Web services still challenged by standards

InfoWorld (US)

Web services integration technology remains subject to a plethora of standardization efforts and competing interests, panelists noted during the Web Services Edge 2003 West conference here recently.

Pondering a published report that cites politics and greed holding up development of Web services, panelist Michael Champion, an advisory research and development specialist at Software AG, cited complexity as another issue.

“The first thing I’d say is they left inherent complexity off the list and this is just very, very hard stuff,” Champion said. “There’s no doubt politics is a real issue,” as well as ego, he said.

“Maybe I’ll blame the marketing people for raising expectations that Web services were just going to be magic a couple years ago, but it’s really hard to point the finger at the standards people who are trying to slog through this to try to find out what it really means in some sort of consensual way,” said Champion. He serves as co-chairman of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Services Architecture working group and also serves on the standards development organization’s Web services choreography group.

Toufek Boubez, CTO at Layer 7 Technologies, said marketing efforts in the Web services standards process can actually make the process go too fast.

“There’s as much marketing in Web services standards as there is technology,” Boubez said.

Panelists and moderator Anne Thomas Manes, who is research director at Burton Group, noted competing Sun Microsystems Inc.-Oracle Corp. and IBM Corp.-Microsoft Corp. camps emerging in efforts to standardize elements of Web services such as reliable messaging and transactions.

Panelist Edward Cobb, vice-president of architecture and standards at BEA Systems Inc., said competition in standards is not inherently bad. “A lot of the easy problems in standardization have been solved,” as demonstrated by the industry’s embracing of WSDL and SOAP, according to Cobb.

“The areas that we’re trying to standardize now are really from a technology perspective much less mature,” such as business process engineering and reliable messaging, he said.

“I don’t view the competition as necessarily bad,” Cobb said. “I think in the long run, technical people are inclined to do the right things.”

He suggested more consumer involvement in Web services standardization and less dominance by vendors. Boubez responded that most users do not have the time or resources to participate on standards bodies.

Panelist Edwin Khodabakchian, CEO of Collaxa, said vendors recognize integration is a challenge and that they should work together to increase the size of the application integration “pie.” But vendors also want to protect their own interests, he said.

Standards are not about innovation, however. “At the end of the day, we always see convergence,” Khodabakchian said.

Manes and panelists noted disparate efforts in business process engineering, such as the Web Services Choreography Interfaces (WSCI) proposed by Sun, and the Microsoft- and IBM-led Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) for Web services.

Panelists also pondered differences between the two schools of technology submissions for standards usage: royalty-free submissions and reasonable and non-discriminatory (RAND), meaning the vendor can collect a royalty but not discriminate against anyone.

“It’s a really messy thing that has made a lot of us who have no legal training become experts in patent law,” Cobb said.