New Web Services Specs Hit the Scene

While advances in Web services for businesses has accelerated behind
company’s firewalls, the ability to define standard business processes is
considered by many to be a cornerstone in the adoption of Web services
beyond the firewall.


Three major players in the Web services market, Microsoft, IBM, and BEA
systems, hope to help fill in some of the pieces of the puzzle and jumpstart
adoption rates through the release of three major specifications Friday,
which would allow an enterprise to integrate its network with partners,
suppliers and customers.


“If you look at the stack of capabilities that are needed to integrate
applications either within an enterprise or across multiple enterprises, the
areas of transaction and business processes have been unfulfilled as of
yet,” said Mike Gilpin, a research fellow at Giga. “The emergence of these
new standards fills out the stack for Web services, so that as they are
implemented they can compete with existing proprietary integration
technology more effectively.”


The first specification is a programming language called Business Process
Execution Language for Web Services, and will be used to define how to
combine Web services to accomplish a particular task. BPEL4WS, a language
combining IBM’s WSFL and Microsoft’s XLANG efforts, is based on an XML flow
language, and can involve processes contained within or between enterprises.


BPEL4WS allows companies to describe business processes that include
multiple Web services and standardize message exchange internally and
between partners.


The other two specifications, WS-Coordination and WS-Transaction, provide
companies with a means to handle multiple Web services interactions,
regardless of the underlying computing infrastructure.


WS-Coordination describes how individual Web services within a defined task
interact. The specification supplies standard mechanisms to create and
register with transaction protocols that coordinate the execution of
distributed operations in a Web services environment.


WS-Transaction is used to ensure that transactions all complete successfully
or fail as a group. The standard ensures this by providing for short- and
long-running transactions in which resources cannot be locked for the
duration of the business process. It takes advantage of the structure
WS-Coordination provides to enable all participating Web services to end the
business process with a shared understanding of its outcome.


“This represents a real convergence in the industry,” said Karla Norsworthy,
director of dynamic e-business technology at IBM. “It brings forward the
best of (WSFL and Microsoft’s XLANG), as well as addressing a number of
other requirements. This really lets us get to another level of business
process problems.”


The new specifications come on the heels of a number of recent efforts to
establish standards for Web services.


In February, Microsoft and IBM, created the Web Services
Interoperability (WS-I) Organization
, a group promoting Web services
compatibility. BEA joined them shortly after.


In April, Microsoft, IBM and VeriSign released WS-Security, a
specification that encrypts information and ensures that the data being
passed between companies remain confidential. The security specifications
were widely supported by most of the big players in the space, including Web
services rival Sun Microsystems, who chimed in at the last minute, despite a
long-standing
rift
between it and Microsoft over its potential role in WS-I.


Sun itself, along with the Liberty Alliance, last month released technical
specifications
for online “identity management” systems aimed at Web
Services on the consumer side.


“We’re hoping the industry, including Sun, will align behind us in much the
same way they did WS-Security,” said Steven VanRoekel, Microsoft’s director
of Web services technical marketing.


According to Gilpin, while Friday’s announcement, along with the flurry of
other specifications released this year, solves a significant aspect of the
enterprise Web Service puzzle, a major piece remains unresolved.


“All of these standards that we’ve been talking about in the Web Services
context are standardizing the pipe and the mechanism around the pipe, but
they don’t standardize what flows through the pipes, and that’s actually the
hard part,” said Gilpin. “Standardizing what flows through the pipes is
really specific to each vertical industry domain.”


Some vertical industries, such as financial services and high tech
manufacturing have made an effort to drive to a set of standard XML formats
for representing transactions within that business.


Gilpin notes, however, that even in these cases, it is still going to take
years and lots of money to enable transitions to those new formats.


According to John Kiger, BEA’s director of product marketing, getting the
horizontal infrastructure in place is helping lay the foundation for
industry specific standardization.


“Once we are able to move this forward and get the infrastructure standards
in place, then we will have the framework within which to look at industry
specific problems,” said Kiger. “All of the companies (involved in the
announcement), as well as other that will join in this initiative as we move
forward, will have deep involvement in a number of the verticals where this
will be attractive.”

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