Microsoft, IBM Diverge on Services Standards

As base specifications for Web services standards begin to reach maturity, Microsoft Corp. and IBM, longtime partners in the arena, appear to be moving in different directions to fill proprietary needs.

As base specifications for Web services standards begin to reach maturity, Microsoft Corp. and IBM, longtime partners in the arena, appear to be moving in different directions to fill proprietary needs. As a result, developers could ultimately be forced into one of several development camps.

To date, the two companies have worked together to ensure compatibility and interoperability of the foundations of Web services. For instance, last week at the XML Web Services One conference here, each company showed Java 2 Enterprise Edition and .Net code being swapped in and out in a basic stock-trading Web services application.

However, beyond the basic XML, SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), Web Services Description Language, and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration standards, and more recent WS (Web Services)-Security, WS-Coordination and WS-Transaction specifications, the companies are diverging and setting the groundwork for their own specialties.

Although officials downplayed any rift, the moves could set the stage for a battle before all the standards are set, committing users and customers into certain camps early on.

"Cooperating on the base standards is easy because people dont make money on just connecting things," said Eric Newcomer, chief technology officer of Iona Technologies plc., of Waltham, Mass. "But when you get into security or business processing or transaction processing, it gets harder to agree on things at that level, and companies start competing with each other. Whereas nobody ever competes on a better TCP/IP—everybody has that."

Microsofts new WS-Routing protocol, which defines mechanisms for routing SOAP messages, will be a key part of its Web services stack. The company, however, has not submitted it to the WS-Interoperability organization, nor has IBM agreed to support it.

"WS-Routing is not a part of the WSBasic profile," said Rob Cheng, a senior iPlatform analyst at Oracle Corp., in Redwood Shores, Calif., and a spokesman for WS-I, which is building a profile of core Web services standards known as WSBasic.

Robert Sutor, IBMs director of e-business standards strategy, in Armonk, N.Y., said IBM has no plans to support WS-Routing and may, down the road, support a routing specification of its own. Sutor said veering off on certain standards is only natural and is part of the process of competing.

"There is no rift," Sutor said. "WS-Routing is a Microsoft spec on how you specify how you send some messages. We have not come out publicly in support of it. Were not saying its a bad thing. We are neutral."

Likewise, some users think a little divergence is a good thing. "Two heads are better than one. I believe that any divergence that we have now will be narrow, based on the needs of the public," said Kenny Roberts, manager of e-business at Naptheon Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Newport News Shipbuilding Inc., both of Newport News, Va.

IBM is also striking out on its own, building a Web services structure to deal with SLAs (service-level agreements), said Giovanni Pacifici, manager of Service Management Middleware at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center, in Hawthorne, N.Y.

The technology provides a language to express SLA contracts, support guaranteed performance and handle complex dynamic fluctuations in service demand, Pacifici said. This SLA management system enables service providers to offer the same Web service at different performance levels, depending on contracts with their customers.

The technology will become available through IBMs AlphaWorks Web Services tool kit this month and will feature the WSLA XML-based document that gives SLA definitions.

Some observers say it is inevitable that the two main Web services software developers start staking out their own turf.

Joseph Rovine, a software engineer with eRoom Technology Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., said, "Hopefully, the market is going to win out. Its going to be like VHS vs. Betamax. And, hopefully, Betamax will win this time. It would be nice if we could get it all worked out in advance."

Related stories:

  • Microsoft Previews Web Services Kit
  • XML Web Services: Means to an End
  • Standardizing Web Services Nears Completion
  • W3C, OASIS Meet Over Web Security Standards