Sun, Microsoft Execs Comment on Sun Joining WS-I

Last week, after almost a year on the sidelines, Sun Microsystems joined the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I), the web services standard group founded by IBM and Microsoft that now boasts more than 150 members. Integration Developer News spoke with senior executives from both Sun and Microsoft to get a sense of what Sun's coming into the WS-I tent will mean to the future harmony between Java and .NET-based web services.

Tags: WS-I, Sun, Web Services, Standards, Java, Developers, Interoperability,

by Vance McCarthy

Last week, Sun Microsystems joined the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I), a web services standard group founded by IBM and Microsoft that now boasts more than 150 members. According to a company statement, Sun plans to play an active role in WS-I technology guideline areas, including key foundational work currently being developed under the web services Basic Profile.

Sun's decision to join WS-I could signal an important step forward in developers' hopes for an end to the brewing chaos and conflict over web services standards. Stepping back from its previous demand for immediate board membership, Sun will officially join WS-I as a regular "contributing member," not a full founding board member.

Integration Developer News spoke with Ed Julson, Sun's senior director for Java web services, to get his view on what's next for Sun and WS-I.

IDN Why has Sun decided to join WS-I now?

Julson: The timing is twofold: WS-I agreed to expand the board by two seats a couple of weeks ago. Our not being on the board was a major sticking point for Sun since the beginning. The issue has always been the governance model, so adding the board seats gives us the option for running on the board. With new board seats being created, it made sense to join now.

IDN: So you've joined with the intent of joining the WS-I board?

Julson: It's been clear from day one when Sun was not on the list [of WS-I cofounders], this was an obvious omission. We are far and away the most obvious candidate for board member[ship], given our stewardship of Java, and our writing of interoperability test suits and the application verification kit, as well as the work we do around SOAPBuilders. We have the obvious expertise and skills set, and we got a lot of encouragement from Java community, both vendors and developers, to join.

IDN: And the other reason>

Julson: The second thing is that the well of web services standards has gotten more complicated, and so what we really want to do is to align the work that's going on in the standards bodies in OASIS and W3C with the implementation and interoperability issues that are being worked on at WS-I.

IDN: So, Sun wants more convergence among W3C, OASIS and WS-I?

Julson: It's like a three-legged stool, right? With one leg missing, the stool doesn't stand up.

IDN: Now that Sun is a member of WS-I, what will be the first area of Sun's attention?

Julson: One aspect we work hard on will be to get better alignment between Java and WS-I -- the major concerns we're beginning to hear loud and clear from customers, the Evans Data developer survey and IDC. Complexity and overlap in web service is really confusing people.

IDN: So, how do you see the confusion going away?

Julson: Sun will sit down with IBM, Microsoft, BEA and whoever else is appropriate to converge and collapse overlapping and conflicting standards and implementations.

IDN: What's an example of that?

Julson: Well, the first round of profiling in WS-I. The public draft was released last week, and the scope was fairly modest and focused on the lower-level [technologies]: SOAP, UDDI and WSDL. The real challenges will emerge in the next round when we'll address what do we do about multiple implementations and options for profiling as you move up the [web services] stack. Simplifying this -- that's where Sun weighs in.

IDN: What specific areas are on Sun's agenda? What areas of technology might Java and web services developers pay special attention to?

Julson: We haven't determined that yet.

IDN: Some Java developers have argued that Sun could be working with IBM and BEA to make some of these complexities go away even before joining the WS-I. Why hasn't Sun done more work to unify Java around web services through the JCP [Java Community Process] or other Java-only venues?

Julson: The JCP is not where you do standards convergence. The only place you can do that is OASIS and W3C. In fact, none of the WS-I work is truly a web services standard yet.

IDN: Many people we've spoken with thus far have said they're pleased that Sun has finally agreed to join WS-I. They're also hopeful for some ending to the dueling vendor issues. Any comments on that?

Julson: You know, you don't resolve standards with dueling press releases.

Sun Eyes Seat on the WS-I Board

While Sun's election to the WS-I board is widely expected, it is not a lock. Other current WS-I members are also expected to seek election to the board, including Ariba, Cisco Systems, Novell, VeriSign and WebMethods. Only two board seats will be on the ballot at the March 2003 elections.

"Sun has received requests from many parties to participate in WS-I, and the new board member positions allowed us to reconsider our original stance and join the organization," said Mark Herring, Sun's senior director for Java web services, said in a statement. "We have always applauded the objectives of the WS-I and intend to be energetic participants in the industry effort to promote transparency, openness and interoperability in the marketplace."

Sun's decision to join WS-I comes as the group continues to gain momentum as a legitimate multi-vendor standards group (and not simply as a bilateral web services faction cocreated by Microsoft and IBM). Sun also joins as its window of opportunity to become a WS-I board member was closing.

WS-I's work on a web services security standard, WS-Security, has continued to gain multi-vendor support since the summer, when WS-Security was brought under the OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) umbrella. Moreover, Java developers have had core firms advancing their cause without Sun. Aside from IBM's highly visible role as a WS-I cofounder, BEA Systems has become more involved with promoting interoperability between Java and non-Java resources using WS-I standards.

Further, to be eligible for a WS-I board seat, Sun has to join the group by mid-November.

Microsoft Reacts to Sun's Joining WS-I

Overall, Microsoft execs now serving on WS-I were optimistic about Sunsigning on. "We're pleased Sun has joined the WS-I, "said Neil Charney, a cochair of the WS-I marketing group and a director in Microsoft's .NET platform strategy group. "From the beginning, we have wanted companies in the WS-I who were interested in promoting interoperability. Now that Sun has joined, we have more than 160 companies."

Charney also said he hoped that Sun's membership will ease the political disputes surrounding the development of web services standards. "Even amid some of the turmoil, we've tried to focus on deliverables over politics," Charney said. "Sun has an interest to make sure there is interoperability between WS-I work and Java, but WS-I has had many other member companies from the beginning that have been interested in that -- IBM, BEA and Oracle are just a few examples."

One of the major WS-I initiatives now underway is fine-tuning the set of test suites that allow developers to run the web service and perform to the spec, Charney told IDN. The review process has uncovered more than 100 different interpretations in the spec that would mean services wouldn't be able to communicate with one another, he said. "As part of this review, the WS-I is looking at how we build the test materials to make sure the Java and WS-I technical implementations will be brought together."

When IDN asked Charney about WS-I's role in helping set standards to allow the construction of "portable" web services, he said that was beyond the scope of WS-I's interests. "We're not interested in portability; the idea of writing once and porting a web service to multiple platforms. We've found that a huge majority -- some 95% of developers -- once they build an application, don't switch platforms. What we're interested in is interoperability: The ability to talk to any type of platform, server or client is our focus."

Sun's Move Praised by Java Vendors

Many Sun partners -- and even a competitor -- cheered the news that Sun is finally joining WS-I.

Here are a few of the official comments:

  • BEA Systems: "As the steward of Java[tm] and a leader in enterprise systems, Sun has much to offer the organization. With the recent decision of the WS-I membership to add elected directors, we look forward to working even more closely with Sun to promote our common goals for Java and interoperable web services." -- Edward Cobb, vice president of BEA's Architecture & Standards

  • IBM:"As a leader in the web services and Java communities, IBM is pleased to welcome Sun Microsystems to as our industry integrates and creates best practices for the web services standards stack. Web services is rapidly becoming the standard infrastructure for building new business solutions that reuse and re-purpose business information and software assets. is dedicated to ensuring that 'interoperability' for Web services can be defined, measured and tested, thereby accelerating the adoption and practical use of this important technology." -- Bob Sutor, director of Web Services Strategy, IBM

  • Oracle Corp.:"In order for WS-I to achieve its goal of providing implementation guidance to companies deploying web services, it's crucial that the industry's key players are involved. The addition of Sun to WS-I is a significant step forward that will help spur unification around the development of a single set of open standards for Web services." -- Thomas Kurian, senior vice president, Oracle9i Application Server