The Battle for Web Services
The Web services vision is grand: a universal set of communications protocols to enable computer systems and business processes to seek each other out over the Internet, lonely hearts style, and have deep, meaningful interactions with no human intervention. Even in today's rudimentary state, Web services standards such as simple object access protocol, or SOAP (see "Core Web Services Standards," Page 58, for the list of current standards), are proving to be valuable integration technologies. A Gartner survey of 110 companies found that 54 percent are already working on Web services projects or have plans to begin soon, and IDC (a sister company to CIO's publisher) estimates that companies will do $2.2 billion worth of Web services projects in 2003 and $25 billion in 2008.
"The potential revenue impact of these standards is enormous," says Whit Andrews, research director for Gartner. But the very size of that financial prize waiting for the winners of the Web services standards competition makes it "difficult to remain involved in a standards effort that involves your competitor," he adds. Gartner goes so far as to predict that the alliance between IBM and Microsoft will break down by the end of this year, given that the companies are direct competitors in the application server and database markets that make the biggest use of Web services.
While slightly dated it is a great introduction to this topic and has some excellent reference data.
Core Web Services Standards
XML (extensible markup language) The lingua franca of Web services. All Web services can communicate in XML.
SOAP (simple object access protocol) A communications protocol for Web services.
WSDL (Web services description language) An XML-based language for describing, finding and using Web services.
UDDI (universal description, discovery and integration) A phone directory for Web services that lists available Web services from different companies, their descriptions and instructions for using them.
The Standards Scorecard
What It Is: Founded in 1993 under the name SGML Open, the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards worked on the standard generalized markup language until XML came along in 1998. Then it shifted its focus to XML and later Web services.
Its Agenda: Oasis focuses on the high-level Web services used in applications. It lets individual technical committees decide whether they want to consider specifications that have royalties attached to them.
What It Is: Founded in 1994 by the inventor of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, the World Wide Web Consortium is famous for Internet standards such as HTTP and HTML.
Its Agenda: Though it has traditionally focused on the Web infrastructure level, W3C has moved into Web services as an extension of its core standards like XML. All submissions it ratifies into standards must be free of royalty fees.
What It Is: Founded in February 2002 by Microsoft, IBM and seven other vendors, the Web Services Interoperability Organization focuses on developing tested implementations of Web services standards in packages called profiles. Sun has called it "a shadow government for standards."
Its Agenda: To deliver installation-ready Web services packages, complete with tools and guidelines.
What It Is: Cofounded by Sun in 2001, Liberty Alliance's mission is to develop Web services specifications for identity management using security assertion markup language, an Oasis security standard.
Its Agenda: Liberty focuses exclusively on identity management and security issues.
The author, Christopher Koch, criticizes the standards bodies for being dominated by vendors. I share this view, which is why I think following the work of the Federal XML Work Group and COLAB Community Wiki is so important. The federal government is the one end user with sufficient market power to enforce its standards.