Sun dismisses Hailstorm as just one piece of puzzle

Hailstorm might be Microsoft Corp.’s answer to the challenge of delivering Web services, but according to Sun Microsystems Inc. executives, it’s merely one component in a much larger picture.

This latest shot in an escalating battle over Web services development has seen Sun officials argue the “federated” approach of the Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) architecture is at odds with chief rivals Microsoft and IBM Corp., both of which are attempting to become service providers in their own right.

The comments come at a time when Microsoft prepares to ship Windows XP to OEMs this Friday, containing the single sign-on authentication service known as Passport. Passport is a key plank of Microsoft’s HailStorm initiative for Web services, an XML-based technology for combining islands of data across the Internet.

In a series of interviews this week with InfoWorld editors, company officials said the Sun ONE framework is designed to attract partners who will act as service providers to manage and authenticate enterprise services.

It’s an approach that will see Sun concentrate on the supplying the underlying architecture that drives Web services, said Marge Breya, Sun ONE vice-president, who oversees marketing and strategic development of the program.

“We would offer basic technology, while services will be offered by independent vendors,” Breya said. “The service providers do the authenticating (necessary for Web services).

“We are a technology-enabling company,” she said. “Service providers build their own infrastructure. (Microsoft’s) Hailstorm builds its own infrastructure. But we don’t believe any one company can serve as service brokers (for enterprises). The bottom line is there has to be a ton of different service brokers.”

Greg Papadopoulos, Sun’s CTO, also weighed into the debate, drawing a large box to represent Sun ONE’s Web services model, subsets of which contained Microsoft’s Hailstorm beside other online “yellow pages”-type registries including credit card operators, governments, and GSM operators.

“You can’t keep thinking things will scale from one point,” Papadopoulos said, with reference to centralized models like Hailstorm, IBM’s Eliza Project, or peer-to-peer sites.

As a result, Sun’s Web services strategy will continue to focus on delivering enterprise users as single “best-of-breed” solution that consists of all Sun technology, or other Web application offerings from the likes of BEA as needed.

“Corporate accounts want one throat to choke,” said Gina Centoni, senior director or Sun ONE product marketing.

Under this approach, Breya said Sun offers its Solaris Operating system; Java Enterprise Edition (the J2EE server version of Java); development tools; and packaged applications so that service providers can adapt the platform for particular enterprise needs.

Breya said Web services will be deployed the way Visa now provides credit cards to customers. Sun will provide the technology foundation for a service provider to develop security and authentication offerings in much the same was as credit card companies.

Also critical to this “federated view” of Web services is the use of XML and Java-based specifications, Breya said. Emerging standards including XML, UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration), SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), and WSDL (Web Services Description Language) will soon become commonplace.

Meanwhile, analysts believe it is difficult at this early stage to judge the degree of success among Web services offerings. One analyst argues much of the discussion about Web services is still vague and intended to attract attention to as yet undeveloped services.

“It’s what I call Marchitecture (half marketing lingo, half true architecture),” said Tony Piccardi, senior vice-president of Global Software for International Data Corp. (IDC) in Framingham, Mass.

But Microsoft, through Hailstorm, is trying to attract customers to its entire .NET platform, including Windows, Passport, and its Web services applications, said Dave Smith, vice-president of Internet strategies for Gartner, in Stamford, Conn. “Sun, IBM, and Microsoft are all saying, ‘Let’s see how many people we can attract to our platform,'” Smith said.

Still, there are differences among the companies developing Web services, said Dana Gardner, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group, in Boston.

“Sun is primarily providing picks and shovels and the underlying hardware for Web services, while Microsoft is saying they will put up Web services for you, including passport user ID as well as the other dozen or so services of Hailstorm,” he said. “IBM is much closer to the Sun approach, except that IBM is also espousing the need for professional services in order to be able to do Web services.”

Microsoft and IBM were not immediately available for comment.