RealTime IT News

Business Process Spec Handed Off to OASIS, Not W3C

Easing fears about whether royalties will be applied to the already popular Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) specification, its creators have submitted it to the e-business interoperability group OASIS. But the decision to submit it to OASIS rather than the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), has some wondering whether competition is rising up to engulf standards bodies.

Microsoft , IBM , and BEA Systems submitted their specification Thursday.

BPEL aims to automate business transactions worldwide via Web services . While the industry agrees that languages to facilitate more fluent, global transactions are vital to e-business, not everyone agrees on what language should be used to express them.

Members of a working group within the W3C have been hammering out their own standard, Web Services Choreography, which they hoped other major W3C members and vendors would endorse.

But IBM, Microsoft and BEA have chosen to pursue their own specification, and ever since Microsoft attended, and subsequently pulled out of, a meeting of the WS-Choreography Working Group in March, competitors such as Sun Microsystems and Oracle have accused Microsoft and IBM of initiating a fragmentation of standards that could irreparably retard Web services growth.

They echoed the sentiments of the WS-Choreography group, which alludes to such possibilities in its charter: "Some observers predict that if no steps are taken to develop a choreography specification in a vendor-neutral forum, the Web services marketplace may be divided into a number of non-interoperable sub-networks."

One of the W3C's concerns has been that a specification constructed by a few firms might leave the industry vulnerable to the possibility that the firms might charge royalties for use of their technologies: IBM and Microsoft are considered by many industry experts to be the brightest leaders in Web services innovation.

In what has become a long parade of accusations and rebuttals, IBM, Microsoft and BEA said that any products based on BPEL can be sold without any royalties to the authors of the specification.

Redmonk Senior Analyst Stephen O'Grady discussed the move.

"The royalty arguments for OASIS aside (not that they're not important, but the goodwill from royalty free standards would seem to be more valuable to IBM and MS at this point, but I guess we'll see), this seems like just another example of IBM and MS throwing their weight around. Folks like BEA, SAP, et al, just aren't fighting the tide, so to speak. Once IBM and MS are unified in an approach, it's not set in stone, but it's pretty close."

What's happened now, according to ZapThink Senior Analyst Ronald Schmelzer, is that the competition has moved from the companies to the W3C and OASIS.

"Now it's no longer about Sun vs. Microsoft... it's about the W3C vs. OASIS, at least with respect to the orchestration and choreography standards. It's okay for vendors to compete -- they do it all the time, and having "camps" of vendors is actually to be expected nowadays," Schmelzer told internetnews.com. "However, it is not at all okay for standards organizations to compete and to have "camps" of standards organizations. It's detrimental to the industry and of course adoption of Web Services. So, what is needed is some sort of agreement about what various groups will handle. If not, we'll continue to find vendors working one standards org against another to no one's real benefit."

W3C spokeswoman Janet Daly strongly disagreed with the "W3C versus OASIS" notion, arguing that the vendors make up the groups making the decision, so they are, in effect, competing. She also said that analysts don't have a clear understanding of how the decision-making and operational processes of groups such as the W3C and OASIS work.

Daly said there are fundamental ways in which W3C and OASIS are different, one being the fact that three members of OASIS may decide how a specification goes, while W3C relies on a broad process where every W3C member can have input if they desire. She also said the BPEL charter, to which more than 20 vendors have co-submitted, seems very rigid and not as flexible as other standards groups in terms of fostering open participation. She also made it clear the W3C doesn't pretend to have all of the bases covered in terms of orchestrating fluid, automated business processes via Web services.

"There are many different parts to the choreography problem," Daly told internetnews.com. "But the BPEL charter doesn't look as though it can be modified. There are no explicit efforts to coordinate with other groups. It doesn't say 'we will endeavor to make liaisons or connections.' This is supposed to be about choreography, not tripping over our own feet."

Regardless, Daly said support for WS-Choreography, as with support for many of the Web services-related standards the consortium has worked on, remains strong. She said members of the WS-Choreography group are "disappointed because they wanted to have better connections in BPEL, but the decision [to go to OASIS] won't get in our way."

But Redmonk's O'Grady isn't so sure.

"I'd say its future is clouded at best. It will be very difficult to push a Web services standard without the support of IBM and MS..." O'Grady said. "It might survive in an ebXML vs UDDI complimentary style relationship, but I wouldn't bet on it. All in all, this is like watching the disintegration of the Soviet Union - it may have significant advantages for individual consituencies, but it's a bit unsettling to the larger world."

Microsoft, BEA discuss choice of OASIS
But for Steven Van Roekel, director of Web services at Microsoft, the issue is more simple than any of the reasoning behind the gripes. For him, it's not about standards processes, but about the level of engineering that has gone into BPEL.

"Years ago, Microsoft developed a simple business process language called XLANG and IBM had a language called WSXL," he told internetnews.com. "When we held them up to the light together [through the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I)], we saw ways they could be interoperable for business processes."

This became the seed for BPEL, which Van Roekel explained is a more mature technology than what WS-Choreography brings to the table, noting that the W3C group was essentially starting from a "blank slate." BPEL was published last summer and in the time since, Van Roekel said it has matured and is ready for primetime.

"It made sense to take BPEL to OASIS because they generally deal with more complex Web services protocols at the higher end of the stack, whereas W3C deals with lower-levels, such as XML and SOAP," Van Roekel said.

John Kiger, BEA's director of Web Services Strategy, has a unique view because his firm has a foot planted firmly in both the WS-Choreography group and BPEL group (SAP, which along with Siebel recently signed on as a co-author of BPEL, has the same position). When asked about a potential contentious fallout between W3C and OASIS, Kiger pointed out that each group can, and has, created technologies that have been just as complementary as they have been overlapping.

"There is WS-Security, a high-level Web services security protocol that was created using two low-level technologies created by the W3C, XML Encryption and XML Signature," Kiger told internetnews.com. "Whether it's W3C, OASIS, or IEEE, or any other standards body, there is inevitably some overlap. Whenever it occurs, it may always lead to tensions as organizations figure out where the right place to focus their energy is. This industry is one of those places, where there are multiple bodies helping to define Web services."

Kiger and Van Roekel noted that BPEL will be implemented in such platforms as IBM's WebSphere and Microsoft's BizTalk software this year. Some vendors already offer BPEL-compliant products, including ChoreoServer from OpenStorm.

For all of his concern about the fragmentation of Web services standards, ZapThink's Schmelzer said the buzz surrounding BPEL cannot be ignored. "We'd been hearing from a lot of vendors that they were going to be supporting BPEL whether or not it was submitted to OASIS. It actually is fairly complete. Lots of products already are doing something with it. Now that BPEL is being submitted to OASIS, we think that the flood gates are going to be opened."

Still, Schmelzer, whose firm just completed an extensive report on Web services support for business processes, said he hopes the groups' credibility doesn't come into question over the issue.

"I think the significant split is between how vendors are perceiving the role of standards organizations, and playing them off each other to the benefit (or detriment) of their customers," Schmelzer said. "For example, many perceive the W3C organization as having rigorous processes and standards by which they create and release specifications. Many perceive the OASIS group as being more lax with the process by which specs are created, but as a result less controlled about what they release."

"I think vendors are smart enough to realize when a political position they are taking is affecting their ability to get new customers. I don't think standards organizations have the same motivation to change their stance, however. So what will Oracle and Sun do? Well, if they're smart, they'll adopt whatever technologies their customers want. However, what will the W3C do? I think that's not as clear," he said.