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IBM, CA Preparing Web Services Management Spec

On the same day that HP formally proposed a Web services management plan to standards body OASIS this week, IBM and Computer Associates (CA) announced a schema that deals with similar issues of shepherding software services to interoperable functionality.

However, while HP unveiled its Web Services Management Framework (WSMF) more than a week ago to the public, and formerly delivered WSMF to the OASIS Web services distributed management (WSDM) committee Tuesday, IBM and CA waited until the OASIS meeting to discuss their plans for a WS-Manageability spec.

A spokesperson for IBM refused to comment, saying only that an announcement would come next week. CA did not respond to questions about its plan with IBM. HP has enlisted Sun, Oracle, BEA, Iona, Tibco and webMethods as supporters.

Talking Blocks, one of a slew of Web services management software startups, has joined IBM and CA for this venture. CTO Mark Potts confirmed the companies' plans for WS-Manageability, noting that it came out of work being done for the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Web services architecture committee.

HP, IBM and CA make management software, so their interest in this issue -- to provide guidance for services that make applications talk to one another -- is obvious.

Because of the highly competitive climate in the Web services market and because two of its leaders came up with separate specs to meet the same end, the actions at the meeting fuel suspicion, conjecture and finger-pointing that the two technology giants are not playing nice.

One only need look at the debate swirling around the Business Process Execution Language (BPEL) that ensued after two separate camps -- Microsoft and IBM and Sun Microsystems and Oracle -- each submitted separate business process spec proposals to OASIS and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), respectively. Sun and Oracle have since joined BPEL.

But Talking Blocks' Potts downplayed that notion, saying that the fact that the two specs are being released to one technical committee within one standards group will only accelerate adoption of a management specification.

"This is going to be hashed out," Potts told internetnews.com. "Both sets of companies realize that if we don't get something out soon, the adoption rate of Web services will be hampered."

"This is not a rivalry," a source close to the matter told internetnews.com, who requested anonymity. "This is to make sure we're on the same page."

The source stressed that this is not like some of the other competitive fronts, such as the conflict over BPEL, and noted that both the HP- and IBM-led camps submitted specs to OASIS during the same meeting in the hopes that the two could hash out one common management specification.

Al Smith, CTO of HP's Web services management organization, attended the OASIS meeting via teleconference and backed up this position.

"Unfortunately, for anyone looking for the smoking gun, this is a little more boring," Smith told internetnews.com. "This is not a bifurcation of standards like BPEL. "IBM feels the same way we do, a lot of people feel this way. Standards are standards -- everyone wants to jockey a little bit.

"But we submitted full technical white paper, -- submitted quite a bit of meat. IBM, CA and Talking Blocks showed us a PowerPoint presentation during the meeting outlining a set of guidelines and said this is how we should approach this. And we found very little to argue with. There were very few technical gaps between [WSMF and WS-Manageability]. This is a case where the only real value of Web services is met by working together. I think having a proprietary Web service is an oxymoron and I think everybody feels that way."

If that's the case, then when didn't HP work with IBM, et al, on this from the get-go? "Timing," Smith said. "Politics are a funny thing. We're at go-to-market status with WSMF and IBM showed a PowerPoint presentation. This really isn't surprising. HP has had a laser-like focus over the last few years for management so people shouldn't be surprised that we have this ready to go."

One analyst who covers Web services developments extensively isn't buying it.

"On the comment that it's not like BPEL, I beg to differ," said ZapThink Senior Analyst Ronald Schmelzer. "While it's true that in this case we can avoid the ugly situation of competing standards bodies, somebody still has to declare a victor. What, is this going to come down to a vote? Who's going to vote? Will it be whoever can get the most vendors on their side, or will it be a vote by customer implementations? Which really matters? All this spec battling is missing the real point.

Schmelzer continued: "It's really easy to fight among vendors to determine which spec gets approved by OASIS, but it's much harder to get your customers to adopt that particular spec. I think vendors should stop focusing on trying to gain market share through winning specification battles and start figuring out how to get their customers to adopt specifications that are in their best interest. At the end, the specification that's the most implemented always wins -- even if it never sees the light of day of any standards group."

Management, along with security and reliability, is one of the oft-mentioned roadblocks to widespread Web services adoption. It is management that ensures that Web Services are interoperable, a key driver customers look at when considering what products to choose.

With so much at stake, it perhaps comes as no surprise that management is becoming the next battlefield for companies looking to build Web Services specifications. Schmelzer said the tricky course that requires navigation is that management is being used in two different contexts: using Web Services to manage resources such as applications, servers and storage and managing the actual interfaces.

"What we're seeing here is a battle among the vendors for the dominant Web Services management specification," he said. "Why is this so important? Well, vendors that can find a way to get their spec (and hence, their product) into the heart of managing a company's most important assets, it will be much easier for them to sell not only management products but also products focused on integration, security, and other aspects of runtime Web Services management."