WS-I offers glimpse into its Web services efforts

The extent of Web services adoption depends on how successful the industry is in making them interoperable, the president and chairman of the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) said at a recent roundtable discussion on Web services in Toronto.

Tom Glover and WS-I member companies including Microsoft Canada Corp., IBM Canada Ltd., Nortel Networks Ltd., NetManage Canada Inc., Hummingbird Ltd. and Cognos Inc., participated in the discussion.

The WS-I is a group of 160 software vendor and end-user companies working to identify Web services interoperability requirements and developing applications and recommendations to address those needs. Together, WS-I members study how Web services are used and then, as a community, attempt to resolve challenges, define services and define how those services behave at an infrastructure level, Glover said.

Eventually, the WS-I hopes to create a common set of standards to help its members understand what Web services look like, he added.

The challenge is in first sorting though the many different available standards. Glover used the battle between BETA and VHS video tapes – which resulted in the market and public determining VHS as the winner – as an analogy of the challenge facing the WS-I.

“This [battle] is not the model we want for Web services. It’s not efficient and it costs too much. We don’t want the market penalized, but we want Web services to be understood,” he said.

Phil Edholm, chief technology officer and vice-president of network architecture for Brampton, Ont.-based Nortel Networks, said with so much economic and productivity value at stake, it’s critical that WS-I succeeds.

“Web services is not well understood. The name is too generic and too hard to understand,” Edholm said. “The market needs to become more aware of what Web services are.”

Warren Shiau, senior analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said interoperable Web services standards will create greater fluidity in IT, which in turn provides better efficiency and agility.

Within the Canadian market, Web services are mainly used for cost savings, he added.

Shiau discussed the three different spaces, Internet, extranet and intranet, where Web services can be deployed.

In the intranet space, he said about 20 to 25 per cent of Canadian organizations are at the stage of implementation. Standards are also more mature at the intranet level.

But as the technology moves out into the Internet space, standards become more important to ensure interoperability among users.

In order to have the three spaces fully deployed, Shiau said the industry needs “wider interpreted standards.”

As an example, he said that as SOAP and XML technologies adopted standards, user adoption of both the technologies started to climb.

The roundtable discussion was also timely, in light of a recent announcement by IBM, Microsoft and several other software companies. The vendors unveiled a proposed WS-Federation specification, featuring a set of Web services technologies intended to give developers a standard way of adding security capabilities to any Web service they build, and simplifying identity management.