UPDATE: Sun, Oracle, Fujitsu to push Web services reliability spec

Setting the stage for another potential battle over Web services standardization, Sun Microsystems Inc., Fujitsu Ltd., and Oracle Corp. on Thursday announced a specification for Web services reliability, sans participation from rivals IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp. An IBM official, however, expressed a willingness to consider the specification.

The Web Services Reliability (WS-Reliability) specification is intended to help accelerate adoption of Web services by promoting linking of applications and data via standard interfaces. WS-Reliability features extensions of simple open access protocol (SOAP) intended to provide for guaranteed Web services delivery, eliminate message duplication, and provide for message ordering.

“We believe that this specification removes one of the two major adoption barriers that exist today for Web services, those barriers being a lack of security and the lack of a reliable messaging model,” said Ed Julson, group marketing manager for Java and Web services at Sun, in Santa Clara, Calif.

WS-Reliability provides for quality of service for Web services at the application level rather than at the transport level, said Tom Rutt, a Fujitsu consulting engineer, based in Asbury Park, N.J.

An analyst applauded WS-Reliability but added it may compete with an alternate proposal by IBM, dubbed HTTPR. IBM and Microsoft have not been invited to participate in WS-Reliability development thus far, but will be able to do so when the proposal is submitted to a standards body shortly, according to Julson and Rutt.

“It’s a specification that’s in an area of much need for Web services,” said analyst Dwight Davis, vice-president of Summit Strategies Inc., in Kirkland, Wash. “Web services are nice in theory but not very good in practice unless you can assure that the messages are actually getting through when you send them.”

But the lack of participation by IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp. in WS-Reliability could hinder adoption and set up another competitive scenario, he acknowledged.

“That’s always a possibility [when] the two big heavyweights of Web services aren’t participating at this point,” Davis said. IBM and Microsoft thus far have set the agenda in Web services specifications, ranging from establishing the core foundations of SOAP, UDDI, and WSDL and moving into higher-level specifications such as WS-Security, he said.

“If [WS-Reliability] proves to be a well-designed specification, I would hope that Microsoft and IBM would lend their support to it,” Davis said. “There’s been plenty of movement the other way, with IBM and Microsoft proposing the specifications and expecting everyone else to rally around [them].”

WS-Reliability will be submitted to a standards body on a royalty-free basis, Rutt said. He and Julson would not say which one but did say it would be one that has been involved in Web services standards development. That would make the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) the likely candidates.

IBM, Microsoft, and BEA Systems Inc. have not been invited to participate in WS-Reliability thus far because of what Julson and Rutt termed differences of philosophies on royalty-free specifications and commitment to open standards. They cited the current IBM-Microsoft-BEA proposal for choreographing interactions between Web services, dubbed Business Process Execution Language for Web Services (BPEL4WS), which has yet to be submitted to a standards body. IBM and BEA have committed to a royalty-free stance on BPEL4WS, however.

The BPEL4WS proposal was announced in August 2002, shortly after the unveiling of Sun’s own choreography proposal, Web Services Choreography Interface (WSCI), which has been submitted to the W3C.

IBM’s Bob Sutor, director of Web Services Technology, in Somers, N.Y., on Thursday expressed the company’s willingness to consider WS-Reliability.

“Would we support this as absolutely the final answer, with no [more] work ever? I would say no. It needs industry inspection,” Sutor said.

“We’re absolutely willing to be open-minded about it,” said Sutor.

IBM officials have done a quick review of WS-Reliability and believe it has been largely derived from the ebXML (electronic business XML) specification, which has featured input from IBM employees, according to Sutor.

IBM’s HTTPR specification, Sutor said, could complement WS-Reliability rather than compete with it, he said. HTTPR is intended to provide for reliable messaging via extending HTTP, he said.

Sutor also said a submission of BPEL4WS to a standards organization is expected in one to two months.

Microsoft declined to comment on WS-Reliability on Wednesday, as did BEA.

In another incident demonstrating division in Web services standardization, Microsoft, IBM, BEA, Oracle, and others last February formed the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I), minus Sun. Sun since has announced its participation. An Oracle representative said on Thursday that Oracle always supported Sun’s participation.

Other participants in the WS-Reliability effort include Hitachi Ltd., NEC Corp., and Sonic Software Corp.