Web Services Marriage: A Divorce Waiting To Happen

Sometimes, as an observer, one can tell from theoutset whether or not a marriage is made in heaven.

When unlikely bedfellows Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT)and IBM (NYSE: IBM) announced theirunion last week within the Web ServicesInteroperability Organization (WS-I), visions ofdivorce came immediately to mind.

More than 50 WS-I member companies — including rivalsSAP (NYSE: SAP) and Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) — havecommitted to a common goal: developing standardsand best practices for Web services interoperability.

But do not be fooled by this outward display ofsolidarity. Many battles still remain to be fought by keycontenders in the Web services space.

Standards Needed

WS-I’s heart is undoubtedly in the rightplace. For Web services to live up to the towering promise of the rhetoric surrounding the sector, vendors must agreeon a common set of standards.

Successful Web services implementations purportedly will allow business partners’ enterpriseapplications to exchange data dynamically over theInternet regardless of platform, application orprogramming language.

But multiple specifications are used todescribe, publish and invoke Web services –including XML Schema, Simple Object Access Protocol(SOAP), Web Services Description Language (WSDL) andUniversal DescriptionDiscovery and Integration (UDDI).

Therefore, according to the WS-I white paper co-authored by Microsoft and IBM, “additional work is necessary for messageextensibility, binary attachments, routing,correlation, guaranteed message exchange, signatures,encryption, transactions, process flow, inspectionand discovery.”

Means to an End

While the WS-I has pledged to carry out thisadditional work and educate the business community onWeb services best practices, it is important toexamine the motives of its founding companies.

Eventually, if Web services explodes asthunderously as analysts predict it will, technology vendorswill want to claim a hearty chunk of proceeds for themselves.

You can bet that in their seemingly altruisticeducation campaign, Microsoft and IBM will weave independencies on their own products.

Old Habits

Twelve or 18 months from now, when WS-Istandards begin to take shape, do you think Microsoftand IBM will live happily ever after as selflesspartners?

Will Fujitsu and Toshiba bury their longstanding differences?

Not a chance. Age-old bad blood will continue to boil,sparking the territorial feuds we have come to expectin a capitalist society.

Sun Stand-Off

And the competition will not be confined to WS-Imember companies.

Noticeably missing from the WS-I roster is SunMicrosystems (Nasdaq: SUNW), which heads its ownindustry consortium, the LibertyAlliance Project.

Sun’s 5-month-old group — championing “federatedcommerce” based on single sign-ons for Internet users –surely will depend on Web services to realize itsvision for online communities.

But Sun has abstained from joining the WS-I, clearlyfor competitive reasons. Likewise, Microsoft hasdodged Sun’s invitations to join the Liberty Alliance.

Nonetheless, both groups present themselves as impartial,nonexclusive communities working toward a commongood.

Temporary Pact

The claim is only partly true. Granted, vendors andcustomers will benefit from universal Webservices standards, but ownership is still top-of-mindfor Microsoft, Sun and IBM.

WS-I represents a near-term strategy, primarily ofMicrosoft and IBM, to appease prospective customerswho are frustrated by the swarm of conflicting Webservices specifications.

But the organization clearly functions as acompetitive retort to the Liberty Alliance Project,which will bring its first set of servers, softwareand services to market in March.

Camping Out

So to whom should we turn for the last word on Webservices standards — the Microsoft/IBM camp or the Suncamp? At this point, it seems prudent to gather as much insight aspossible from both.

Interestingly, there is little overlap between the twomember corps. For instance, Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) and Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) back WS-I, whileGeneral Motors (NYSE: GM) and Cisco Systems (Nasdaq:CSCO) support the Liberty Alliance.

Only three companies pledge allegiance to both groups– Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HWP), United Airlines andVeriSign (Nasdaq: VRSN).

Customers Win

The good news is that prospective customers willultimately benefit from competition in theWeb services space, as long as they scrutinize theguidelines and case studies coming out of the duelingstandards bodies.

In many cases, these standards groups are complementary and canindeed educate companies and advance collaborativecommerce technologies.

But it is important to remember which companies arepulling the strings behind these ostensibly altruistic associations.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.

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