Internet Service Bus?

Joe McKendrick’s blog alerted me to Microsoft’s efforts around an “Internet Service Bus,” essentially a hosted version of BizTalk. Details are available in this Redmond Developer News article from Chris Kanaracus.

After reading both Joe’s blog and Chris’ article, this initially didn’t make much sense to me. I did the smart thing, and didn’t write a knee jerk reaction blog (only because I received a phone call), so now I’ve had time to ponder it a bit.

When I read Joe’s blog, my first thought was whether this would be a competitor to hosted integration players like Sterling Commerce. My limited understanding of one of Sterling’s offerings was essentially that it outsourced the mapping effort normally associated with B2B exchanges. They act as an external intermediary, connecting to your partners and then providing you with data in your preferred format(s) and integration technology. I then read Chris’ article and realized that this wasn’t at all what they were talking about. Quoting from a Microsoft whitepaper, Chris’ article stated:

“For example, when school is closed due to weather, a workflow kicks off. As part of that workflow, the system can notify parents, teachers, and bus drivers, as well as food service vendors, snow plow operators, and local police, using the ISB to traverse networks across these disparate organizations.”

Initially when I read this, I had my enterprise hat on and thought, “Why does this need to be hosted?” There’s absolutely no reason that I’d want hosted orchestration of services that exist inside my firewall, and there’s no reason that an internal orchestration engine can’t access services hosted outside of the firewall. Finally, however, the light bulb has come on, and it has to do with the specific example Microsoft used: a school.

I’ve previously blogged about SOA for schools (here and here). My father-in-law is a grade school principal, so I have the occasional conversation about the use of technology in school administration. Your average school is not going to be able to invest in BizTalk or any other orchestration engine, yet, as the example calls out, there’s certainly opportunities to apply orchestration. What this strategy really is a competitor to is something like Yahoo Pipes. There’s probably a broad market where significant efficiency gains can be made, but the cost of the infrastructure is not worth the investment. Is a school really going to buy BizTalk to automate a workflow that maybe occurs once or twice a year (depending on where you live)? No. This seems much better suited to a pay-per-use model. In this manner, the provider of the hosted workflow can have many, many workflows, any one of which is used infrequently at best. Think of it as the long tail of workflow. This model actually makes some sense to me. What are your thoughts?

Finally, it needs a new name. Internet Service Bus would be a disaster, because it’s not a bus, and it conveys this image of all service traffic on the Internet having to flow through it. Hosted integration doesn’t capture it either, because that’s already taken by the Sterling Commerce’s of the world. What we’re really talking about is Hosted Workflow or Hosted Orchestration. The latter would make a very bad acronym, however, just ask Don Imus. So, I’ll call it Hosted Workflow.

One Response to “Internet Service Bus?”

  • That’s essentially what we were trying to do at Grand Central. The company’s no longer around so that should be somewhat of an indicator of how viable this idea is.

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