New tools, official release dates for Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005 (finally), and a new openness from Microsoft infuse this year's Tech·Ed with new developer capabilities, new power for IT administration and management, and a clear roadmap for developmentmaking this a very good time to be a developer.
by A. Russell Jones, Executive Editor
Jun 8, 2005
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Connectivity, Connectivity, Connectivity
Ballmer's keynote was the backdrop for what is probably the most important issue during this year's Tech·Ed. Ballmer described Microsoft's vision for the future of business communication, saying that the goal is to connect people with informationa concept Microsoft marketing has translated into "The New World of Work." Trite-sounding, I know; nevertheless, for you IT administrators and developers, it is a good idea to repeat that until it becomes a deep drumbeat driving your all your development and management efforts, because, for the first time, such connections are supported by standardized technology and increasingly powerful tools. XML, XSD schema, and increasing bandwidth are driving this new connectivity, taking computer-to-computer communication beyond its initial application-to-application context and making it possible to connect any device or application, running on any platform, to any other device or application.
Microsoft, of course, has concentrated on making that connectivity usable primarilybut not exclusivelyon Windows, and on providing tools to let Windows developers take advantage of the connectivity infrastructure. Microsoft's current technology lineup emphasizes both application and enterprise modeling, which they're calling the Dynamic Systems Initiative. For applications, Ballmer explained that means "end-to-end, to think from development on through operations." For enterprises, this includes management through Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) and Systems Management Server (SMS) all modeled with XML in a language called Systems Definition Model, or SDM. Ballmer highlighted the non-proprietary nature of management tools by showing how MOM can control Sun servers as well as Windows machinesone of the first fruits of the Microsoft/Sun partnership announced last year.
This new focus on modelingand the models themselvescut across both development and operations, and Microsoft intends for organizations to use them to help solve several hitherto intractable problems, such as:
Keeping design current. Frequently, architects model applications in detail, only to find that by the time the application is halfway through development, the original model is out-of-sync with the developed code. With Team System, developers can re-sync the model against the code to keep the model up to date as an application evolves.
Providing an application test bed. By modeling the organizational IT environment, including such things as hardware, network design, operating systems, and installed software and components, Microsoft provides developers and IT personnel with tools to test applications against that model of the production environment, and thus discover problems before performing a real deployment. In addition, because you can run such tests against a variety of models, it should be conducive to helping developers to write applications that can run in a variety of possible configurations.
Increasing security. In addition to the security enhancements in the products and developer tools, the models themselves can help increase security. Because you can run the applications against an accurate (one hopes) model of the organization, you can perform security tests and fix problems early.
Encouraging unit testing. Using Visual Studio Team Test Edition, it's easy to write unit tests, in concert with development, potentially eliminating much of the wearying post-development cycle of testing, fixing bugs, and retesting forward in the development cycle, and thus making it easier to fix bugs, when the fixes have less chance of causing downstream problems.
Integrating solutions. Organizations are moving rapidly beyond the single-application mode into the arena of connected systems, often called service-oriented architecture, or SOA. Biztalk 2006, by modeling workflows and connecting the inputs and outputs from various systems, helps to build connected systems even after the individual applications have been deployed.
Simplifying management. Via MOM and SMS, administrators can deploy applications easily, monitor their performance, and apply updates or architectural changes across an organization.
To make all this work, you have to know not only what machines, applications, and components are available, but also exactly where they are at any given time, as well as adhere to security policies that describe who or what can access them. Ballmer announced that Microsoft's Active Directory is the "heart and soul of what we've done so far," and that Microsoft intends for Active Directory to be the repository for all this location and security information. Rather than building applications that are dependent on hard-coded locations for other resources, developers should query Active Directory to discover the location of such resources at runtime. Ballmer said:
"Active Directory is the tool for single sign-on; Active Directory is the tool that allows you to administer your networks and put policy really to work for you; Active Directory is the foundation for identity and advanced identity techniques, smart cards, two-factor authentication; Active Directory is the backbone for determining who gets access to the network and when."