Rivals Create ‘Bizarre’ Web Services Standards Alliance

They may be bitter rivals in some ways, but Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT),IBM (NYSE: IBM), Intel (Nasdaq: INTC), Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) and a host of other tech companieshave agreed to cooperate — at least until they can comeup with a set of open standards to ensure Web servicescompatibility.

The new alliance has given itself a catchy name: Web ServicesInteroperability Organization, or WS-I for short.

In addition to the nine founders, 46 companies –including McAfee.com, Ford, VeriSign and UnitedAirlines — have pledged to support WS-I.

Uttam Narsu, an analyst at Giga Information Group,told the E-Commerce Times that the Web servicesindustry is desperately in need of the kind ofregulation that WS-I will provide.

“The situation was pretty messed up before. Standards were being createdby a bunch of different groups, with no thought givento whether they could talk together,” Narsu said.

Next Big Thing

The idea of using Web services to facilitate andimprove communication between companies has beentouted as the Internet’s Next Big Thing. TedSchadler, group director at Forrester, calledWeb services “the two-by-four of the softwareindustry.”

Many e-commerce applications already use Web services.Dollar Rent a Car, for instance, uses Web services to allow airlines to hook into its reservation system, thereby enabling users to book rental cars without leaving an airline’s Web site.

But companies are limited in their use of Web services by alack of interoperability between applications. Acommon standard would enable Web services to drivemore complex, interactive e-commerce transactions.

Instead of limiting a customer to simply placing an order on an Internetsite, for instance, Web services could allow an e-shopper to make a purchase, receive an invoice, make payments and track shipping status.

Next Stop: Interoperability

Because interoperability is key to the success of Web services, WS-I aims to set guidelines that allow disparate systems to work well together, regardless of which platform, application or programming language they use.

“A steadfast commitment to open standards is essentialto unlocking the value of Web services,” said CharlesRozwat, executive vice president of Oracle’s servertechnologies division.

Web Services Watchdog

In addition to setting interoperability standards,WS-I will serve as a resource for companiesimplementing Web services.

The group said it plans to create a suite of tools to test whether Web servicesimplementations conform to standards, therebyensuring their ability to work together.

WS-I also plans to identify areas that need to beaddressed in future Web services specifications.

Sun’s Absence Noted

While Sun Microsystems‘ (Nasdaq: SUNW) lack of participation in the initiative is notable, published reports indicated that the company may consider joining in the future and that it will support standards in the Web services industry.

Julie Giera, vice president and IT research leader at Giga, told the E-Commerce Times that considering Sun’s string of partnership and alliance announcements in the last six months, she is not surprised that the company might hold off on joining WS-I.

But Giera also noted that Sun’s reason could have more to do with which other companies are involved.

“The competition that’s being pulled together might just be too much for them. If you look at the players brought in, like Microsoft, there’s been a lot of bad blood there for a long time,” Giera said.

Economic Pressures

In terms of the alliance, Giera said that while it is “bizarre” that some of the participating companies are forming such a relationship, the move is understandable considering the downward economic trends.

From a company perspective, Giera said she believes that after years of hiring small firms and even large providers to work on a project basis, businesses have been left with a slew of unrelated, unmanageable systems that are costly to maintain.

“I think what you’re seeing in some of these partnerships and alliances is that some of it is certainly driven by economics. But it is [also] driven by clients who have said, ‘Enough! Figure out how to work together so I’m not left holding the bag with this architectural mess,'” she said.

Alliances Historically Weak

However, Giera is skeptical that the alliance can generate the intended results. She said one of the only successful such consortiums was formed by the banking industry to decide on a credit card standard.

“I have yet to see these partnerships among competitors deliver strong business results. It happens occasionally, but it’s more rare than the norm,” Giera noted.

“I think companies start out with the best of intentions, but if they don’t commit the resources and a lot of time to making these things work, they can dissolve very quickly into politics and competition,” she added.

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