Q&A: Tom Glover, IBM and WS-I Web Services Exec

There’s a lot of interest in Web services and the processes to create them. By most estimates, the market for applications that talk to one another to render services is a multi-billion-dollar affair.

But it’s also rife with uncertainty because of a quagmire of standards developed to solve barriers like interoperability, security and manageability.

Tom Glover wears two Web services hats: senior program manager, Web services standards for IBM; and IBM director, president, and chairman of the board within the Web Services-Interoperability (WS-I) Organization.

Glover chatted about his roles and the harried state of Web services with internetnews.com during a recent conference in New York.

Q: What’s the difference between how you represent IBM and the work you do for the WS-I with regard to Web services? There must be some overlap…

Everything WS-I is doing, IBM wants done very urgently. The difference is that at times when I need to I put my IBM hat on then I can talk about IBM’s strategy, I can give IBM’s perspective on the way Web services are going, which occasionally, because Web services are in the state they’re in, there are instances where IBM does some forward thinking and says: ‘Well, we think here are the things that are important and not everybody necessarily agrees with us yet and there’s going to be some mediation and some negotiation that we’re going to settle on a common view over time in this space.’

For instance, Reliable-Messaging. There’s two standards right now. IBM supports one, not the other. [IBM, Microsoft, BEA and Tibco Software support WS-Reliable Messaging; OASIS promotes WS-Reliability, authored by Fujitsu, Hitachi, Oracle, NEC, Sonic Software,
and Sun Microsystems]. So obviously if I need to talk about that, I put my IBM hat on. I say: ‘Here’s ours.’ Or, with my WS-I hat on I say: ‘Look, there’s two and then we’re waiting for them to be sorted out.’ And when they’re sorted out then WS-I can answer.

Q: But it isn’t always that simple. Steven Ross-Talbot of the W3C said there are 31 Web services specs, many of which overlap…

It’s horribly confusing. The way it falls out is that IBM is sponsoring WS Reliable Messaging, WS-Reliability is in OASIS. We’re not working on Reliable Messaging in WS-I. We probably will at some point because most of our members want it. We haven’t started that yet. We may in fact start it before the standards debate ends, but in the same way we did that forsecurity. At some point we’ll have a time out and say ‘We’ve gone a far as we can.’ We understand the requirements, we’ve laid the ground work. We can’t go any further without a standard reference, now we’re going to wait for the standards organizations to produce a standard that everyone is going to call on.

Q: IBM frequently works with Microsoft with regard to Web services standards. But not always. Microsoft, BEA and Tibco recently introduced a standard called WS-Eventing,
which IBM did not take part of because it had its own standard in the works, WS-Notification, which IBM subsequently announced at the Globus Forum conference last month. One key difference between the WS-Notification and WS-Eventing is IBM’s desire to marry grid technology with Web services. Talk about that.

With standards, we’ll work with everyone who’s interested. From the IBM perspective, we’re focused on grid obviously and I think we have products that work in that space that we’re trying to address with our standards based on our experience from dealing with our customers and the products we produce — and I’m talking with my IBM hat on — I think we’ve got a more mature perspective on the requirements that need to go into the notification mechanism for Web services, so we took a look at Eventing and we didn’t see all of the pieces in the specification that we thought were necessary.

Microsoft and their partners felt that they wanted to release it and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. We were working on Notification and we decided to release that. Now the two specifications are right there and we expect that over time they’re going to be integrated.

Q: It didn’t seem like anybody made a big deal about two separate standards whose goals are shared and usually when two groups of companies announce “competing” standards, one faction accuses the other of not working together or claims that the other is fragmenting the industry.

My perspective, personally, is that competition is not a bad thing. It’s how we spur each other forward. I don’t personally think it’s a bad thing that there’s a Reliability standard and WS-Reliable Messaging. We absolutely need one eventually. Do we need one sooner than later? Yes, we do. But it’s not a bad thing when you’ve got two pieces of work on the table and you’re discussing them. I talk to IBM engineers all of the time and they looked at both and know what’s in them and know what’s not. They know what they like better and what they don’t like. Sooner or later I’m sure that all of the parties that are interested in reliable messaging will come together. I can’t predict what the document is going to be called but I bet when you look at it it’s going to be 80 percent like either one of them — take your pick — because they’re not that far off.

Q: The specs you’ve been working on with either WS-I or IBM haven’t found their way into commercial products. Can you give us a sense when that might happen?

I think you’re going to see some evidence this year. Support for WS-Security is already in WebSphere Application Server 5.0.2. and the WebSphere Studio Application tools suite. I believe with WebSphere 6 later this year you’re going to see a whole raft of additional standards supported. Tivoli’s [IBM’s management software brand] got a different set. It’s not exactly the same, but Tivoli is very focused on Liberty [federated identity consortium] along with the WS-Security spec because customers have expressed a need for that. With WS-I, Basic Profile 1.1, a slight modification of 1.0 that includes attachments, is currently scheduled to appear by mid-year, along with a Basic Security Profile.

Q: You said that standards are the underpinning with which IBM will tie together its basic software lines with respect to Web services. Are a lot of the products within IBM WebSphere disconnected with regard to Web services?

I think IBM is moving to implement Web services on all of its product lines and I think that integration using Web services is something that IBM is rolling into it. I know all product teams are working together so that you’ll start to see waves of support coming out, including messaging and reliability security support. When you have three or four products that support Basic Profile conformance the products can talk to each other. Applications can talk to one another and be integrated effectively. When you’ve got a Web service that sits on top of WebSphere that is talking to a stored procedure in DB2, the standards are facilitating the conversation.

At IBM there’s a top-down approach being taken under the auspices of on-demand so we can make sure that the products are able to run in a grid environment and that the concepts of autonomic computing are exploited within our product lines. Web services is being deployed across the line so that integrated components can be made available in the environment.

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