Tackling Web Services Transactions

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2003-09-23 Print this article Print

A group of companies have come together to form a new technical committee to propose a transaction-related Web services specification to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Systems (OASIS) for future adoption as a standard.

A group of companies have come together to form a new technical committee to propose a transaction-related Web services specification to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Systems (OASIS) for future adoption as a standard. A group of companies including IONA Technologies PLC, Sun Microsystems Inc., Oracle Corp., Arjuna Technologies Ltd., Systinet Corp., Cyclone Commerce Inc., Fujitsu Software Inc. and SeeBeyond Technology Corp. have presented the Web Services Composite Application Framework (WS-CAF) specification to OASIS to standardize. Eric Newcomer, a key player in promoting the specification and chief technology officer at IONA, of Waltham, Mass., said the proposal addresses the issue of handling transactions in Web services, which he called one of the last hurdles for mainstream adoption of Web services.
"This is aimed at the transactions area—one of the last to be standardized after orchestration and security," Newcomer said. He said he and some others had tried to add some transaction processing mappings to the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), but the effort was not well received.
According to the statement of purpose released along with the call for participation in the OASIS WS-CAF technical committee, the group is seeking to define a generic and open framework for applications that contain multiple services used in combination. Indeed, said Newcomer, multiple Web services combined in composite applications require interoperable mechanisms to set the boundaries of an activity, to manage information and to notify users of changes to an activity. "We think weve got the solution with WS-CAF, and its one we hope we can get everybody to agree on," Newcomer said. While the likes of Oracle and Sun support WS-CAF, Microsoft and IBM support competing specifications—WS-Transactions and WS-Coordination, Newcomer said. But he is hopeful all the companies will come together around WS-CAF. "If we can get them together, itll show the maturity of the industry," he said. The first meeting of the WS-CAF technical committee will be by phone on October 31, and the first face-to-face meeting is set for the first week of December in Boston. Newcomer, co-author of the specification, said WS-CAF is a set of three specifications, including Web Service Context (WS-CTX), Web Service Coordination Framework (WS-CF) and Web Service Transaction Management (WS-TXM). The overall specification is aimed at solving the problem of coordinating multiple Web services. Newcomer said WS-CAF deals with the problem of handling transaction processing in a Web services environment by defining a multi-level framework for coordinating business processes across a variety of transaction processing models and architectures, such as those from IBM Corp. and others. Newcomer said he and Mark Little, a co-founder of Newcastle, U.K.-based Arjuna, started the initial work on WS-CAF two years ago. "This is a new transaction model for business process automation that nobodys done before," he said. The Web Service Context specification defines a framework for context management that enables Web services to share a common context to share information about a common end result. WS-CF notifies Web services involved in a transaction of certain outcome. And WS-TXM consists of three protocols and enables Web services to negotiate potential outcomes and make a common decision on what it should be. WS-TXM works across disparate execution environments, such as the Common Object Request Broker Architecture, IBMs MQ Series, Enterprise JavaBeans, .Net or others. In addition, WS-CAF "is compatible with whats already out there," Newcomer said. "Its meant to complement something like BPEL [Business Process Execution Language]." And it is compatible with the WS-Transaction specification and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) Business Transaction Protocol, he said. Newcomer said the group is looking to promote the WS-CAF specification under royalty-free license. About a year ago, Microsoft and IBM published specifications that provide similar functionality (Web Service-Coordination (WS-C) and Web Service-Transaction (WS-T). Meanwhile, both Oracle and Sun have done "a thorough review of the WS-CAF specification" and have provided technical support and marketing support as well. "Whats needed is for these vendors to all work together to solve common, big issues, not to create a whole onslaught of specifications, each of which solves one particular part of an overall puzzle," said Ron Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, a Cambridge, Mass.-based market research firm. "The result will be a mass of confusing, and probably non-interoperable, specifications. At some point, these are all going to need to be tied together anyway, so why wait for the customer or the WS-I [Web Services Interoperability Organization] to do it?"
Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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