Monday, August 07, 2006

Further on the SML debate

Harry Pierson and Pratul Dublish from Microsoft have written about my earlier post about SML. Before I respond I should clarify one thing. My message was not intended as an attack on SML. I am sure is a solid piece of work. I just asked - why should we care ?

The summary of their message for me is that the specification solves real deployment related issues today and is something that Microsoft will likely use to build some tools for its technology stack and roll into future products. I did mention that I can see this being useful for some tool vendors so I won't contest that. What I don't see the value of is how this is of use as a wider industry-wide specification. Do I think it is a good idea for Microsoft to invest in developments that ease some of the deployment pain a large part of which is due to the overly complex nature of its underlying platform ? Absolutely. Do I think this is the start of an industry drive towards "Service Modeling Languages" ? Absolutely not. Does this language have a future ( or past) outside Microsoft ? I don't think so. The main reason for my scepticism is that in deployment related problems need to be tackled by platform simplification rather than by inventing tools to manage dependencies. Developments in virtualisation tools already give us enough tools to run 'what-if' deployment scenarios to a far greater degree of richness and control so the problem has other solutions as well.

On a related theme, I find is odd that Microsoft has chosen to invest in 'modeling tools and specification languages' as a means of tackling the fundamental issue of deployment complexity largely due to the difficulty in dependency management. I suspect their investment is better directed towards removing the underlying fragmentation and complexity from their OS products - this is what causes dependency hell in the first place. Modeling can help people get to grips with managing the complexity, which is laudable. But it does nothing to remove the underlying problem - Microsoft's infrastructure software ( OS, databases, code frameworks (.NET) ) should probably have a simpler way of dealing with deployment related dependencies.

I do care that Microsoft is creating tooling to help in an area that causes a lot of pain on its platform. At the same time ,I have to confess to not caring very much about the specification itself and I just don't see the drivers for industry wide adoption - and by industry wide I mean solutions built on non Microsoft stacks.

In my view this drive to create industry-standards has a tendency to get out of hand very rapidly. Just witness the utter carnage the WS-* specifications have wrought on simplicity and common sense. The combined WS-* specification suite has just exploded by people adding richness to a basic framework without actual needs for it bubbling up from the wider user community ( thus causing a reaction with a rediscovery of REST). These cycles are not uncommon in software, simple frameworks start small and then as soon as they start being associated with the dreaded phrase 'industry standard' , they rapidly proceed up their own collective posteriors and get bloated and unusable - causing a simpler, stripped down version to emerge. The cycle then repeats.

Arguably a similar thing happened on the java stack with EJBs and Spring and hibernate.

What's the summary ? I'm sure SML is an intellectually robust specification that will really help Microsoft tools behave consistently and offer some value in addressing migration and deployment related concerns on the MS platform. At this point, I just don't see this getting widespread adoption outside Microsoft.


Anonymous Michael Platt said...

Whilst I am not claiming for a minute that Microsoft has a great end to end story for management I dont think that the non Microsoft platform is that great either; managing J2EE apps is a non trival task. Given that no one is good at management (and I accept your point that simplification is the best answer but thats not where we are starting from) then standards like SML seem like a good idea.
Incedentally I think that Virtualisation will make the management problem worse rather than better.

6:45 pm  

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