Is the WSTF one Web services forum too many?

IBM and Oracle, among others, back the new organization focused on testing, but questions are raised about redundancies with an existing group

Vendors including IBM and Oracle are launching an industry organization Monday for Web services interoperability, despite the existence of another Web services interoperability group with many of the same members.

Called the WSTF (Web Services Test Forum), the group is being formed to improve the quality of Web services standards. It will use customer-based scenarios to validate interoperability in a multi-vendor testing environment, according to a statement from WSTF. Customers and vendors can dynamically test applications against implementations to ensure interoperability. Testing is intended to help delivery of higher quality products and open standards specifications to simplify integration and improve interoperability.

Also on the list of the 15 current members are such companies as Active Endpoint, Cisco, Ford Motor, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Red Hat, and Tibco. But some of these same companies, including IBM, Oracle, Fujitsu, Hitachi, and Tibco, are also members of the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I), formed in February 2002 also to promote Web services interoperability. WS-I has emphasized the use of profiles to promote interoperability.

A look at explanations of the groups on their respective Web sites reveals similarities.

"The Web Services Interoperability Organization is an open industry organization chartered to establish best practices for Web services interoperability, for selected groups of Web services standards, across platforms, operating systems, and programming languages," according to the WS-I Web site.

WSTF, however, emphasizes testing in its statement.

"The WS Test Forum Group is meant to provide an environment in which members of the Web service community can develop interop scenarios as well as test those scenarios against other Web service implementations. It also provides a common test bed of regression tests that the community can use during the development of their Web service implementations," the WSTF site states.

An IBM official stressed the differences between the two groups.

"We think WS-I has served us very well to define some of the profiles and focus on interoperability work for some of those basic profiles. [WSTF] is kind of an evolution," for Web services interoperability, said Karla Norsworthy, vice president of software standards at IBM.

WSTF allows particpants to maintain interoperable endpoints enabling, for example, interoperability with IBM's WebSphere application server, Norsworthy said.

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Asked why the new efforts required formation of a whole new industry organization, Norsworthy said the WSTF offers a more lightweight approach to interoperability and enables more customer input. WS-I, she said, has been good for building consensus around a small set of key profiles for everyone to implement. IBM plans to continue its WS-I participation, Norsworthy said.

With WSTF, three or four vendors could propose a scenario for interoperability that could then generate implementations for testing.

"We really do want to make sure we're not [forming a new organization] every time we turn around but we found this to be important and complementary," Norsworthy said. WSTF should add clarity rather than confusion, she stressed.

But absent from the roster of WSTF are WS-I members such as Microsoft and Sun Microsystems. Both were contacted but have not chosen to participate at this point, according to IBM.

Sun and Microsoft noted participation in WS-I when asked why they are not climbing aboard WSTF.

Sun is taking a wait-and-see approach to WSTF, the company said in a statement. "Sun is strongly committed to Web services interoperability and testing. Sun has been a member of WS-I and has been collaborating with Microsoft to ensure .Net and Java Web Services interoperability for some time," Sun said.

Microsoft stressed its WS-I efforts.

"We have not heard customer interest in the creation of new, alternative interoperability organization such as that recommended by the WSTF proposal," said Microsoft's Paul Cotton, group manager for Web services standards and partners, in a statement. "Given the incredible industry-wide momentum and leadership of WS-I, Microsoft has chosen to continue to invest in driving advances in Web services interoperability through existing means. We believe that WS-I provides a proven and open organization and process that best suits our customers' needs."

WSTF efforts, though, can involve Microsoft software endpoints or software from other non-participants, Norsworthy said. The group intends to work with standards bodies to help the standardization process for emerging standards.

An analyst, while acknowledging redundancy between WS-I and WSTF, nonetheless gave nod to the formation of WSTF.

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"Yes, in some ways this is redundant with the efforts of the WS-I, but then again, the WS-I hasn't been doing much in the past few years. In fact, it's pretty notable how absent the WS-I has been from SOA efforts in the past few years," said Ronald Schmelzer, senior analyst at ZapThink. "The fact that we would need a new organization to focus on interoperability scenarios says much about the inability for the industry to come to any long-term agreement on these things."

Schmelzer suggested that perhaps a consortium of large IT buyers might be better equipped to champion interoperability than IT vendors.

Web services has been intended to allow for standard interoperability across systems via specifications such as SOAP and XML. The concept certainly has spawned its share of standardization efforts. Companies including Microsoft led development of the WS-* specifications for interoperability while OASIS and World Wide Web Consortium also have handled standards efforts.

Indeed, WS-* and SOAP-based Web services have had their critics, such as David Heinemeier Hansson, founder of the popular Ruby on Rails Web framework. He has advocated REST Web services as offering a simplified alternative. WS-* even has been derisively called "ws death star" by opponents. WSTF can ponder REST-based scenarios, Norsworthy said.