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Microsoft, Intel Forge New Web Services Spec

UPDATE: Four technology companies published a new common specification that enables computing and consumer electronics devices to easily locate and connect to Web services.

Microsoft, BEA Systems, Intel and Canon issued WS-Discovery to extend Web services architecture to computing and peripheral devices that are normally not reachable through Web services.

Announced at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco Tuesday, WS-Discovery is the latest many specs to surface in the last few years to broaden Web services' reach in the industry and to work with as many computing options to extend their capabilities across the enterprise.

Devices targeted by the spec include computer peripherals such as printers, handheld computers and consumer electronics gadgets, said John Beatty, senior principal technologist in the office of the CEO at BEA.

Beatty told internetnews.com that, as a complement to the UDDI directory component of Web services architecture, WS-Directory addresses the issues of ad-hoc connectivity to Web services when the location of a Web service is not known.

For example, Beatty said users using handheld computers or Web-enabled devices in Internet cafes could tap into Web services anywhere from anywhere local without needing UDDI.

The spec is important at the enterprise level, where rules are needed to define a way to locate services on a network with a few or no networking services.

For example, a Web service that is able to work with WS-Discovery will ask the network, "what services are available to me?" and the services enabled with WS-Discovery will answer with a list of available services and a connection can be established.

Steven van Roekel, director of platform strategy at Microsoft, said he envisions a WS-Discovery scenario where one day a truck can drive into a warehouse and RFID tags can be used to register what inventory would be in the truck.

"We believe that Web services are the way that most devices will connect in the future," said van Roekel.

WS-Discovery is focused on two key things: notifying systems through a multicast protocol when a device or service is available, and providing a location "bootstrap" so that UDDI systems and event-driven systems can continue to locate and communicate with the device.

The protocol works by providing a means by which a device can "announce" itself to a local network, and then "chat" with interested systems and devices that are looking to communicate with it.

In the meantime, van Roekel said WS-Discovery authors are soliciting feedback on the spec and hope to latch on to a standards body such as the W3C or OASIS in the future for further testing and implementation.

Ronald Schemlzer, senior analyst with XML and Web services research firm ZapThink, said that WS-Discovery is geared for limited resource devices and systems for local networks and will will work well with UDDI, which hones in on services across networks.

"The reason for this is that multicast protocols are very 'chatty,' which means they can consume a lot of bandwidth as they continue to notify systems that they are available for interaction," Schmelzer told internetnews.com. "Microsoft [and the others] are intending this to be used as a way to 'bootstrap' a device onto the network and then will leverage other protocols (like WS-Eventing, WS-Addressing, WS-Security, and WS-ReliableMessaging) for ongoing system-to-system communication."

Schmelzer also said WS-Discovery will be complementary to the Universal Plug-and-Play (UPnP), standard, which helps music and other digital entertainment content to be accessed from various devices in the home without regard for where the media is stored.

UPnP will be used to let systems know when devices are available for direct communication, while WS-Discovery will be a way to let an entire network know about the services that are available on that device.