Analysis: More web services, more factions

Another web services standard, another fight. Fresh from the end of the recent end of hostilities that unified two opposing camps around a single web services standard, the industry seemingly has taken a step backwards and introduced strife where once there was harmony. But this new war is actually an emerging political tactic the industry is using to settle disputes more constructively than before.

At the start of 2003, IBM, HP, Cisco and CA proposed a specification called WS-Distributed Management (WSDM), designed for managing devices on a network using web services. Oasis, one of the many bodies managing web services standards, created a technical committee to supervise the spec. Now a group including Intel, Microsoft, AMD, Dell and Sun have proposed an alternative spec called WS-Management. Not wanting to waste time, they've already committed themselves to including support for WS-Management in future hardware and software, and have passed the specification to a little known standards body called the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) "for comment".

Already, this is starting to look like the situation WS-ReliableMessaging found itself in earlier this year, when WS-Addressing arrived: one long-standing web services specification is threatened by another group's proposal and the two eventually compromise. It was the switch of Sun from the WS-ReliableMessaging camp to join new partner Microsoft in WS-Addressing that prompted the originators to cave in and amalgamate their technology into the newcomers', but this time Sun is already in the new group. So who will win this time, given the heavyweight hardware vendors behind WSDM?

As with WS-Addressing, there is likely to be a compromise. Vendors are now playing standards bodies against each other as a tactic to get their technology adopted, and all are aware of this new gambit. With ever-changing factions supporting each proposed standards, no one can afford to alienate an enemy who might be an ally elsewhere.

So at this point, the two groups are maintaining their technologies are complementary, although each claims their specification works on more machines than the other's. "The WSDM effort is more focused on the needs of traditional management vendors in providing sophisticated information on applications and services running in the data centre," says David Hamilton, director of Microsoft's Windows enterprise management division. "Customers' management needs are much broader… We believe this is complementary – our broad focus and their deep focus in a particular area." By contrast, IBM argues that WSDM is better suited to handling a variety of client and server computers and isn't as limited as WS-Management to Windows PCs and handheld computers.

Already the prospects of a compromise are quite high. The WS-Management group is leaving the door open for the WSDM camp to join them. Talks with HP and CA have already begun and the decision not to propose WS-Management as a standard to the DMTF is a clear sign that the newcomers don't want to up the stakes too much yet. With Sun and Dell also on the Oasis technical committee for WSDM, some friendly persuasion from within the WSDM camp as well as some attempts to combine the technologies can be expected, too. A merged WSDM/WS-Management shouldn't be too far away.

As more web services standards are proposed, there will be more of these "specification skirmishes": one camp will devise a specification that meets their needs but not their competitors'; the competitors will club together, do the same and submit the rival spec to another standards body; and the two will eventually agree to create a single compromise specs that will roughly meet everyone's needs. While it won't help customer confidence in the standard line that the industry is unified behind web services, it will at least be better for the customer than the all-out standards wars of the 80s and 90s.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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