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Q&A: Flessner discusses Microsoft’s Web services platform

Jun 04, 20036 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsMicrosoftMicrosoft Exchange

Microsoft is in a transition phase as it begins to ship and prepare for shipment the products and technology that will define its Web services platform. Paul Flessner, the senior vice president of the Windows division, sat down with Network World Senior Editor John Fontana to talk about Web services, Exchange, BizTalk and virtual servers after Flessner delivered his keynote address to open Microsoft’s annual TechEd conference.

There seems to be a lot of positioning of products going on that start to address crafting the Microsoft platform for Web services?

I really think we are coming into the Web services strategy that we have been on. Now .Net is more mature, it is more deeply integrated into the products, it is starting to fulfill the vision of Web services and it also is pushing hard on this TCO thing. It feels a lot better. We’re really rounding the corner; Windows Server 2003 is a big, big milestone for us. I think you will see this rapid succession of products over the next few years, 2003 and 2004, and a lot more about Windows Server System and integration points that we are trying to drive.

This Windows Server System, there are a lot of modules that plug in. That seems like it could turn into a nightmare for IT to start loading all those modules onto servers. What is happening there?

They don’t load anymore than they load today; you only load what you need. On one level, you saw today a list of services that are required to make Web services real [security, reliable messaging, identity management, etc.] and these are the key components that fulfill that vision. If anything it will get easier. Better installation, better configuration. We have this concept of roles in Windows Server 2003 and I can see a day when we have that going across servers so you can configure things in a way that is really optimal for usage in an entire stack. You are just going to see more integration around the stack if you will.

What’s the future of Exchange? It was built up for collaboration, then torn down. It seems like it is getting down to being almost a messaging switch?

Exchange 2003 is the next installment of the improvements on the product. The next product will be the more groundbreaking work in terms of the Kodiak release when SQL Server is underneath.  I think you will see more integration between Exchange and SPS [SharePoint Portal Server], more integration between Exchange and RTC [Real-Time Communications Server]. Integrated communication and collaboration is really the vision. So Exchange, through Web services and touch points, begins to integrate more closely with the other products in the stack.

But is Exchange then thought of as just a messaging back end?

I hate to characterize it that narrowly. Today it is messaging and calendaring. As it starts to have SQL Server underneath it and it is a complete development environment, it is kind of short sighted to say it is just mail and calendaring. I can’t perceive how the product will evolve into all the different spaces, but it is definitely clear that we believe in an integrated experience. Think of SPS almost as Exchange public folders done right. You will start to see that kind of integration.

The collaboration story seems to be centered on Office and Windows Server 2003 where as a couple of years ago it was Exchange. Are those desktop apps and that foundation server going to be the rally point for the Web services architecture and collaboration environment?

The platform in essence is Web services. I’ve said this before, Lotus Notes and Exchange kind of grew up in these parallel universes, they had their own store, which meant they had there own tool set, which meant they were constantly trying to get others to adopt that. They could never really get critical mass. Notes got more critical mass than Exchange in terms of a developer platform. But it was never a break out. Now IBM is telling users to rewrite the applets into WebSphere. Thank god we don’t have an install base [on application development], which all along I was jealous of with Lotus and now it turns out to be an asset, and honestly now there will just be Web services development for us using Visual Studio. That’s the whole platform kind of discussion.

There is a lot of hype around service oriented architectures for Web services. What is there from Microsoft to support the service-oriented architecture? Are there other pieces that you have to deliver?

Largely my talk today was about the components that we put together in the marketplace to support that [Flessner called out pieces such as Active Directory, Windows Server 2003, BizTalk/Jupiter, and standards such as XML and SOAP]. We talked about a service-oriented architecture last year and really what that is a Web services implementation.

How should IT think about Jupiter? The comparisons have been to WebSphere, is that right?

Here is how I think about it. We were out selling this thing called Content Management Server and people are building portals. And once they get the portal up they think, gee, I have to integrate this with all my other systems, and so we were selling BizTalk. And then they want to make this available to partners or customers, so they wanted Commerce Server features. What was happening was the customers and integrators were having to do the integration of those products over and over. So what was three customer scenarios became one in my mind, kind of a portal scenario. So rather than just have the integration be through the naming, which is kind of the WebSphere model, we’re going to actually integrate the products into a single product and take the systems integration out of the hands of the customers. That is the piece that IBM kind of likes to leave because they have to keep the IGS [IBM Global Services] guys busy. And we are just going to engineer a better solution.

So what do I use it for?

Portal. Business and customer portal. It is a huge market. When people integrate they integrate around portal. Originally, I thought about it as I’ll just integrate a bunch of applications in the background and let the apps be the front end. What they are doing is putting new front ends on. So they are using, they are going to use Jupiter we hope, to do the integration on the back end and then project the portal out. One product. I think it is pretty cool.

So this is your business application integration platform, Web services integration platform.

Yes, sure.

What’s happening with the Connectix acquisition, the virtual machine technology?

We just finished that acquisition about a month ago. We are not saying too much about it because we are still doing the full due diligence on the code and we we’re not sure exactly how we are going to ship it yet.