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WS-I to thrash out six-month timetable

WS-I to thrash out six-month timetable

Following a high-profile launch at the beginning of February backed by 55 industry vendors, the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) says it has already received over 400 separate inquiries about joining the group. The WS-I will convene for its first board meeting next week, when the nine founding members, along with an expected 100 or so participants, will thrash out the initial agenda and timetable.

According to Bob Sutor, director of IBM's e-business standards strategy, the organization expects to issue its first set of guidelines for the implementation of "basic" Web services within six months. However, despite describing itself as a body dedicated to customer education, awareness and adoption, Sutor says the WS-I will not be a certification or policing body for Web services.

Context: Announced on the February 7, the WS-I is a Microsoft- and IBM-led group that aims to help turn the considerable Web services hype into implementations that work regardless of the software platforms they are running on. Unlike other Web-based collaboration efforts, the building blocks of Web services -- XML, SOAP, UDDI and WSDL -- are supported by all major software vendors and, working in conjunction with standards bodies such as the W3C, OASIS and the IETF, the WS-I plans to advance the adoption of Web services by concentrating wholly on interoperability issues.

The founding members of WS-I are Accenture, BEA Systems, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP. The only notable absentee is Sun Microsystems, which Sutor hopes will be on board shortly.

Organizational structure: The WS-I's core aims, aside from promoting interoperability and ensuring that the group's efforts stay within its scope, are to prevent Web services from being hijacked for a particular vendor or group of vendors to promote a particular technology, such as Java or Microsoft's .NET. Despite this, after much debate, the WS-I founders have decided the group will not become a certification or policing body for Web services.

Although some of the arguments in favor of heading down the certification route are compelling, such as the ability to certify particular software or Web services as "WS-I-compliant," Sutor says the practicalities of implementing such a scheme are well beyond the financial and organizational means and founding principles of the group.

The sheer volume of Web services that will be available in a couple of years' time would turn the WS-I into a bureaucratic bottleneck that would actually slow adoption, says Sutor. Additionally, it would also put the group in a tricky legal position if a WS-I-certified service or software product is in some way flawed. Besides, Sutor claims the ultra-competitive nature of the industry means that any flaw would soon be flagged by competitors.

Testing: Although the WS-I has outlined the testing structure to be carried out by the designated working groups, it has yet to decide which testing software to use. The testing -- which any Web service implementation has to pass to get the WS-I's stamp of approval -- will be split into two processes: one using 'sniffer' tools to monitor and log interactions with a Web service, and the other using 'analyzer' tools that process sniffer logs to verify that the Web service implementation is free from errors.

Interestingly, the testing software will be developed in both Java and Microsoft's Java alternative, C#. Again, after much debate, Sutor says these two languages were decided on to assure the organization's neutrality from an industry perspective. "It's a sign that we're bending over backwards to get interoperability," says Sutor.

Conclusion: Clearly, it's very early on for the WS-I, but Sutor says the timing of its launch is just about right, with "basic" building block standards such as XML, SOAP and so on beginning to gain traction at a corporate IT development level. Industry research seems to back this up. Meta Group this week said 60-70% of enterprises currently have some form of XML-based integration in production, although most are using homegrown approaches, with just 10% of enterprises using the full complement of official Web services standards.

However, most organizations intend to migrate to standards-based Web services, Meta says. By the time they do, the WS-I should be fully up and running to give the appropriate guidance.

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