how all this gets used. How does it change the Visual Studio experience? How does it change the installation process/format? How does it support round-tripping between lifecycle stages (e.g. if the developer changes the workflow model, does that original BPMN model get consequently updated)? How does it relate to SLAs and policies? How does it apply to application monitoring? How does it apply to configuration management, to the change process? Etc. In short, what’s the Oslo ecosystem going to be.

These questions aren’t completely ignored in the MSDN documentation, but they are dispensed with in a couple of pages: “Application Development and Lifecycle Improvements” and “IT Operations Benefits“. The former states, for example, that “having the Oslo repository act as a central location for these models also enables a connection between the design and implementation models. This connection helps prevent these models from becoming disconnected during the development process“. Which all sounds good but is just a set of assertions that we have heard many times before (not just from Microsoft). How do “M” and the Oslo repository really make this true?

On the “IT Operations Benefits” side, things are equally blurry: “the Oslo repository can store all types of machine and application configuration data. When consistently updated, this configuration data is a catalog of the current state of all monitored machines and applications in the environment“. Notice the “when consistently updated” hand wave. That’s kind of the crux if you really want to manage across the lifecycle. How will they achieve this consistency? By centralizing all changes through a model-driven controller a la SDM/SML? Through ongoing discovery and/or change notifications? By relying on good old ITIL/MOF processes?

The FAQ declares that “having a common approach does not necessarily correlate to one physical store, but more of a federated model and we believe that some of the new Repository, along with existing investments in both Configuration Management Database (CMDB) and Team Foundation Server (TFS), will form the foundation for a common Microsoft metadata strategy and should be supported across our set of products“. OK, but who is the source of truth for application configuration data? The Oslo repository or the CMDB? Is one the desired state and the other the observed state? Does the CMDB go back to simply being a Service Desk (and if so, does the Oslo repository take on the responsibility to enforce change processes, something that requires more than the security model in Oslo)? If the CMDB is still going to use SML as its metamodel, how do you efficiently federate across such different metamodels as SML (i.e. XSD + schematron + relationships) and “M”?

Lots of questions remaining. What will Oslo have turned into in a few years? A business process design/implementation/monitoring suite (there is a strong workflow feel to many parts)? A generic drag-and-drop programming environment (“the fact that entire features are already described by models means that for a wide array of application and component categories you can start using visual tools to design and implement your components“)? A control center for end to end application management? All of the above? Nothing?

This was just a quick brain dump after reading the documents. Actually, I just realized it somehow got pretty long (congrats if you’re still reading). I hope this post is not too disorganized. Oslo is an interesting effort, but, as Microsoft is first to admit, it’s at a very early stage. I am just surprised that this first release spends so much time on the “how” rather than the “what”. Maybe it’s just because I only got my information from the MSDN documentation. We’ll see when more content from PDC finds its way online. I just want the slides, watching recorded presentations is rarely time-efficient (and you can expect them to require Silverlight).

Speaking of Silverlight, there is this new site on Oslo if you think watching some videos is worth installing Silverlight. Those screenshots don’t motivate me sufficiently.

[UPDATED 2008/10/30: Rather than going to bed I Googled around a bit and found a  post by Martin Fowler that answers some of my questions about MGrammar, MGraph and MSchema. MGraph is for instances, MSchema is for types. It answers some plumbing question, but I still have questions about expected usage and relevance to applications modeling.]

[UPDATED 2008/10/30: I also found the recordings and slides from past PDC sessions. Nice job Microsoft for this quick turnaround time, even if you require Sliverlight and/or the PPTX viewer. The sessions are:

  • TL23 A Lap around “Oslo” (Doug Purdy, Vijaye Raji)
  • TL27 “Oslo”: The Language (Don Box, David Langworthy)
  • TL18 “Oslo”: Customizing and Extending the Visual Design Experience (Don Box, Florian Voss)
  • TL28 “Oslo”: Repository and Models (Chris Sells)

The first two sessions (deliverd Tuesday) have a replay and slides, the others should, I assume, follow soon.]

[UPDATED 2008/11/3: A nice overview of Oslo by Aaron Skonnard. Unlike most other Oslo articles over the last week, this one tries to paint the (yet-to-be-realized) full picture of the Oslo ecoystem. He mentions that “other Microsoft products and technologies are expected to build on Oslo to provide other runtimes. A few that have already been announced include Microsoft System Center (Operations Manager) and Team Foundation Server (TFS) in Visual Studio Team System”. It’s interesting that he qualifies System Center to be more specifically “operations manager” rather than “configuration manager” but I wouldn’t read too much into it at this point.]

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Filed under Application Mgmt, BPM, Business Process, CMDB, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Middleware, Modeling, Oslo, SML, Specs, Tech

Oslo name clarification

Good news. The Oslo code name now specifically refers to Microsoft’s new modeling technologies (the part that I and, presumably, readers of this blog care about) and not the workflow/biztalk stuff that was always mixed in (to the point where some Oslo stories only mentioned workflow).

[UPDATED 2008/10/10: Now this is getting silly. Yet another name change. It’s not “D” it’s “M”. Whatever. Isn’t the whole point of code names that it doesn’t matter what they are: just pick one and stick with it until you release and then you can come up with the final name? I am not going to do another post just for this like a groupie tracking every news item, however irrelevant, about his/her favorite band. Which, for the record, is not the position I am in wrt to Oslo (at least until I know what it really is). Oh, and their graphical modeling tool is now called Quadrant. I am sure the TopQuadrant folks (creator of the TopBraid RDF/OWL/SPARQL editor which is in a very related domain) will appreciate.]

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Filed under Everything, Microsoft, Modeling, Oslo

Last call for SML and SML-IF

The SML working group at W3C has published the “last call” working draft of version 1.1 of the SML and SML-IF (“IF” stands for “interchange format”) specifications. You have until October 3rd to tell them what you think.

With all the Oslo fun, the OMG embrace and the silence from System Center there are more questions than answers about the use of SML at Microsoft. But the Eclipse COSMOS project (IBM and friends) is, as far as I know, valiantly going forward with the store/validator implementation. Which may or may not be the same codebase as what was used for the recent CMDBf interop demo (I am not sure how the SML and CDMBf implementations in COSMOS are articulated).

The COSMOS group also recently published an overview of SML. It doesn’t try to tell you why you’d want to use SML but it’s a good and succint description of what SML is technically (from an XML developer’s perspective).

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Filed under CMDB Federation, CMDBf, Desired State, Everything, IBM, Implementation, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Modeling, Open source, Oslo, SML, Specs, Standards, Tech, W3C

Oslo, blog posts and my crystal ball

There is more and more information coming out about Oslo in anticipation of the Microsoft PDC in October.

David Chappell recorded a video about it last month. More recently Doug Purdy and Don Box each posted a short description of Oslo. Don describes the goal of Oslo as “simplify the process of developing, deploying, and managing software”. But when he lists ancestor technologies to illustrate that “Microsoft has been moving in this direction for over a decade now”, they are all about development, not management: COM type libraries, .NET metadata attributes, XAML. Interesting that neither SDM nor SML gets a mention. Neither did SCA by the way, but I wasn’t really expecting that one… :-)

Maybe the I am the only one looking for a SDM/SML echo here, just because I came to hear of Oslo through the DSI angle. Am I wrong to see Oslo as an enabler for DSI? This eWeek article doesn’t have anything to do with IT management. Reading it, Oslo is all about allowing people to write code through drag and drop. Yawn. And Don Box endorses the article.

Maybe it’s just me (an IT management guy more than a software development guy) but I don’t care so much about how the application model is created. I care a lot more about what it allows you to do in terms of IT management. Please don’t make me pull out the often-quoted figure about the percentage of IT budget spent on operations versus development/licensing. The eWeek piece fails to excite me, but fortunately David Chappell’s video interview is a lot more aligned with my thinking, so I still hold hopes for Oslo as an IT management enabler. Here is my approximate transcript of an example that David provides (at around 4:20) in the video:

“If someone comes to you and says i’ve got this business process and the SLA is not being met, what do you do? You’ve got to trace this through the right business process and the right application that supports that part of the process and find the machine it runs on and maybe look at the workflow that implements it and maybe look at the services that it provides. This involves talking to business analysts, or the IT pros or the architect or the developer, all of whom have their own view of the world, their own tools, their own prospective. The repository provides a common place to store all this stuff, to link it all together, and with a visual editor to have a common tool that lets you actually go through and answer this kind of questions.”

Now you’re talking.

And if Oslo is not the new blood of DSI, then what is? The DSI story is getting dated, SML is fading in our memories and of the three parts that supposedly compose DSI (“virtualized infrastructure, design for operations, and knowledge-driven management”), only virtualization is actually represented on the list of technologies on the DSI home page. Has DSI turned into just allowing System Center to manage a hypervisor? I still hold hopes that the Oslo data is going to spice things up there. It would be good for the industry at large, not just Microsoft.

I won’t be at the PDC but it will be interesting to see what filters out of these sessions. The first session in the list adds management of hybrid application systems (hybrid as in “cloud/on-premise combination” or “software+services” as Microsoft calls it), to the long “can do” list for Oslo. Impressive, if there is some meat behind the abstract. I think this task is often overlooked in discussions around management aspects of Cloud computing (see “the new, interesting thing is going to be the IT infrastructure to manage your usage of utility computing services as well as their interactions with your in-house software” in this previous entry).

Yes, I am reading way too much into session abstracts, but while I am at it I can’t help noticing that there is a lot of SQL and very little XML/XSD/XPath mentioned there. Even though one of the presenters is Gudge, the only person I have ever met who fully understands XSD (actually even he doesn’t, I’ve seen him in the WS-I days have to refer to… his book).

Even though I am sure we’ll be told that SML can be built on top of Oslo, the SQL orientation won’t make that so easy (I want to see how to build XSD+Schematron validation on top of a relational store using Oslo’s drag and drop development tool). And it puts Microsoft on a different architectural direction from IBM, who, as far as I can tell, thinks that the world is a big XML document. Neither is the most appropriate for IT management models. I prefer a graph model and associated graph queries along the lines of SPARQL or CMDBf.

But that’s just late-night idle speculations on my part (aka “blogging”). Let’s see what comes out in October.

[UPDATED 2008/9/10: Interesting timing. Microsoft is joining OMG, home of UML and BPMN. Coming next: a submission of a “new version” of UML and BPMN that happens to contain the extensions and tweaks that Microsoft made to them in the process of implementing Oslo. This, BTW, is the final nail in the SML coffin (SML isn’t even mentioned in the press release).]

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Filed under Application Mgmt, CMDBf, Conference, Desired State, Everything, Graph query, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Middleware, Modeling, Oslo, Query, SaaS, SCA, SML, SPARQL, Specs, Tech, Trade show, Utility computing, Virtualization

SOA management: round-up of recent news

It started with a checkpoint on “the state of SOA monitoring and management” by Doug McClure. A good set of questions and a good list of “usual suspects” (but how much did Actional pay to be listed twice?).

Then came this good article from AMIS’ Lucas Jellema reporting on what he learned during a recent Oracle SOA Partner event. He pokes fun at Oracle/BEA for conveniently tweaking their “this is what you need” story to align with the “this is what we offer” part (I am shocked, SHOCKED to hear that a vendor would do that, let alone my employer). But the real focus of his article is to describe the importance of design-time SOA governance (integrated with the other parts of the lifecycle). He does a good job at describing some of the value of the consolidated Oracle/BEA offering.

I couldn’t help smiling when I read this paragraph:

“It struck me that most of what applies in terms of Governance to SOA assets, also applies to other assets in any software engineering process. Trying to manage reusable components for example or even implementing a good maintenance approach for a non-SOA application is a tremendous challenge, that has many parallels with SOA Governance. And to some extent could benefit from applying a tooling infrastructure such as provided by the Enterprise Repository… Well, just a thought for now. I need to know more about the ER before jumping to conclusions.”

If my memory serves me right, the original Flashline product that BEA acquired (what became the Enterprise Repository) was just that, a generic metadata repository for software assets, not something SOA-specific. It’s ironic to see Lucas look at it now and think “hey, maybe this SOA repository can be used for non-SOA apps”. Back to the future. And BTW, Lucas is right about this applicability, as Michael Stamback soon confirmed.

Still in Oracle-land, a few days later came the news that Oracle is acquiring ClearApp. Doug’s post was more about runtime governance (which he calls monitoring/management, and I tend to agree with him even though this is fighting the tide) than design-time governance. In that sense, the ClearApp announcement is more relevant to his questions than Lucas’ post. The ClearApp capabilities fit squarely with Doug’s request for “providing the right level of business visibility into the SOA environment and more importantly the e2e business services, applications, transactions, processes and activities”, as I tried to illustrate before.

More recently, Software AG announced an OEM partnership with Actional (part of Progress) to bring runtime data to its CentraSite registry (which, I assume, comes from the Infravio acquisition by WebMethods before it itself was swallowed by Software AG).

Actional’s Dan Foody of course applauds and uses the opportunity to dispel some FUD (“Actional is tightly tied with Sonic”) and also generate some new FUD (“no vendor had even a half decent offering on both sides [design-time and runtime] of the fence”).

Neil Macehiter has a more neutral commentary on the Software AG news. His analysis ends with some questions about what this means for Amberpoint. Maybe it’s time to restart the “Microsoft might acquire Amberpoint” rumor.

Speaking of Microsoft, the drum roll is getting louder in anticipation for Oslo making its debut at the upcoming PDC. That’s a topic for another post though.

This Oslo detour is a little bit off topic, but not so much. The way Don Box and team envision that giant software model shaping up they probably picture what’s called today “SOA Governance” as just a small application that an intern can build in a week on top of the Oslo repository. Or I am exaggerating?

Unlike Dan Foody I like the approach of keeping SOA Governance closely integrated with the development and IT management infrastructures. At the cost of quoting myself (if I don’t, who will?) “it’s not just about managing Web services or Web sites, it’s about managing the whole SOA application”.

[UPDATED 2008/9/23: It looks like the relationship between CentraSite and Infravio is a little bit more complex than I assumed.]

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Filed under Application Mgmt, Everything, Governance, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Oracle, Oslo, SOAP

More clues on the Oslo/SCA/SML trail: it’s “D”

I just found out that I completly missed some interesting information about Oslo-related efforts at Microsoft. Back in February, Mary-Jo Foley reported on a new modeling language (code-name “D”, apparently) that is part of this initiative. And more recently she reported that David Chappell gave a presentation about Oslo (and more generally Microsoft’s SOA plans) at TechEd. He reportedly said that we should expect a new “schema language” (which Mary-Jo thinks is “D”). What I want to know is what its relationship is with SML/SDM and SCA.

Mary-Jo might not know about SCA and SML but I know that David does. He wrote this white paper about SCA and an article arguing that “Microsoft Should Not Support SCA” (based on an a questionable assessment that SCA is only about portability). He and I also had a little back-and-forth about SCA, SML and Microsoft in the comments section of his post. Unfortunately, David hasn’t blogged about Microsoft’s SOA strategy for a while for us non-TechEd people.

In addition to Mary-Jo’s report, the only information I was about to quickly dig out about David’s presentation is this blog post on Microsoft’s Israel site. Looks like David gave the same presentation at TechEd Israel 2008. Anyone who understands Hebrew cares to translate the blog? Fortunately there is a two-minutes video (also available here) in which we can hear David talk (in English). During the second of the two minutes you’ll hear and see something that could come straight out of a SCA presentation…

For some reason, David’s TechEd Israel presentation doesn’t seem to be listed here and TechEd online tells me that “Featured videos are unavailable at this time”. That’s both for IT Professionals and Developers. But of course they forced me to install Silverlight before telling me that.

[UPDATED 2008/8/11: Here is a 14 minutes video interview of David Chappell providing an update on Oslo.]

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Filed under Application Mgmt, Automation, Conference, Desired State, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Modeling, Oslo, SCA, SML, Tech

Recent IT management announcements

There were a few announcements relevant to the evolution of IT management over the last week. The most interesting is VMware’s release of the open-source (BSD license) VI SDK, a Java API to manage a host system and the virtual machines that run on it. Interesting that they went the way of a language-specific API. The alternatives, to complement/improve their existing web services SDK, would have been: define CIM classes and implement a WBEM provider (using CIM-HTTP and/or WS-Management), use WS-Management but without the CIM part (define the model as native XML, not XML-from-CIM), use a RESTful HTTP-driven interface to that same native XML model or, on the more sci-fi side, go the MDA way with a controller from which you retrieve the observed state and to which you specify the desired state. The Java API approach is the easiest one for developers to use, as long as they can access the Java ecosystem and they are mainly concerned with controlling the VMWare entities. If the management application also deals with many other resources (like the OS that runs in the guest machines or the hardware under the host, both of which are likely to have CIM models), a more model-centric approach could be more handy. The Java API of course has an underlying model (described here), but the interface itself is not model-centric. So what with all the DMTF-love that VMWare has been displaying lately (OVF submission, board membership, hiring of the DMTF president…). Should we expect a more model-friendly version of this API in the future? How does this relate to the DMTF SVPC working group that recently released some preliminary profiles? The choice to focus on beefing-up the Java-centric management story (which includes Jython, as VMWare was quick to point out) rather than the platform-agnostic, on-the-wire-interop side might be seen by the more twisted minds as a way to not facilitate Microsoft’s “manage VMWare today to replace it tomorrow” plan any more than necessary.

Speaking of Microsoft, in unrelated news we also got a heartbeat from them on the Oslo project: a tech preview of some of the components is scheduled for October. When Oslo was announced, there was a mix of “next gen BizTalk” aspects and “developer-driven DSI” aspects. From this report, the BizTalk part seems to be dominating. No word on use of SML.

And finally, SOA Software (who was previously called Digital Evolution and who acquired Blue Titan, Flamenco and LogicLibrary, in case you’re trying to keep track) has released a “SOA Development Governance Product”. Nothing too exciting from what I can see on InfoQ about it, but that’s a pretty superficial evaluation so don’t let me stop you. Am I the only one who twitches whenever “federation” is used to mean at worst “import” or at best “synchronization”? Did CMDBf start that trend? BTW, is it just an impression or did SOA Software give InfoQ a list of the questions they wanted to be asked?

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Filed under DMTF, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Open source, Oslo, OVF, SML, Standards, Tech, Virtualization, VMware, WS-Management

Microsoft ditches SML, returns to SDM?

I gave in to the temptation of a tabloid-style title for this post, but the resulting guilt forces me to quickly explain that it is speculation and not based on any information other than what is in the links below (none of which explicitly refers to SDM or SML). And of course I work for a Microsoft competitor, so keep your skeptic hat on, as always.

The smoke that makes me picture that SML/SDM fire comes from this post on the Service Center team blog. In it, the product marketing manager for System Center Service Manager announces that the product will not ship until 2010. Here are the reasons given.

The relevant feedback here can be summarized as:

  • Improve performance
  • Enhance integration with the rest of the System Center product family and with the wider Microsoft product offering

To meet these requirements we have decided to replace specific components of the Service Manager infrastructure. We will also take this opportunity to align the product with the rest of the System Center family by taking advantage of proven technologies in use in those products

Let’s rewind a little bit and bring some context. Microsoft developed the Service Definition Model (SDM) to try to capture a consistent model of IT resources. There are several versions of SDM out there, and one of them is currently used by Operations Manager. It is how you capture domain-specific knowledge in a Management Pack (Microsoft’s name for a plug-in that lets you bring a new target type to Operations Manager). In order to get more people to write management packs that Operations Manager can consume, Microsoft decided to standardize SDM. It approached companies like IBM and HP and the SDM specification became SML. Except that there was a lot in SDM that looked like XSD, so SML was refactored as an extension of XSD (pulling in additions from Schematron) rather than a more stand-alone, management-specific approach like SDM. As I’ve argued before (look for the “XSD in SML” paragraph), in retrospect this was the wrong choice. SML was submitted to W3C and is now well advanced towards completion as a standard. Microsoft was forging ahead with the transition from SDM to SML and when they announced their upcoming CMDB they made it clear that it would use SML as its native metamodel (“we’re taking SML and making it the schema for CMDB” said Kirill Tatarinov who then headed the Service Center group).

Back to the present time. This NetworkWorld article clarifies that it’s a redesign of the CMDB part of Service Center that is causing the delay: “beta testing revealed performance and scalability issues with the CMDB and Microsoft plans to rebuild its architecture using components already used in Operations Manager.” More specifically, Robert Reynolds, a “group product planner for System Center” explains that “the core model-based data store in Operations Manager has the basic pieces that we need”. That “model-based data store” is the one that uses SDM. As a side note, I would very much like to know what part of the “performance and scalability issues” come from using XSD (where a lot of complications come from features not relevant for systems management).

Thus the “enhance integration with the rest of the System Center product family” in the original blog post reads a lot like dumping SML as the metamodel for the CMDB in favor of SDM (or an updated version of SDM). QED. Kind of.

In addition to the problems Microsoft uncovered with the Service Center Beta, the upcoming changes around project Oslo might have further weakened the justification for using SML. In another FUD-spreading blog post, I hypothesized about what Oslo means for SML/CML. This recent development with the CMDB reinforces that view.

I understand that there is probably more to this decision at Microsoft than the SML/SDM question but this aspect is the one that may have an impact not just on Microsoft customers but on others who are considering using SML. In the larger scheme of things, the overarching technical question is whether one metamodel (be it SDM, SML, MOF or something else) can efficiently be used to represent models across the entire IT stack. I am growing increasingly convinced that it cannot.

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Filed under CMDB, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Microsoft, Oslo, SML, Specs, Standards

The Oslo accords (presumably between composite application modeling and systems management)?

Microsoft introduced an umbrella project called Oslo at their SOA and Business Process conference this week. There is very little information available but it seems to have two main components: improving the ability of the Microsoft platform to support SOA-style distributed applications and improving the use of models to develop and manage applications. At first sight there isn’t anything new. The SOA talk is similar to any number of “why SOA” presentations available from dozens of companies. And the modeling aspect is the same story that Microsoft has been pitching with DSI for years. The real news is that the two stories are being linked (at least at the marketing level, which is a starting point) and that the application development people have taken over the application modeling baton from the System Center group.

Over the last few years, I worked with people from System Center on different standards related to DSI, including SML which they see as the heart of the modeling effort. One of the things that kept me skeptical when hearing the DSI pitch, was to see the System Center team making announcement and promises about how SML would be central to the development experience in Visual Studio. I am pretty sure I know who’s the gorilla and who’s the chimp at Microsoft between Visual Studio / .Net Framework on the one hand and System Center on the other. The application model is too central to the developer experience for the Visual Studio group not to own it. It looks like it’s now happening and it’s a good thing.

The only content I could find on Oslo that’s not PR fluff is a report from Directions on Microsoft which mostly talks about incremental improvements to BizTalk. Towards the end, there is a small section about a “repository” that will “provide centralized storage of composite application components”. At that point I can’t help remembering the blog post from David Chappell about why it wouldn’t make sense for Microsoft to support SCA. Through comments in his post as well as a blog post of my own, I followed-up with the assertion that the application component model also plays a very important role for management. And at the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, the Oslo announcement seems vindicate that view. I see that David was a speaker at the Microsoft conference where Oslo was announced and he has very good insights into both the application developement and the systems management efforts at Microsoft. So hopefully he’ll soon have a white paper or a blog entry out to share some insights.

If you’re wondering what this means for the technical work that has been going on under the DSI umbrella so far, you can only read the tea leaves. It could be that the application development people adopted the whole SML/CML technology stack as promoted by their System Center colleagues and are going to use it as is. Or on the other extreme, it could be a complete reset that leads to the creation of a component model that is much less general and much more application-centric. Of course, no matter which one happens (or something in the middle), it will be presented as a perfectly smooth and controlled evolution of the DSI vision (get ready for some nice spin at MMS2008). If you are adopting SML because you expect Microsoft to base its application component model on it, you might want to wait a bit until more details emerge about Oslo. For example, after calling XSD a schema language that attempts to be a floor wax, dessert topping, and personal lubricant all at the same time” you have to wonder whether Don Box would advocate to use SML (80% of which is XSD) as the most effective metamodel for an application component model…

Let’s end with this quote from the Directions on Microsoft report on Oslo, regarding application integration: “SAP and Oracle are better positioned in that regard, and so their customers will want to investigate these vendors’ composite application platforms along side Microsoft’s”. Can’t disagree with that. A good place to start this investigation would be the upcoming Oracle Open World.

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Filed under IT Systems Mgmt, Microsoft, Oslo, SCA, SML, Tech