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Microsoft Dynamics AX '6' Coming This Year

Microsoft plans to roll out the next version of its Dynamics AX enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution in the latter part of this year, the company announced today.

That version, called Microsoft Dynamics AX code-named "6," will succeed the currently available Dynamics AX 2009 flagship product. Microsoft is promising that the new release will have an improved architecture plus the usual integration with other Microsoft products, such as Microsoft Office 2010, SharePoint 2010, SQL Server 2008 R2 and Visual Studio 2010.

With the new release, Microsoft is highlighting a "model-driven layered architecture" in Dynamics AX 6 that will benefit developers and independent software developers (ISVs).

"Dynamics AX 6 has a model-driven-layer architecture that will accelerate the application development process for our partners, enabling them to write more quickly, to do less coding and to deliver the solution more quickly," said Crispin Read, general manager of Microsoft Dynamics ERP, in a phone interview. "They [developers] are modifying models vs. writing code -- that's a big new capability, a very significant capability in AX 6."

Read noted that ISVs will be able to use this modeling capability to better extend their products to additional markets. He claimed that the new model-driven layered architecture approach was "unusual" in the ERP software industry. Traditional ERP software products have tended to drift more toward "spaghetti code" when it came to product upgrades and expansions, he claimed.

Earlier versions of Dynamics AX have been based on a layered architecture, but they have not included this modeling capability. The modeling is based on a SQL Server-based model store, Read explained.

"The layered element is really intended to separate the work that is done by the different parties involved providing a customer solution," Read said. "That's very unique, but it's been a fundamental architectural attribute of AX for some time. We certainly improved it; certainly extended it, and we made it much more fine grained in AX 6 through layering. Now, it's model driven in the sense that we now have a SQL Server-based model store, so that there'll be fewer cases where you need to write code to modify or provide application functionality. There will be more cases where you can do that by tweaking the models themselves."

"Application modeling tools enable developers to customize an application using specialized languages that are simpler than a full programming language," explained Robert Helm, managing vice president at the Directions on Microsoft consultancy, in an e-mailed response. "Modeling can make writing customizations simpler than programming, which is how it's done today. Modeling can also make customizations easier to deploy, update and migrate to new application versions than code would be."

Microsoft dropped pushing through its Oslo repository for modeling, according to a September announcement. Instead, it now leans toward each of its solutions having its own model and data store, with Open Data Protocol (ODATA) and Entity Data Model (EDM) used for sharing and federation, explained Mike Ehrenberg, a Microsoft technical fellow.

"Consistent with that, Microsoft Dynamics AX '6' does provide its own model store -- and per the announcement, a very sophisticated one," Ehrenberg stated in an e-mailed response. "First, the model store has moved from the file system to SQL Server in this release, improving scalability, model reporting, and deployment. Layering in the model store allows efficient support of a base model, extended for localization, industry specialization, and on top of that, ISV vertical specialization, reseller and customer specialization, with the ability to model very granular changes and effectively manage the application deployment lifecycle from ISV through to customer and the upgrade process. We provide a service interface to the model store, and it is possible to layer ODATA or EDM on that service."

Read cited three main benefits for ISVs that will come with the Dynamics AX 6 release. Products will be able to get to market faster, ISVs will be able to expand their marketing and they'll be able to reduce their lifecycle investment costs, he said. Read explained that Microsoft Dynamics AX is targeted toward addressing five markets, including retail, distribution, manufacturing, services and the public sector. The solution initially will be designed for 38 countries.

Microsoft plans to hold a technical conference in about a week to show Dynamics AX 6 to its partners, Read said. A community technical preview is planned for February. General availability of Dynamics AX 6 is expected in the third quarter of this year.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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