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Volta - the future of web development on .NET?

by Udi Dahan on Dec 10, 2007 |

Microsoft Live Labs has released Volta - a technology preview of a developer toolset that will enable developers to build multi-tier web applications faster. Announced under the slogan "Web application development using only the materials in the room", Volta allows developers to target either web browsers or the desktop by handling tier-splitting under the covers.

While some have decried the black magic occurring behind the scenes, other quote Martin Fowler's First Law of Distributed Object Design:

Don't distribute your objects!

Indeed, enough has been written on the dangers of careless distribution. Dan Creswell, however, adds context to the above law which appears to bring Volta back into harmony with the distributed systems community:

Network round-trips are often considerably less costly than the time taken for a transactional database operation due to the need to forcibly log transactional operations which is very costly in terms of disk performance. i.e. network round-trips aren't always the performance bottleneck.

Microsoft explains their reasoning for releasing Volta as an "experiment" as:

[To allow] for testing of the model with customers and partners in order to gather early feedback and continually influence the direction of Live Labs technologies and concepts.

Yet this experiment comes with deep considerations around tiered deployment:

Volta automates certain low-level aspects of distributing applications across multiple tiers, allowing programmers to devote their creative energy to the distinguishing features of their applications.

Via declarative tier splitting, Volta lets developers postpone irreversible design decisions until the last responsible moment, making it faster and cheaper to change the architecture to accommodate evolving needs.

Through MSIL rewriting, Volta follows developer's declarations to turn a single-tiered application into a multi-tiered application, generating boilerplate code for communication and serialization.

Finally, the team from Live Labs is making the issues and limitations of Volta be known up front - information critical for any architect to know before employing it in a development effort:

  • The JavaScript output of the Volta compiler is not fully optimized.
  • The Volta libraries don't support multi-threading.
  • The serialization between the two tiers is not very fast.

Although not part of any technology roadmap, the impact of this vision on the future of web development on the .NET platform should not be dismissed. For more information on Volta, take a look at this video available on Channel 9: Erik Meijer: Volta - Wrapping the Cloud with .NET part 1 and part 2.

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Volta premise is problematic by Arnon Rotem-Gal-Oz

arbitrarily moving the distribution border and disregarding the fallacies of distributed computing by trying to treat the network as transparent are recipes for failure.
I explained this further on my blog

Insane by Jonathan Allen

This is just insane. It would be really cool if it works, but every fiber in my being is saying this cannot end well.

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