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BEA, IBM, and Microsoft propose Business Process/Transaction coordination plans for Web services

Web services has shortcomings in the areas of security, transaction handling, quality of service, routing/messaging, performance tuning - and more. Until some of these issues are dealt with, Web services will continue to be used inside the organizational firewall mostly to enable heterogeneous systems and applications to communicate with each other.


Market Analysis

BEA, IBM, and Microsoft Propose Business Process/Transaction Coordination Plans for Web Services
Let's face it -- the hot, relatively new, distributed computing architecture known as Web services has not met with great market acceptance to date -- primarily due to maturity reasons. Web services has shortcomings in the areas of security, transaction handling, quality of service, routing/messaging, performance tuning - and more. Until some of these issues are dealt with, Web services will continue to be used inside the organizational firewall mostly to enable heterogeneous systems and applications to communicate with each other.

This "inside the firewall" comment is key because it infers that IS managers don't trust Web services for external communications. To remedy this, IBM, VeriSign, and Microsoft got together earlier this year and recommended a group of standards (WS-Security) for building secure Web services. These recommendations are now being evaluated as standards by the OASIS standards setting organization.

And today this same scenario -- a bunch of vendors getting together to remedy Web services shortcomings by proposing a series of recommendations -- has happened again. This time, BEA, IBM, and Microsoft have proposed recommendations to remedy Web services shortcomings in the areas of cross-platform business process interoperability, transaction handling, and coordination.

The new recommendations are manifest in two foundation specifications (WS-Coordination, WS-Transaction), and a process interface and execution specification (called 'Business Process Execution Language for Web services' - or BPEL4WS for short).

WS-Coordination and WS-Transaction are designed to enable cross-platform transaction handling, providing a standardized approach to handling transaction roll-backs in case of transaction failure as well as providing recommendations on how to coordinate the processing of complex transactions. WS-Coordination introduces the concept of 'compensators' -- program entities that can act on their own to take corrective action should a transaction fail (for instance, a compensator would then take on the responsibility of finding another comparable Web service in order to complete a transaction).

BPEL4WS addresses issues pertaining to business process semantics and flow across heterogeneous computing environments.

All of these recommendations are critical for moving Web services beyond the early adopter phase. With WS-security, application developers will have a set of standards for building various levels of security into their applications. WS-Coordination and WS-Transaction will likely someday provide the standards for ensuring reliable transaction processing. And BPEL4WS will ensure that processes can be developed that can work across multiple heterogeneous systems.

With all of this goodness (vendors cooperating with each other to form standards), one question arises: "Is what Microsoft and IBM are doing a good thing or a bad thing (are Microsoft and IBM driving their own particular agendas and design specs into industry standards committees)?" One line of argument says these companies should be working more closely with the standards committees, in this manner getting widespread feedback and buy-in from other vendors that participate in standards setting. Yet another line of argument puts forward the idea that standards committees take too long -- and what IBM and Microsoft are doing actually rapidly progresses the expansion of Web services architecture. To me, helping progress the expansion of Web services by aggressively putting forward recommendations that help overcome interoperability issues is preferable to waiting several years for standards committees to do so. So, bottom line: to IBM and Microsoft -- keep up the good work.


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