Web Services 2005 -- Five Keys Unlock the Gate

Sun's vice president of Java's web services and tools says open web services are at a crossroads in 2005, and posits that there are five (5) keys that would fully unlock the power of these new, open technologies. Notably, Keller says, XML has the power to create a vast array of portable data options. He also says multi-vendor co-operation on a number of fronts, spurred by end user pressures, may unlock web services full power.

Tags: Standards, Web Services, Customers, Vendors, Java, Industry, Key Turn,

Vice President, Marketing for Java Web Services and Tools,
Sun Microsystems, Inc.

As 2005 gets underway, we believe web services standards have arrived at a crossroads between success and failure.

The Internet would never have happened without standards that were freely available and universally agreed upon. Imagine an Internet, for example, where vendors dictate their view to others, or where one company charges a penny per packet for TCP/IP traffic, or where 15 different TCP/IP standards all compete to win. The Internet as we know it would not exist.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know which prerequisites are necessary -- and which aren't -- to usher in a new era of standards-based computing.

The potential impact of web services on corporate computing is great:

For the first time in IT history, web services based on XML promise fundamentally "portable data" all the way to the transaction level. Sun is invested in bringing the portable data of web services together with the "portable business logic" of Java technology. It's a huge step forward that is visible by anyone who has examined J2EE 1.4, which is becoming a widely adopted standard basis for web services products from many companies.

But when the conversation turns to the "next set" of web services standards, we at Sun often hear confusion and dismay from customers.

Too Many Proposals, Not Enough Focus?
A Look at the 5 Keys to Web Services Success

Confusion arises over the proliferation of web services specifications that are excessively complex, incomplete and overlapping. Many web services specifications are being developed outside of recognized standards bodies and don't provide a level playing field for industry participants. This results in arbitrary power plays for standards leadership and standards fragmentation. It's a recipe for the early death of a very promising technology trend that could lead us to the true service-oriented application architectures required for the next wave of Internet growth.

To overcome the chaos and confusion inherent in today's web services standards, we must live up to five requirements for Internet standards success.

To be widely adopted and successful, web services standards must be:

  1. Openly debated and scrutinized by truly transparent, inclusive and democratic institutions dedicated to developing "open" standards -- Organizations like Oasis, W3C, Liberty, or the JCP. Why? No one or two companies can be allowed to lock up standards definitions. The stakes are too high for "back-room," closed deliberations or de facto standards. It takes a little more time to get agreed-upon open standards, but there's a tremendous payoff for the industry.

    How will this key turn the lock?: Customers must want it.

    2005 likelihood of this key working: It's very likely. Sun believes that customers are becoming much more sophisticated about standards and will demand this.

  2. Royalty free -- Companies should be able to charge for their implementations or other value around test kits to cover their costs.

    How will this key turn the lock?: "Standards" that aren't royalty free are simply a way for a vendor who proposes the standard to build a monopoly. This is not a good situation for anybody. It gives one vendor an unfair advantage in the marketplace and causes "standards wars" or the withdrawal of vendors from this space. This situation will be remedied when customers get involved in the standards committees and demand change.

    2005 likelihood of this key working: It's not a sure thing. This is often seen as a "vendor issue" that customers do not want to get involved in. Awareness must increase that this is necessary for fair and open competition in the marketplace. Getting this done will mean more competition, more customer choice and lower prices for software.

  3. Demonstrated through reference implementations and detailed test suites to be compatible in practice -- Interoperability tests are helpful, but they leave aside the issue of whether an application will work on multiple implementations of a given API. (Most of the time, they don't.) The "down-and-dirty," practical and detailed engineering necessary to show compatibility is required to bring the promise of cross-vendor web services to fruition. The lack of this sort of compatibility testing leaves all web services adopters vulnerable to lock-in and abuse.

    How will this key turn the lock?: Customers demand proof of software portability. Java Application Certification is a good first step. We also need to break the vendor lock-in in areas such as PBEL process maps, document transformation maps and business rules.

    2005 likelihood of this key working: It's likely for Java Application Certification in 2005.The other portability standards will happen over time.

  4. Converged to avoid technology complexity and customer inaction -- There are dozens of web services standards proposals in various phases of completion, competition and collision. These include WS-Reliability, WS-Security, BPEL and BPSS. Although it's a result of a renaissance of creativity around portable data facilities based on XML, it is overkill and confusing, and its sheer weight will prevent widespread adoption. It's time for the industry to come together with a simplified (albeit not perfect for the purists), converged (people have to compromise) and integratable (let's focus on how a developer is going to use all this stuff together) set of web services standards.

    How will this key turn the lock?: Customers push back on the complexity of all the proposed web services standards. Vendors respond by working through standards bodies such as the JSP, Oasis and W3C to resolve the complexity.

    2005 likelihood of this key working: It's very likely. Customers are being vocal about their dissatisfaction with web services standards complexity, and vendors are getting the message.

  5. Free-Standing -- Standards should be free-standing in that they don't reference other specs that are proprietary or outside of the same standards effort.

    How will this key turn the lock?: This is another form of vendor lock-in -- another one of the "dirty little tricks" of the standards business. Customers must get vocal about these issues. It's not just politics between vendors. This is important to fair and open competition that benefits everybody. Customers must work with W3C and OASIS to demand fair play.

    2005 likelihood of this key working: It's moderately likely. This issue does not have high visibility today.
How Sun Will Push for Web Services Keys in 2005
At Sun, we have a lot of ideas about standards. We recognize there's much work to be done. We'd like to work with others in the industry on the preceding five requirements. We're ready, willing and able to do our part.

We'll keep pushing the open and transparent qualities of the JCP, OASIS, W3C and other standards organizations in which we participate. We'll continue to submit every standard we propose to an open standards body. We don't and won't charge royalties on our web services standards.

We've already invested in tens of thousands of conformance tests that ensure the compatibility of Java and web services implementations across the industry. And we'll continue to be a voice for converged web services standards so that customers can realistically implement the vision we've been driving to market for over 20 years.

Web services can bring forth a fantastic new world. But we must pay attention to important prerequisites. The industry is perilously close to veering off the tracks into the salvage yard of failed promises. We need a renewed commitment to, and action toward, these values.

Joe Keller is responsible for helping to define, set and drive Sun Microsystems' product direction in the Java, Web Services & Tools Business.Prior to his current post, Keller was responsible for the overall direction of Sun's integration and commerce application technologies and drove Sun's strategy around the emerging ebXML standard, as well as the creation of a set of pre-defined Web services .