Sun taps partner to deploy Web services

Sun Microsystems Inc. is using internally some of the software for building and deploying Web services that it is pitching to customers, a sign that Sun may be catching up with offerings already available as part of Microsoft Corp.’s competing .Net initiative.

San Francisco-based Talaris Corp. will announce this week that Sun has agreed to use its set of Web services to allow Sun employees to plan travel itineraries, book reservations and receive personalized alerts on their wireless devices from service providers such as car rental companies.

The service was built using Sun’s Java programming language, uses the Java Message Service for its connection architecture, and runs on the Solaris operating system.

The deal is significant because it marks one of the first instances of Sun putting its Internet platform to work to build the type of Web services that could one day help boost productivity for consumers and business professionals. The services from Talaris also offer an example of the type of computing systems Sun expects its customers to build on their own.

For instance, an employee could query the Talaris Web service about planning a travel itinerary and be presented with a list of flight times, car rental options and hotel reservations. Once the employee settles on an itinerary, the service could make the reservations and insert the information into his or her Web-based calendar. If an itinerary changes – for instance, if a flight is delayed – the service could update the calendar and send an e-mail alert to anyone who might be affected by the change.

“These are very useful services that will allow us to save quite a bit of time and reduce the need for mobile users to have to always go back to corporate to find resources,” said Shahram Moradpour, director of market development at Sun. “It can do things like manage group calendars, access travel services and book conference rooms at various campuses that Sun has around the world.”

Sun will deploy the Internet-based software initially to about 300 of its mobile employees by the end of December.

The deal comes two weeks after Sun announced during its Web service conference that it will market Talaris’ Web service to its customers. The software was designed to run well Sun’s Solaris operating system and also makes use of products from its iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions subsidiary. Together, the products comprise a large part of Sun’s Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) Web services platform.

“For Sun, it makes absolute sense that it would look to third parties for Web service applications,” said David Smith, an analyst with Gartner Inc. who follows Web services development. “Something like this does at least begin to address some of Sun’s deficiencies.”

Some analysts have criticized Sun for lagging behind Microsoft in delivering components of its software platform for building Web services. Microsoft already has some early Web services built into its MSN Internet properties and its Windows Messenger software.

“I think they are more than a little behind Microsoft,” Smith said. “Microsoft pretty much has been able to be way out in front in (setting) the entire Web services agenda.”

Sun and Microsoft share a similar goal of providing software that allows disparate business applications to talk to each other over the Internet, and for data to be stored on the Internet and accessed from a variety of devices. However, they take a different approach to the underlying technology that should be used. Microsoft is releasing an entire line of .Net enterprise servers and outfitting its desktop operating system and Web sites to host .Net services. Sun, meanwhile, says it is pursuing a more open architecture that draws on software from various vendors.

One reason Sun may be lagging slightly, analysts said, is because unlike Microsoft, Sun has mostly removed itself from offering the user-facing services that will run on Sun ONE, such as those being developed by Talaris.

“Sun has never wanted to be in the applications space,” said Patrick Grady, chief executive of Talaris. “They are an evangelist for Web services – they believe in an open architecture.”

Sun’s partnership with Talaris also provides one of the first examples of how Sun plans to develop its Web services strategy moving forward, by looking to third-party software makers to develop applications using Sun ONE.

“Talaris was a great embodiment of the kind of vision we had around Web services, because they’re the ones actually deploying these services on demand,” Sun’s Moradpour said. “It really is Sun ONE in action.”

Microsoft, by contrast, is providing not just software to let companies build Web services on their own, but also offering Web services based on .Net. At the core of this push is .Net My Services, which can be used by consumers and businesses for managing a group calendar, making purchases and storing files on the Web that can be accessed from a range of devices. .Net My Services was unveiled in October and is due for widespread release next year.

Microsoft’s lead over Sun in Web services may also be due to its early involvement in developing of Web services standards such as WSDL (Web Services Description Language) and XML (Extensible Markup Language), Smith said. Until recently, “Sun has been absolutely unwilling to go along with anything that Microsoft is behind, and that is to their detriment,” he said.

Recently, Sun has begun to explain to customers its vision for how it expects Web services to be built and deployed across Sun ONE. It relies on many of those industry standards being pushed by Microsoft.

Talaris’ Web services and software comply with Sun’s J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) standards and are 100 per cent Java-based, the company said. The offerings also rely on XML, Voice XML, SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), and other industry-standard technologies in the emerging Web services space.

The services can be accessed from a variety of devices including Research in Motion Ltd.’s Blackberry, Palm Inc. handhelds, phones that support WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) and any device running Microsoft’s Windows CE or Pocket PC software, Talaris said. Users can also access the services from a Web browser, including Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, or via a “voice portal” from a regular telephone, according to the company.

While it has closely aligned itself with Sun, Talaris’ applications will also work with companies building their infrastructure with .Net and similar platforms from smaller software companies.

In addition to the basic services, Talaris’ technology can be used to bring higher-level business applications to connected devices, including salesforce automation and conference call applications, according to Grady. “We’ve taken a different implementation approach than our friends in Redmond,” he said. “We’re doing some really tough, ugly enterprise stuff.”

Talaris can be reached at Sun can be reached at