Web Services Standards at Risk

Security and transaction standards are needed.

Web services standards have the potential to reignite enterprise IT investment: They offer the prospect of greater flexibility for buyers, competition among vendors and rapid savings on internal application integration. (See the eWeek Labs report on Web services.) But these bright prospects are threatened by—what else?—a looming standards war.

Recent reports of an opening rift between erstwhile Web services standards partners IBM and Microsoft were met with shrugs and knowing nods by developers and IT managers who have seen this sort of thing before. Bitter rivals such as IBM and Microsoft couldnt be expected to remain in agreement on Web services standards forever, they said.

Until now, IBM and Microsoft have done an admirable job collaborating on core Web services standards such as SOAP, UDDI and WSDL. This has given many developers and IT managers a measure of confidence to invest time and money in Web services. However, before enterprises can take the next step, incorporating Web services technologies into mission-critical applications, they will require an additional set of standards covering such key areas as security and transaction management.

Unfortunately, it is here that the uneasy partnership between IBM and Microsoft seems to be breaking down. Microsoft, for example, has released as part of its Web Services Development Kit WS-Routing, a protocol for routing SOAP messages between multiple destinations. Microsoft, however, has declined to submit WS-Routing to official standards bodies—or even to the Web Services Interoperability Organization. And IBM officials have said, even if Microsoft elects to do so, they have no plan to support it and may, in fact, push a routing protocol standard of their own.

Its too early in the evolution of Web services standards for this sort of gamesmanship. IBM and Microsoft should continue to work closely on key emerging Web services standards such as WS-Routing in the same way theyve collaborated on SOAP, UDDI and WSDL. If they cannot, they should promptly submit their competing standards to the W3C and other formal standards bodies where, at least, their proposals will receive a full, public review.