The good news for IT managers considering Web services deployments is that vendors such as Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp. appear to be committed to creating standards aimed at facilitating interoperability between disparate technology platforms.
But as with most, if not all, standards-building efforts, politics could get in the way and prevent other needed vendors, such as Sun Microsystems Inc., from helping to draft open-systems specifications needed in order for Web services to succeed.
One of the more significant standards groups to emerge is the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I), which counts Oracle, IBM and Microsoft among its 100-plus members. Absent from the group, however, is Sun, which would consider taking part in drafting security, transaction and other Web services specifications "if we were to be offered board-level seats with equal standing" among other big-name vendors, said John Bobowicz, chief technical strategist for Sun ONE.
Bobowicz spoke about the standards impasse at a panel discussion for a Web services conference sponsored by the Software & Information Industry Association here yesterday.
One of the panelists, Wim Geurden, a senior technology strategist for Microsoft's banking unit, suggested that one way to ensure industrywide compliance with standards is for customers "to demand [interoperability between vendor platforms] and put it into their contracts."
Conference attendee Bob Zurek, a vice president of advanced technology at Ascential Software Corp. in Westboro, Mass., complained in an open forum that another standards effort in progress, under the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is being crafted by big vendors "that can afford to pay US$150,000 for a three-year commitment and populate" W3C subcommittees with personnel to push specifications that benefit their respective product sales.
Panelist Ted Shelton, a senior vice president of business development and chief strategy officer at Borland Software Corp. in Scotts Valley, Calif., acknowledged that his company "tries to participate in standards committees to help the industry and to shape standards that will be beneficial to Borland."
Other panelists, including Bobowicz, argued that Internet protocols such as Simple Object Access Protocol, WS Security, and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration should remain royalty-free, regardless of what course the standards efforts take. "You shouldn't have to pay royalties on any of these standards or protocols -- they've always been free," said Bobowicz.
Despite some of the rancor among competing vendors in this space, there are hopeful signs for certain standards. WS-I conducted tests in August, for example, that demonstrated Web services interoperability between IBM's WebSphere and Microsoft's .Net platforms, using an emerging standard it developed called WS 1, according to Mark Colan, lead e-business technology evangelist at IBM.
WS-I is also planning to test the interoperability of different vendors' software tools by the end of the year, said John Magee, vice president for Oracle9i at Oracle.
"Integration is one of the biggest challenges facing IT organizations," especially as companies struggle to pull together data housed in different formats from "all over the place," Magee said.
Borland's Shelton cited research data from Gartner Inc. that claims that "more than 90 percent of companies are going to have problems integrating .Net and Java. You're going to have to make these two technologies work together, and Web services is one way of doing that.
"That's going to be one of the big breaking points for us as an industry," Shelton added. "I'm optimistic, but it's an enormous challenge."