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.

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