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The Connected Business: The Microsoft Approach to SOA
Gain an understanding of Microsoft's approach to service-oriented architectures and how they relate to building a more connected business with .NET.

October 1, 2004

This white paper is based on an informal discussion with Dave Mendlen, director of Web services marketing at Microsoft.

In early 2003, Dr. Michael Howie, chair of the department of anesthesiology at Ohio State University (OSU) Medical Center, wanted to explore how technology could improve how a patient's vital signs are recorded during surgery—specifically, he wanted to collect more data with less effort and get it into the hands of the medical staff more quickly—all in the name of better care for the patients. This was no small challenge; past attempts to get the various standalone systems to work together had been largely unsuccessful. The resulting solutions the team had tried were too rigid, fragile, and difficult to troubleshoot.

The best solution, they found, was to build a service-oriented, "connected system," using Web services. By using Microsoft tools and software, they were able to build a highly flexible, modular system that quickly exceeded their expectations. "The genius of the solution lies in its simplicity," said Dr. Howie. "By connecting isolated islands of information in a loosely coupled manner, we're able to realize a solution that is both extremely useful and infinitely extensible. I can think of dozens of ways that we can extend our new solution, with each delivering some new capability that will make us more effective on a daily basis."

Service-oriented architectures (SOAs) are the hot topic in information technology today. Technical advances and the emergence of Web services have played a part in the increased popularity of this type of systems architecture in addition to a healthy dose of marketing and hype.

The concept of delivering a service and building it into your system architecture is not new. The emergence of Web services—a collection of standards-based protocols for the delivery of a service through the Web—has made it easier to implement this type of architecture. But service-oriented architectures in and of themselves don't solve business problems. The developer's goal in creating applications and technologies must generally be rooted in an overall goal either to further knowledge in general (academic) or to help a business or organization reach its goals (make money). IT architectures must be addressed on these terms: How do they help your business, and you, succeed? For a business, it means getting the right information to the right people in a way they can act on it. It means a more connected business.

Take for example Dr. Howie's group at the OSU Medical Center. This is a group that includes a College of Medicine and Public Health, five hospitals, two research institutes, and more than 30 community-based care facilities. Because of the nature of its business, OSU Medical Center uses a number of different proprietary systems to gather and collate data about its patients, such as vital signs data generated in operating rooms and intensive care units. OSU Medical Center wanted to make this data more readily available to authorized users so that they could make better decisions about patient care and medication. The problem wasn't how to access the data stored in the proprietary network; it was how to get that information into the hands of the right anesthesiologists, at the right time, so they could use it.

OSU developed a connected business solution using .NET called operating room-eye (OR-eye). Using the Web Services Enhancements 2.0 runtime and the Microsoft .NET Framework, OSU created a loosely coupled, service-oriented architecture to securely expose the vital information for access by remote smart client applications. This system exposes data to desktop computers, laptops, or tablet PCs through a smart client application (see Figure 1); a version based on the .NET Compact Framework also delivers data to Pocket PC devices. The architecture in use at the Center is based on Web service standards and provides complete and secured access to the data (see Figure 2).

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