Complexity stifles Web services

Although deployments are occurring, a morass of complexity and a long, head-spinning list of proposed standards continues to hobble Web services technology, according to participants at an SDForum interoperability event.

Citing issues ranging from competing standards to a lack of end-user participation in standards development, speakers gave mostly a poor progress report on the interoperability technology.

Speakers were featured at the SDForum's event entitled, Interoperability Forum -- An Open Industry Dialog.

"My personal observation, living in this world, [is that] it's still the early days of Web services," a partner in the technology integration services unit at Deloitte, Andy Daecher, said.

Displaying a list of about 15 Web services specifications currently vying to become standards, analyst vice-president and research director at the Burton Group, Anne Thomas Manes, referred to the confusing situation as vertigo.

The list featured specifications such as WS-Federation and Business process Execution Language (BPEL).

"I understand what all this stuff is and it still makes my head spin," she said.

While the Web Services Interoperability Organisation Basic Profile provides some understanding of how to use these specifications, there were unresolved issues, such as in using XML data mappings, Manes said.

Attachments also pose problems with interoperability, she said.

Java supported Multimedia Internet Mail Extensions (MIKE) while .Net supported Direct Internet Message Encapsulation (DIME), Manes said. "You can't make them work together," she said.

Migrating from Web Services Framework (WSF) 1.0 to WSF 2.0 would be disruptive, Manes said.

Situations also have emerged with competing standards proposals, such as WS-ReliableMessaging and WS-Reliability, although WS-ReliableMessaging had won that battle, she said.

WS-Notification and WS-Eventing also were competing proposals, she said.

BPEL and WS-CDL presented yet another competitive situation, Manes said.

Typically, vendors, not users, were pushing standards, she said.

"The vendors are always pursuing their own agenda [and not necessarily customer requirements]," Manes said.

While noting the plethora of standard proposals for users to follow, she did stress the importance of standards.

"Just to conclude, interoperability is your goal," Manes said. "You need to get your systems to work together and standards [are] definitely the solution. Unfortunately, standardisation takes time."

Initiatives were under way to make it simpler to program with Web services, vice-president of Architecture and Standards at BEA Systems, Edward Cobb, said.

"That has been one of the major inhibitors," he said. "You really do need to b a rocket scientist to use a lot of it."

An audience member concurred with Cobb's assessment and said that interoperability between Java and .Net took a substantial amount of work.

Cobb said there was a place for tools that made it easier to use Web services.

Efforts to this effect were under way at the Eclipse Foundation, he said. But tooling alone would not suffice.

"The thing we have to be a little careful about is that we need abstractions that don't assume that you can cover up complexity with tooling," Cobb said.

Sun technology director, Nicholas Kassem, said there was no single way to bootstrap Web services that would be relevant to everybody. "There is no single magic bullet," Kassem said.

Another audience member expressed concern that investments in Web services technology could become irrelevant because of changing standards.

Forum Systems President/CEO Weston Swenson said his company used gateways to enable customers to interoperate with standards.

Despite all the discouraging comments among panelists, Cobb said that Web services standards did work.

"The original question is, are the standards mature enough to work? The answer is [absolutely] yes," he said.

But more needed to be done to bring about wider use of Web services, Cobb said.

The industry must enable the great majority of IT users to be able to use Web services - not just leading edge companies, consultants and some others, he said.

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