Dragonfly Biz Rules to Aid .Net Services

Microsoft Corp. is developing business rules engine technology that could become one of the company's core .Net services.

Microsoft Corp. is developing business rules engine technology that could become one of the companys core .Net services.

The technology, code-named Dragonfly, promises developers more flexibility in building and maintaining business applications, particularly Web services.

Chris Atkinson, vice president of Microsofts .Net Enterprise Server Product Management Group, would not address Dragonfly directly but said in general business rules engine technology is key to the Redmond, Wash., companys .Net strategy for delivering XML Web services.

"Its very strategic ... as you move to a point where you want to move beyond simple point-to-point [application interaction], and you want to start orchestrating a business process from partner A to partner B to partner C," Atkinson said during an interview at the Line56 Live Conference in New York. "Since you have longer-lasting transactions spanning multiple parties, what we want are different options, like if the answer is A, then go to this partner; if its B, go to that partner. You need to start building those rules in so they more accurately reflect the more complex transactions."

Business rules engines enable enterprises to separate the business rules from the rest of the application code, so users can make modifications to business logic without touching the actual application code. This lets nonprogrammers make modifications, which is particularly important in Web services, where flexibility is a must.

"Essentially, what [a business rules engine] does is things like the orchestration technology in BizTalk Server," Atkinson said. "[The technology] allows business process analysts to sit down and define business rules, and then essentially those business rules get translated by BizTalk Server into an XML program that executes it into the data. So the business analyst doesnt have to go down into the bowels of writing XML code; the code essentially is generated from the business process server."

Indeed, sources close to Microsoft said a goal of Dragonfly is "full BizTalk integration."

However, David Washca, product manager in Microsofts developer division, said Dragonfly is merely an internal code name "for the team thats working on a future version of BizTalk."

Still, sources said Dragonfly is business rules engine technology that will be used in MSCRM, a customer relationship management offering the company is expected to release in March. It is also likely to be included in upcoming Office .Net and Microsofts Great Plains applications, sources said.

"Business rules are important to any Web service, but the question is how to code them," said Joshua Greenbaum, an analyst with Enterprise Applications Consulting, in Daly City, Calif. "A separate rules engine allows rules to be coded, reused and scaled as needed. But most developers hard code their rules in Java, HTML or other such languages without a formal rules engine."

Rikki Kirzner, an analyst at International Data Corp., in Mountain View, Calif., said maintenance of business rules is important in Web services strategies, but a business rules engine is only one way to go about it. Unified Modeling Language or model-designed architectures will work as well, via products such as Rational Software Corp.s Rational Rose modeling tool, Kirzner said.

Nicholas Robbe, technical marketing manager at Ilog Inc., a business rule components vendor, said business rules technology is "absolutely strategic to Web services," particularly to .Net, as the latter is increasingly used as a Web services platform. A rules engine "enables rapid deployment and modification of business logic and drives down the cost of integration of components and applications," Robbe said.

Ilog, a Mountain View company that sells business rules technology for Java systems supporting the Java 2 Enterprise Edition framework and for Microsofts native C++, is "obviously looking at .Net and putting resources behind it," he said. "It is a logical step for us."

Sources said Dragonflys value add in business applications include separating policy from code, rapid morphing, easy instrumentation and auditing. The company has also built a Dragonfly application to show its core technologies and integrate them into Office .Net.