WS-I discusses interoperable Web services

The speed and extent of Web services adoption depends on the success of making them interoperable, the president and chairman of the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) said at a roundtable discussion on Web services in Toronto last Thursday.

Tom Glover and a slew of WS-I member companies including Microsoft Canada Corp., IBM Canada Ltd., Nortel Networks, NetManage Canada Inc., Hummingbird Ltd. and Cognos Inc., participated in the discussion which focused on the importance of interoperable Web services for the entire IT industry and how those standards should be made.

The WS-I is a group of about 160 software companies working to identify Web services interoperability requirements and developing materials to address those needs. The groups that comprise the WS-I try to understand how Web services are used throughout the industry, try to understand the requirements and then, as a community, the groups attempt to resolve challenges, define services and define how those services behave at an infrastructure level, Glover said.

By taking the resources within IT and working together, the WS-I hopes to create a set of standards to help everyone understand what Web services look like, he added.

As an example of the importance of developing standards, Glover highlighted the battle between the BETA video tape versus VHS, which resulted in the market and public determining VHS as the winner.

"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, adding that standards would ensure the market completely understands Web services.

Phil Edholm, chief technology officer and vice-president of network architecture for Nortel Networks, said there is a great economic and productivity value in having interoperable Web services and as such, it’s critical to Web Services to have the WS-I succeed.

He said the benefit of having so many companies working together to develop standards is that multiple people can use the same specifications, making those standards easier to implement. With support from the main computing environment -- including core and operating system vendors, peripheral support from companies providing Web services products and support from the users who will be using Web services -- the technology will eventually grow.

"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."

Working with the other companies means that the industry knows they are moving in the same direction, said Nina Sandy, technical alliances manager at Cognos in Ottawa.

"It’s important to be part of the driving force behind where the standards go," she said.

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

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. Within the Intranet, he said about 20 to 25 percent of users are at the stage of implementation for Web services, adding that 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 timely, in light of a recent announcement on Tuesday by IBM, Microsoft and several other software companies. The companies 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.

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