Web Services Need Standards

By Matthew Hicks  |  Posted 2001-08-13

Even today, with vendors touting web services as loudly as street corner newspaper hawkers, their success will depend largely on the ability of those competitors and software developers to develop more standards on which they can agree, experts say. Its standards, after all, that allow Web services to overcome the barriers of different programming languages, operating systems and vendor platforms so multiple applications can interact.

Vendors have begun in recent months to concentrate on proposing new Web services standards in the areas of security, availability, workflow and user interfaces. These would join the four standards further along in development—XML (Extensible Markup Language); Simple Object Access Protocol; Web Services Description Language; and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration. Even those, though, are in their earliest versions or still waiting for a stamp of approval from standards bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium.

Security is among the most pressing areas for setting standards. The main issue is defining a common way by which to authenticate users of Web services, said Bob Sutor, the director of e-business standards strategy at IBM, in Somers, N.Y. Standards around encryption are also possible, Sutor said.

Sutor said work is under way among members of the W3C and the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, also known as OASIS, on creating security standards. Those security standards will be among a group of standards weaving its way through standards bodies over the next year to 18 months, Sutor said.

IBM, for instance, last month proposed HTTP Reliable, or HTTPR, as a standard for using HTTP in a more reliable way. One problem in using HTTP today in Web services is that the protocol sends messages once, sequentially, so if a connection is lost it could be difficult for those trying to exchange a Web service to know its status.

In May, IBM also put forth Web Services Flow Language as a specification for defining workflow, or business processes, within a Web service, Sutor said. Microsoft Corp. has also included a specification for workflow—called XLang—in its BizTalk Server 2000 as part of its .Net platform.

Another group of vendors, led by portal software developer Epicentric Inc., in June proposed Web Services User Interface as a standard for displaying Web services to users.

As much as vendors will be forced to come together to agree to standards, enterprise users also will need to work within their industries on fine-tuning XML specifications and agreements to make Web services useful, said Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in Cambridge, Mass. One example of an industry effort is RosettaNet, a consortium of IT, semiconductor and electronics companies working to create and implement industrywide, open e-business process standards.

"The real issue is the industry finding and agreeing to e-business agreements," Gillett said.

Only when business partners have more technological standards for Web services and industry-specific agreements in place for using them will Web services really solve complex business problems, Gillett said.

Rocket Fuel