It's long been promised that Web services would help form a quilt from the patchwork of IT industry products, sewing together software from partners and foes alike with the thread provided by common standards. But it turns out that software vendors may not all be using the same color thread.
A broad consortium of industry players including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and BEA Systems have formed a consortium whose main goal is to ensure that vendors developing products for Web services implement the most commonly used standards in the same way. The consortium will be called the Web Services Interoperability Organisation.
Other founding members include Oracle, Accenture, Fujitsu, Intel and Germany's SAP AG.
The list of standards is familiar to many in the industry. It includes XML (Extensible Markup Language), SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), WSDL (Web Services Description Language) and UDDI (Universal Description Discovery and Integration). But while the industry has rallied around the standards, few have taken steps to ensure their products will interoperate.
"You'd be surprised how little interoperability there really is despite standards," said Mike Gilpin, a research fellow with Giga Information Group, adding that many companies support common standards but use them in proprietary ways. "The specifications of these standards are so broad that depending on what you want to do you with them, you could end up with a different result.
"Two different companies can build a Web service, each one following the same specification yet using different options, and those services would not be able to talk to each other," Gilpin added.
Web services has been touted as a way to allow applications of different types and from different vendors to communicate with each other in a common way over the Internet. In the business world, for example, Web services could allow a company to automatically share data, such as inventory levels, with partners in its supply chain.
To overcome the problem of implementing standards in different ways, the group plans to create a variety of test suites that will allow vendors and customers to make sure their software interoperates. An operating systems vendor, for example, would be able to ensure its products interoperate with business applications from a different vendor. Tests will be self-administered and are intended to help uncover "unconventional usage or errors in specification implementations," the group said.
Absent from the group was Sun Microsystems, creator of the Java programming language and one of the most prominent companies developing new tools and software for Web services. Sun executives were not available to comment on whether Sun plans to join the effort in the future, a company spokesman said.
The Web Services Interoperability Organization has a Web site, at http://www.ws-i.org.