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The Battle for Web Services

The Battle for Web Services

Why Can't We All Just Get Along?

Microsoft and IBM have invested a good deal of marketing money - and a lot of good technology - into Web services to build the perception in the market that they are making it happen. Other vendors want their customers to think the same of them.

"I am not sanguine about there being a successful outcome for Web services because it looks to me like there is an increasing likelihood of fragmentation and confusion in the market rather than a convergence," says Don Deutsch, vice president of standards strategy and architecture for Oracle. "We go into a standards endeavour with the objective of defining things of common interest that will create a new market, or improve an existing market, so we can all compete on price and performance. If there are some members who don't believe they can participate on an equal basis, then historically the competition begins and fragmentation begins. That confuses customers, and when customers are confused, they don't buy because they don't know what to buy."

Ironically, if the alliance between IBM and Microsoft breaks down, things could get even worse. If the two leading vendors in Web services were to begin sending competing specifications to the different standards organisations for approval, forget about attaining a single set of interoperable standards soon, if ever. Regardless of what happens between IBM and Microsoft, however, as long as vendors remain split and standards organisations continue to allow conflicting work inside their organisations, the Web services standards movement will continue to be disrupted by confusion, delay and the possibility of duplicate, conflicting standards emerging. For CIOs, that could translate into slow, expensive, dead-end projects at a time when Web services could be saving them time and money in a tough economy.

"One of the things that would be nice is if this alphabet soup of standards groups would get together and say we're all about delivering a single standard," says Dave Watson, vice president and CTO of Kaiser Permanente, which is active in WS-I. "I'd love to get everyone to say there's one set of standards and collapse at least four different discussions into one and keep overt agendas at the door, because you don't serve customers that way. But [unfortunately] the agendas that form these groups [don't allow that]. Dig deep enough into the woodpiles of these standards organisations, and you'll always find a vendor as the mommy or daddy."

The Business of Standards Is Business

If there is a force that can keep the Web services standards movement from blowing up, it is CIOs. But few CIOs have the interest or resources to participate in the different standards organisations. About 30 per cent of Oasis's membership comes from user companies, according to Gannon, though the number of user members who are active members of the different technical committees is much smaller. The number of members in each of W3C's four different Web services working groups who do not sell or service technology does not rise above 10 per cent, and in most cases can be counted on one hand (most of the groups have about 50 members). At WS-I, the user company membership is less than 10 per cent. Liberty Alliance's user membership is just under 30 per cent.

"The structure of these groups is backward," says AMR's Austvold. "The users should be the ones creating the standards, and the vendors [should be] adopting them. Right now, users have to take what the vendors feed them."

Besides the obvious bandwidth issues, many CIOs say that with the shift to packaged software in their organisations, they don't have the technical expertise to contribute much to standards organisations. But in fact, that's not where CIOs are most needed, says Sun's Struble: "CIOs should be involved in the early requirements phase, the part where we define what we want the standard to do."

Indeed, those CIOs who have got involved in standards organisations have done so to make sure that what emerges is right for their businesses. "We can put our requirements on the table and have a dialogue," says Andrew Comas, who, as vice president of technology, is JP Morgan Chase's representative at WS-I. "If I'm not at the table, then I'm having the vendors say what's best for us."

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