ITXPO: Gartner grades the Web services standards

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLA. – Gartner Inc. analyst Larry Perlstein on Tuesday issued something of a report card on the forthcoming set of core Web services standards here at Gartner’s Symposium/ITxpo conference.

Perlstein’s grading included what form the core low-level de facto set of protocols for Web services, SOAP, WSDL, and UDDI, as well as some of the protocols that are emerging higher up the stack including BPEL4WS (Business Process Execution Language for Web Services).

Perlstein also graded two of the so-called standards bodies involved in Web services, the WS-I (Web Services Interoperability Organization) being led by Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp., and BEA Systems Inc., and the Liberty Alliance, spearheaded by Sun Microsystems Inc.

Beginning with SOAP, which received a grade of Strong Positive, the highest mark Perlstein handed out, he said that its strengths include broad vendor support, broad tool support, and is relatively easy to use.

On the other hand, SOAP is still a specification, and as such has lots of security holes and scalability issues.

“The best thing about it is that it’s simple,” Perlstein said. “Incompatible implementations are a concern, though I suspect the market will weed that out.”

He added that the growing complexity may raise concerns in the future. But by 2007, SOAP will be used in approximately 60 per cent of all new development projects.

Perlstein gave WSDL, the specification for describing Web services, a Positive rating, for some of the same reasons as SOAP, most notably broad vendor support and growing tool support, as well as the fact that it is implementation-independent.

“It’s a generic technology that sits on top of whatever you happen to be using,” he said.

WSDL’s weaknesses include varying version support, complexity, and its status still as a specification that he predicted won’t emerge from the W3C until the end of 2003.

“We’re seeing a little fragmentation between the vendors, and what they’re going to do with it,” Perlstein added.

UDDI received the lowest mark of the three low-level specifications, a grade of Promising, and Perlstein cited limited adoption and tools support as well as the specification not being in W3C as the reasons.

“This is the one layer where people are most confused. There’s angst about it,” he said, adding that the hype far outweighs the reality of what can be done with UDDI.

There are strengths to UDDI, however, including growing vendor support, the recent move to OASIS standards body, and advancements being made to the specification.

Gartner expects that in the 2004-2005 timeframe, when versions 4 and 5 of UDDI emerge, public use of UDDI will begin, while internal use is beginning earlier and should continue to grow.

“We don’t see a good alternative to it at the moment,” Perlstein said.

Higher up the Web services stack, Perlstein gave BPEL4WS a Promising rating, and called it the “worst-named specification.”

BPEL4WS’ strengths include the combination of technologies it inherited when subsuming Microsoft’s XLang and IBM’s WSFL (Web Services Flow Language) and the fact that it standardizes process logic and interaction.

“The biggest threat is that a single standard is just not achievable. It might happen, but online in proprietary scenarios,” Perlstein said.

In 2005, Gartner predicts that companies will be dealing with multiple implementations.

Perlstein also graded the Liberty Alliance and WS-I, giving a Promising and Positive mark, respectively.

He said Liberty’s strengths are Sun’s leadership, the open alternative to Passport, and the idea that multiple IDs increase anonymity. Its weaknesses are that it competes with Passport, is still a specification, and that it has not incorporated with WS-I.

WS-I’s strengths are a solid charter and deliverables, as well as the vendors’ ability to speed adoption of the specification.

The biggest issue with each of the organizations is that Sun is leading one, and Microsoft the other.

“The war between Sun and Microsoft seems to be making progress. But history has shown that rivalry doesn’t end easily,” Perlstein said.

He ended by saying that companies should not wait for the final standards before embarking on Web services projects.

“Don’t sit around waiting for everything to be finalized. If you do that, you’ll be waiting forever,” Perlstein said.