RealTime IT News

IBM Joins Liberty Alliance

IBM has agreed to join the Liberty Alliance as a board member, lodging a stepping stone to a bridge between two organizations that work on distributed computing methods.

In the agreement, IBM plans to support Liberty's federated identity specifications across its Tivoli identity management product line. Karla Norsworthy, vice president of software standards at IBM, will serve as the liaison between IBM and Liberty until IBM installs a technical member on the board.

The move is significant in a sometimes fractured sector for Web services , an evolving paradigm for application-to-application communication.

IBM, Microsoft, BEA and others independently develop specifications for a broader Web services stack, now widely known as WS-*. For example, WS-Security, which was developed by Microsoft, IBM and other major vendors and is now shepherded by OASIS, may overlap to a degree with work in Liberty. The World Wide Web Consortium also blesses specs in the WS-* stack.

The Microsoft- and IBM-backed Web Services Interoperability Consortium (WS-I) and the Liberty Alliance, supported by Sun Microsystems and AOL, have also been known to perform similar work on such issues as identity management and security.

Liberty has created a comprehensive roadmap for single sign-on functionality, allowing Web services from any computing device. WS-I has recently published a Basic Security Profile Version 1.0 for secure sharing and interoperability among Web services.

Norsworthy insists Big Blue's joining Liberty makes sense at this time, and that ultimately the best recipe for customers would be a convergence of the various federated identity standards.

After all, IBM is already deploying products from its Tivoli line, which are interoperable with certain Liberty specifications, including a deal to provide single sign-on capabilities for mobile communications vendor Orange, a subsidiary of Liberty backer France Telecom.

"Once we get to the point where customers need us to support those solutions, we're going to do it," Norsworthy said. "When you think about this whole Web services journey we've been on, customers have solutions built on Microsoft platforms, on WebSphere, on BEA -- and they're looking at all of us saying it can't take months to build solutions that connect across these. The fact that they happen to be built on different platforms can't be an inhibitor."

ZapThink analyst Ronald Schmelzer agreed that the Web services industry is heading toward convergence.

"What motivated IBM to do this was that they listened to their customer demands, and a large customer had demanded Liberty Alliance," Schmelzer told internetnews.com. "Rather than hem-and-haw, they took this as an opportunity to take a major step in the direction of adopting Liberty Alliance, and they're doing so, giving credence when they say that they are following open specs. So, it's a great move for them."

Norsworthy said IBM's involvement with Liberty will not interfere with its work with the WS-* stack. The Armonk, N.Y., company is rolling out support for the WS-Security roadmap specs in its products.

Schmelzer addressed this point: "What remains to be seen is how other specs and standards bodies and groups (like the WS-I) will adopt, or not, the Liberty Alliance specs. Clearly at some point the federated identity specs will have to converge, and it's not clear if the WS-* stack or Liberty Alliance spec will win out here. It's really up to customers and what they demand."

Regardless of what side of the fence they are on, or whether they reside in the Java or .NET camps, software vendors believe the majority of revenues derived from software will be in Web services, and their more broad ancestors, service-oriented architectures .

Research supports this conclusion: IDC believes revenues for Web services infrastructure software will balloon to $4.2 billion by 2008.