Gaps remain in Web services

Technology gaps remain to be filled in Web services before it can fulfill its potential as a standardized way to integrate applications, said panelists at the Software Development Conference & Expo West 2003 show last week.

Executives from companies such as Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp., and BEA Systems Inc., as well as audience members, sparred over now-familiar issues facing Web services, such as standardization and intellectual property rights.

If the audience was anything close to representative, Web services still have a long way to go before they are widely adopted. Asked for a show of hands on who was actually using Web services in production applications, only about five persons raised their hands among the audience of approximately 150 to 200 people.

Panelists had sharp responses to a query on what gaps must be filled for Web services to become accepted as a new way of computing.

"That's like describing the Grand Canyon as a crack," said Simon Phipps, chief software evangelist at Sun Microsystems. "I'd say we have an extremely long way to go before we have generally standardized business Web services," Phipps said.

Web services technology as it stands today is adequate for simple tasks, Phipps said. But to achieve more complex business processes, standard mechanisms are needed for functions such as encryption and transactional rollback, he said. Currently, users must deploy proprietary technologies with Web services interfaces in order to perform these tasks, Phipps added.

Acknowledging that standards works are in progress, Phipps noted that OASIS is deliberating on reliable messaging for Web services.

"Sooner or later, we're going to want to trade with multiple partners and we're going to want to have XML payloads that can be easily understood regardless of the vendor you're using," he said.

BEA Technical Director David Orchard concurred that standards are needed. "Web services is very much about interoperability across platforms and vendors. To do that, we really need standards and we need implementations of those standards, we need tested, interoperable implementations, and I think we're a far way from having those kinds of goals reached," Orchard said.

However, the industry has laid out a roadmap for achieving standards that work together, rather than separately, he added.

IBM's Mark Colan, lead e-business technology evangelist, said now is a good time for developers to start learning the multitude of terminologies related to Web services.

"I would agree that there's all kinds of room for wonderfully new standards and lots of new buzzwords, but developers have their hands full trying to learn the things we've put in front of them so far," Colan said.

The only actual Web services standard currently is SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), said Colan. But there has been a roadmap laid out for Web services specifications, he said.

"Now we just need to get them standardized," Colan said.

After the session, Colan said he did not believe the small number of audience members using Web services reflected IT in general. IBM has more than 100 public case stories of customers using Web services, plus additional private cases, he said.

Phipps said the IT community at large is building Web services in ways not discussed by the panel. "There's more than one way of doing Web services and all of the successful Web services are not (being done] the way that anyone's been talking about here," said Phipps. Techniques such as XML-RPC have been utilized, he said.

Without naming names, he accused some vendors of attempting to impose standards on the industry.

"I think the big players who never used to get standards have worked out what the buzzwords are and they're using them effectively against their competitors," said Phipps. Although he would not cite who he was talking about, Sun has opposed Microsoft and IBM on issues such as development of a standard for Web services choreography and royalty-free Web services specifications.

"I believe one of the significant threats is the problem of people bringing proposals, specifications forward, which are on restricted intellectual property terms," Phipps said. Also without naming names, he said one or two vendors have threatened to withdraw from a standards organization over this issue.

BEA's Orchard said Web services can be beset by the addition of proprietary technologies. "The whole XML interface is designed to be extensible, so keeping out proprietary extensions is really hard," Orchard said.

Phipps responded, "The biggest enemy of interoperability is not proprietary extensions, it's proprietary extensions that masquerade as standards.

"At that point, you have (vendor) lock-in," he said.

Phipps also sparred with an audience member.

Mark Woyna, director of object-oriented architecture at the ChicagoBoard Options Exchange, expressed his support of the Object Management Group Internet Interoperability Protocol (IIOP).

While Woyna proclaimed it as a successful idea, Phipps interrupted, calling it a technology "that no one ever used."

Woyna responded, "I'm using it."

Phipps said IIOP was not the same idea as Web services and that the OMG CORBA model relied on remote procedure calls.

In an interview at the conference prior to the panel session, Phipps applauded the open-source movement but said Sun's Solaris OS still is the best choice for its Sparc hardware because it has been optimized to run on these boxes. He said he did not see Sun replacing Solaris with Linux any time soon, but noted that anything that runs on Linux runs on Solaris.

Open source software does offer benefits of lower cost, security and quality code, he said.

Phipps also said that free software is not necessarily free -- someone has to pay the developers a salary for them to participate in the free software movement. Sun, for example, can pay engineers to participate in the Linux community, he said.

While the developer may get the software free, this is not necessarily an end-user benefit, he said.

"What I'm doing here is I'm taking up open source because the debate I'm hearing about open source is focusing on the free and the debate should be on the business benefits," Phipps said.

Additionally, Phipps said the recent change in the Java Community Process enabling developers to license the Java test suite separately from the Java reference implementation removes an obstacle to open-source developers certifying their product as compliant with Java.

"The obstacles to the open-source community in the JCP were not intentional," Phipps said.

In other events at the conference, Compuware announced OptimalJ 2.2, a development environment for organizations using J2EE standards and the Object Management Group's Model Driven Architecture (MDA). New features include the ability to import and develop CORBA Interface Definition Language to enable integration with CORBA-compliant applications; support of WSDL to integrate with Web services; and support of Enterprise Java Beans 2.0, including Message Driven Beans, EJB Query Language, Container Managed Relationships, and local interfaces.

MDA, said Compuware's Program Manager Mike Burba, allows developers to focus on the core business at hand instead of having to deal with the underlying development technology.

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