Microsoft's strategy and vision for Dynamics AX and SOA
I recently had the pleasure of taking the time and talk with Microsoft Senior Product Manager for Microsoft Dynamics AX, Lachlan Cash.
The focus of this interview was driven actually by the recent Microsoft SOA & Business Process Conference held recently. One of the sessions was on 'Dynamics AX & SOA' presented by Leslie Sistla of Microsoft.
I contacted Leslie about this presentation and she was kind enough to get Lachlan and myself together to discuss Dynamics AX, SOA and Microsoft strategy and vision for these topic area's.
Here is the result of that interview:
Brandon - Recently Microsoft hosted their SOA conference, and one of the topics was Dynamics AX and SOA. The session covered a good bit of technologies, and goals. If you could sum up though, in a paragraph or two, what would be the core message that you were trying to get across with this recent session?
LC - "I think the key things that we think about in Dynamics when we talk about SOA is ease of integration and customization of the business application. To this point SOA has been about connecting systems together, we think that it has more a place with-in the application as a fundamental shift in the way business logic is written and designed. This is a long term strategy to make it easier for our customers and partners to adapt the business application to their needs and integrate with other line of business applications. Today we have a very good customization story around AX, and we think we can make it a lot better with adding SOA."
Brandon - Recently Microsoft has started a new trend with ‘____ for the masses’ tags for describing goals and approaches for technologies and platforms. For example the move for taking PerformancePoint and making it part of the SharePoint offerings, was tagged as a move to start a ‘BI for the masses’ approach. Is Microsoft also trying to offer ‘SOA integration for the masses’ or ‘BPM for the masses’ with their approach to Dynamics AX and SOA?
LC - "We have to look at the roles and people that work with a business application and work on implementing it for customers. SOA today isn’t for the masses. Do business users benefit? Yes, if it helps bring new features and new functionality to the application they use. SOA is for developers and will be for developers. So SOA brings new ways to build and integrate systems with Dynamics AX. This in-turn brings new capabilities for business users."
Brandon - With SOA, so many different technologies are used. In Dynamics AX alone, you can choose many paths to achieve such offers. Custom web services and .Net assemblies with X++. AIF, BizTalk, etc. With so many paths to take, and so many different possibilities of connecting technologies and platforms, can you provide us with insight into the desired directions or paths and clear choices of when and why for those different paths?
LC - "Our strategy with AX is simple, we are following Microsoft’s overall strategy with the .NET Framework. This includes Windows Communication Framework (WCF) and Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF). In AX 3.0 we had the Commerce Gateway which provided a integration to BizTalk and provided some basic functionality. We started in AX 4.0 to build a better integration framework and introduced an adapter for BizTalk. Then AIF evolved more in AX 2009 to be a generic integration piece of technology for working with WCF based services. This lessens the needs for a specific BizTalk adapter as we can adapt adapters that are in WCF and use WCF as the Enterprise Services Bus to move data between systems that have WCF adapters like BizTalk. We will continue to evolve the AIF as we go into AX 6.0 to unify integration around the .NET Framework, and the rest of the Microsoft stack. "
Brandon - With doing architectural design of Solutions that span platforms and technologies, with Dynamics AX at the heart of such designs. What types of layout considerations and investmest can customer make in current technology and platform offerings from Microsoft that will enable solutions today, that will also give them a clear path and correct stepping stone for the road map of the future?
LC - "The overall goal of Microsoft is to make sure and be driven by the ecosystem that surronds Dynamics. We have had the ability to watch other companies, take and make major changes in the technical nature of how things are addressed and developed. In doing so we have seen how hard it has been for the customers of these other companies that are now on their legacy systems to upgrade. It's a huge jump.
Instead Microsoft focuses on making sure the changes we make evolve rather than be major changes which can cause an upgrade to be a major decision for an existing customer.
Investing in Dynamics AX, .Net, WCF, WFF, BizTalk and the rest of the Microsoft stack today, means that in the next releases there will be clear paths for upgrading. So building solutions today with Microsoft's current offerings will be the right direction for making an investment for the future."
Brandon - You have mentioned a lot of the technologies that surrond Dynamics AX and make up the Microsoft stack. Since this is the case, and your point about evolving is the focus. What about the .Net business connector / External Connector used to connect .Net managed code to an AOS. It's not managed code right now, and it's lacking in some respects. What or when will this change to offer a more direct, native interaction from say a custom .Net assembly?
LC - "As stated in the previous question and answer, Microsoft's strategy is to evolve. We don't want to make a total change and cause a bottle neck in the upgrade process.
Instead our focus for AX 6.0 is developing new tools, and technologies that allow for better managed interop for Dynamics AX and the External Connector. That will be the focus for this area. Offering better interop between Dynamics AX and .Net, with focusing on WCF as the service bus that facilitates these integrations."
Brandon - Looking at this from the other direction, in what version of Dynamics AX will X++ become a managed language? When will it become a .Net framework language?
LC - "There have been a good bit of prototypes around making X++ a .Net language. In making it a managed language. What we have to look at is what would be gained from such a port?
Microsoft is the biggest user base of X++, with a very large amount of developers working with it. The focus is more on how to improve the interop between X++ and calling to the outside world.
Because this is the case, and so much business logic is tied into X++, it will most likely not ever get ported to become a managed language. It will also not ever be going away, and it will stay as the language used to develop for Dynamics AX.
The whole focus coming out over the next releases will be SOA, via WCF services. That is the key, and doing that will enable better interop, and offer more flexibility and offer more ability to developers and ISV to interact with the rest of the Microsoft stack and custom .Net applications."
This is some great information, and a lot for all of us to dig into. This information will also be talked about and covered at this years Convergence in New Orleans. Lachlan Cash will be there attending a lot of the sessions and also doing demo's in some of the keynote speeches that will focus on some of the technology directions and advancements for Dynamics AX. I recommend, if you have the chance, to stop and talk with Lachlan. Make sure to tell him I sent you! (Convergence 2009 Web site)
Also check out the a demo that was done by Lacklan at the EMEA Convergence this year: Line of Business Demo - EMEA Convergence 2009
Check back soon as I continue further into this Dynamics World. Also this summer I will be re-visiting Lachlan to pick his brain about Dynamics AX 6.0 release and some of the features that were talked about in the above.
I want to thank Lachlan and Leslie for taking the time and talking with me. This conversatin really has my mind thinking about all kinds of things. See you next time!
The link to Microsoft's page on the SOA conference can be found here:
Microsoft SOA & Business Process - Conference Page
A direct link to the PowerPoint that was used for the Dynamics AX & SOA session presented by Leslie Sistla can be found here:
Dynamics AX & SOA - Session PowerPoint File.
"Visit the Dynamics AX Community Page today!"