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IBM's Web services play off Microsoft and Sun

Rachel Chalmers

Are relations between IBM and Sun finally thawing? With Sun's J2EE battling it out with Microsoft's .NET to become the de facto standard platform for Web services, the release of IBM's new WebSphere Developer Kit places Big Blue squarely in the J2EE camp.

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At the same time, Sun Microsystems has joined a number of other companies in supporting the WS-Security specification IBM and its partners have submitted to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Systems (OASIS).

On the other hand, IBM's partners on WS-Security included Microsoft as well as VeriSign. It's not so much that IBM wants to placate Sun. Rather, Big Blue's middleware strategy seems to involve playing Sun off against Microsoft, and vice versa. So far, it's working like a charm.

Technology: IBM has released a WebSphere Developer Kit aimed squarely at Web services developers, and designed to promote the use of J2EE over .NET. It has also submitted a couple of Web services implementations to the Apache Software Foundation, and with Microsoft and VeriSign, has handed the WS-Security specification to OASIS.

Director of marketing for e-business technologies Scott Hebner describes the WebSphere Developer Kit for Web Services as a reference platform for J2EE. There's a Java runtime based on WebSphere infrastructure, a copy of IBM's Java software developer kit, a stripped-down database, a private UDDI v2.0 registry, and a handful of command line development tools and a clutch of examples. The whole package is designed to let developers build and test applications before moving them to a deployment server like WebSphere.

Besides the SDK, IBM announced two contributions to the Apache Software Foundation. Hebner explained that it's IBM's practice to work with standards organizations, build reference implementations then donate software to the appropriate open source projects. In this case, Apache gets implementations of the emerging Web Services Invocation Framework and Web Service Inspection standards.

The Web Services Invocation Framework provides an extensible way to invoke Web services over JMS, J2EE RMI, SOAP, CORBA and other transport protocols. Without this, developers would have to bind services to each specific protocol they intended to support. Web Services Inspection allows developers to identify and discover the capabilities of Web services that are not listed in a UDDI registry.

Finally, the Web Services Security Specification has been submitted to OASIS. IBM, Microsoft and VeriSign led development on WS-Security, but Baltimore, BEA, Cisco, Documentum, Entrust, Intel, Iona, Netegrity, Novell, Oblix, OpenNetwork, RSA, SAP, Sun and Systinet have all expressed their intention to participate in the development effort. WS-Security defines a standard set of SOAP message headers that can be used to ensure that Web services are confidential and have integrity. It should lay the foundation for higher-level security measures such as federation, policy enforcement and trust.

Competition: Despite the participation of Systinet in the WS-Security effort, Hebner doubts whether Web services platform vendors like Systinet and Cape Clear can survive and thrive. His reasoning is that IBM intends to build a J2EE Web services platform and give it away. The value of such a platform is precisely its adherence to open source and open standards. "If they're added value is a SOAP parser, that's almost like being the provider of a fax program in Windows," he quipped. "It's a commodity part of the platform."

As he sees it, IBM's real competition in the space is Microsoft's .NET. As far as Hebner is concerned, developers are choosing between J2EE and .NET when they implement Web services. He doesn't even rate Sun as a competitor, despite its recent aggressive moves into Web services and the fact that Sun is shipping a complete J2EE application server free with Solaris 9.

If its support for J2EE and inclusion of Sun in the OASIS submission seem like a softening of IBM's attitude toward its hapless rival, it's only because Big Blue thinks it's time to put a shorter leash on its partner in WS-Security, WS-Interoperability and the original SOAP specification – the irrepressible and hyper-competitive Microsoft.

The451 assessment: Don't imagine that Sun's inclusion in the WS-Security submission, or IBM's evangelism on J2EE's behalf, represent any softening of Big Blue's attitude towards Sun. It's more likely that IBM, having collaborated closely with Microsoft in defining Web services, now wishes to remind Redmond that it has its own platform for implementing them.

The emergence of two broad platforms for implementing Web services may well turn out to be a good thing, especially since IBM and Microsoft have invested so much time in standards to ensure the platforms interoperate. Developers moving up from the Visual Basic world will no doubt appreciate the greater power and flexibility of C#, while the many corporations that suspect Microsoft's motives in the Web services world have a plethora of J2EE middleware vendors to supply their needs.


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