Q&A: Microsoft, IBM Lead Formation of WS-I Organization to Promote Interoperability of Web Services

REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 6, 2002 — The technology industry’s rapidly growing interest in XML-based Web services — which allow people to access and integrate information from throughout the Web, seamlessly and securely — got a boost today with the announcement that Microsoft, IBM and other leading technology companies have formed a cross-industry initiative, the Web Services Interoperability (WS-I) Organization. The focus of the WS-I — whose founders also include Accenture, BEA Systems Inc., Fujitsu Ltd., Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp., Oracle Corp. and SAP AG, — is to promote a key technology for what Microsoft has called the next generation of the Internet.

Dan’l Lewin, Microsoft Vice President of Microsoft .NET Business Development Click for high-resolution image

To learn how the WS-I plans to accomplish this challenging task — and how other industry players can benefit from the WS-I’s work — PressPass spoke with Dan’l Lewin, vice president of Microsoft .NET Business Development at Microsoft. Lewin is responsible for managing and expanding strategic business relationships in Silicon Valley around Microsoft .NET, the company’s strategy for delivering Web services.

PressPass: Microsoft has been promoting XML Web services — through technology and product introductions, through submissions to standards bodies and through broad evangelism in the industry — for a year. Where are developers and customers in their adoption of Web services?

Lewin: Companies in virtually every major industry are taking advantage of .NET to offer XML-based Web services that connect people, devices and information across the Internet in new, personalized and highly beneficial ways. At last month’s InfoWorld Web Services event in San Francisco, I was really struck by the palpable excitement that surrounds Web services. There’s been so much excitement in the industry around Web services, and the broader .NET platform that supports them, that more than 8,000 developers have already gone live with applications based on Microsoft Visual Studio .NET, our premier tool for this market — and that’s even before the product officially launches next week. That’s simply unprecedented.

PressPass: Why are Web services and .NET gaining such momentum?

Lewin: I think it’s because they address such a keenly felt need on the part of enterprises, their business partners, customers and everyone who uses the Internet. Web services and .NET promise to enable companies for the first time to integrate their complex and heterogeneous information infrastructures and processes, and to enable consumers to take greater advantage of the Internet, more securely and with less effort, than ever before. They enable interoperability across platforms, applications and programming languages. Which is not to say that there aren’t some concerns about the future of the market, because there are.

PressPass: What are those concerns?

Lewin: As Web services become increasingly mainstream, and as standards bodies focus new attention on the area, customers need a way to keep abreast of all the increasing complexity. Interoperability is the whole reason for Web services — Web services are designed to work with information and processes anywhere within a corporate intranet or across the Internet, so it’s crucial that everyone implement Web services in a consistent way to ensure that interoperability.

Customers implementing Web services today want to know that their investments comply with the standards-based model of Web services and are capable of achieving interoperability with other Web services. At the same time, they want to know that Web services will continue to evolve to meet the increasingly complex requirements of today’s global applications. If, on the other hand, standards efforts become fragmented and interoperability is reduced, the growth and promise — frankly, the whole reason — for Web services will diminish.

PressPass: What exactly is WS-I?

Lewin: WS-I is an initiative, led by Microsoft and IBM along with Accenture, BEA Systems Inc., Fujitsu Ltd., Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp., Oracle Corp. and SAP AG, that is committed to promoting interoperability among Web services, based on common, industry-accepted definitions and related XML standards support. It’s open to all organizations committed to the goal of Web-services interoperability. The organization is dedicated to two key goals. First, WS-I wants to provide implementation guidance and education to accelerate customer deployments. Second, it will articulate and promote a common industry vision for Web-services interoperability to ease customer decision making, to grow market adoption of Web services and to ensure the continued evolution of Web services technologies.

PressPass: How does WS-I plan to deliver on these goals?

Lewin: I think you’ll see WS-I active in three key areas: Web-services interoperability guidance and testing to accelerate customer deployments, Web-services profiles help with adoption and support for key Web-services standards, and a roadmap to help customers understand the long-term architectural directions of Web services.

PressPass: What type of testing do you envision?

Lewin: Part of what’s driven Web services until now has been a growing baseline of Web-services standards, including SOAP 1.1, XML Schema, WSDL 1.1 and UDDI. The WS-I will encourage a set of best practices around these standards. It will also deliver a set of compliance tools that customers can use to test their baseline implementations of the standards. The tests will be voluntary, self-administered and aimed at discovering errors in implementation of the specifications so they can be corrected. We want to make it easier for customers to improve the interoperability of their infrastructure and applications.

PressPass: What does WS-I hope to accomplish with the Web-services profiles?

Lewin: It’s important to do everything possible to simplify the issues surrounding implementation and interoperability. So WS-I will aggregate collections of key Web services standards into meaningful groups that are easier for customers to work with. It will also promote the evolutionary adoption of key standards, and evolve the scope and definition of profiles as required by market needs and the maturity of underlying standards. Web services, and the market for them, must grow and evolve together. Web-services profiles will help that happen.

PressPass: What about that roadmap?

Lewin: Customers won’t come along for the Web services “ride” if they don’t know where they’re going. The roadmap is a proof point for the idea that there is a clear vision for the future of Web services — and it tells the industry what that vision is. It helps customers to understand the long-term architectural directions of Web services.

And it’s not entirely new. Last April, Microsoft and IBM jointly submitted a Web-services framework for evolving Web-services protocols and standards to the major industry standards body, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). That framework — it was submitted in the form of a white paper — will serve as the foundation for the new roadmap, an evolving document that will identify functional areas and capabilities to be addressed by future Web services specifications. The roadmap will guide implementers and customers so that their work can remain compatible with the specifications as they are developed.

PressPass: You mention the W3C. What is the relationship between WS-I and the standards bodies? How is WS-I different from them?

Lewin: That touches on a really important point. While there are many organizations now engaged in developing specifications for Web services, customers are looking for something more than specifications. They’re looking for industry alignment and agreement around groupings of specifications to provide interoperability and direction. WS-I brings the work of multiple standards-development organizations together for the purpose of providing clarity and conformance around Web services. WS-I, unlike a standards body, is a forum to provide implementation guidance to customers.

As for the relationship between WS-I and the standards organizations, it’s a complementary relationship. WS-I’s deliverables will be based on Web-services standards developed by the many standards organizations. The standards organizations set the specifications for SOAP, WSDL, XML and the rest of the Web-services alphabet soup. WS-I seeks to provide guidance and consistency around implementing the specifications.

The standards organizations, for example, provide testing materials that focus on particular specifications. WS-I test tools will address interoperability at a level above that of specification-by-specification. It will also help determine the overall conformance of a given Web service to a profile or set of specifications that may come from various sources.

PressPass: Who should be interested in participating in WS-I?

Lewin: I think anyone implementing Web services should be interested in WS-I, whether they’re developers, systems integrators, or organizations deploying Web services. Developers will find that interoperability will be a growing factor in customers’ decisions regarding Web-services implementations. Developers need to know that their applications will comply and be interoperable. WS-I’s testing activities will help ensure that. Systems integrators, meanwhile, will benefit from the WS-I’s best-practices activities as they address client projects and needs. Enterprises, of course, want to know that the solution they’re deploying for interoperability really provides that interoperability.

PressPass: How can these various industry participants become members of WS-I or find out about its work?

Lewin: WS-I is open to everyone. The first step for any interested person or organization is to check out the Web site — www.ws-i.org .