Sun Lashes Out at Microsoft, Others Over Spec

UPDATE: Incensed that Microsoft and a few other firms published their own specification for reliable Web services, Sun takes its protestations public.
In another indication that high-tech powers are not always on the same page where Web services are concerned, Sun Microsystems this week blasted Microsoft, IBM, BEA Systems and TIBCO for publishing their own specification for Web Services reliability.

Sun, along with Fujitsu, Hitachi, NEC, Oracle, Sonic Software, published a Web Services Reliability (WS-Reliability) specification in January 2003. Microsoft, IBM, BEA and TIBCO this week published the WS-ReliableMessaging specification, which analysts say is different, but equally important.

The WS-Reliability approach by Sun and its partners calls for guaranteed "message ordering, message delivery and the removal of duplicate messages." The new WS-ReliableMessaging spec aims to provide the "necessary protocol for ensuring that unreceived and duplicate messages can be detected, and received messages can be processed in the order in which they were sent."

Despite the fact that the specs work to meet the same end -- proper message delivery -- Sun is incensed about the overlap and different approach, which it said will drive a wedge in an industry already fraught with uncertainty and tentativeness.

In a public statement, Sun said: "The announcement by Microsoft, IBM, BEA and TIBCO regarding the publication of two new specifications stands in stark contrast to Sun's philosophy and the larger industry need for standards convergence among vendors in this space."

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based firm went so far as to call IBM and Microsoft a "disruptive force" that has "now moved away from a leadership position in Web services standards."

"These specifications clearly replicate work already underway in OASIS to address WS-Reliability and we do not understand why this wasn't taken into consideration before these specifications were published," Sun said.

Ed Julson, group marketing manager for Web services standards and technologies at Sun, told internetnews.com there is another issue at play here: that IBM and Microsoft aren't turning over their published specs to standards bodies for review, which he said is akin to "Chinese water torture."

"We are taking this as part of a larger pattern of behavior, one in which [Microsoft and IBM], over the last 13 to 15 months or so, have published about 12 specs and only two of them are licensable," Julson said. "The others are not licensable or ready for deployment. As a developer, you want some assurances of interoperability and the control from a standards body in the industry."

"Forget about politics and pettiness," Julson said. "There is nothing these standards bodies can do until an organization or company decides to play by the rules. The onus is on Microsoft and IBM to finish what they started developing."

Sun and its WS-Reliability partners took their specification to e-business interoperability group OASIS for approval and now feel they are being undermined by the other firms. IBM and Microsoft have not yet decided if they will go through OASIS or the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for the approval of their spec.

But the WS-ReliableMessaging party claims their approach makes sense. After all, it was created to interoperate with other specifications.

IBM issued the following statement about the issue: "We want to work with the industry and our customers to develop a ReliableMessaging specification that meets customer needs and is designed to work hand-in-glove with existing advanced Web services specifications, such as WS-Security, WS-Policy, WS-Coordination, and WS-Transactions and BPEL4WS. When the WS-Reliability spec was released, we reviewed it and concluded that there were enough differences in the work we had underway that we should finish our specification and make it available to the industry for feedback. Microsoft, IBM and industry partners have been working on these reliable messaging specifications for some time. In fact, in the series of Web services announcements that IBM and MSFT has made with others in 2002, we included an architecture slide that incorporated the aspect of reliable messaging."

Analysts weigh in

ZapThink's Senior Analyst Jason Bloomberg has repeatedly cited reliability as one of the key roadblocks companies are trying to address, along with security and management, en route to full acceptance in the sector. But according to Bloomberg, the specifications are somewhat different. Moreover, at least one of the WS-Reliability party, Sonic Software, doesn't have an issue with the WS-ReliableMessaging endeavor.

"WS-Reliability is a point-to-point spec, while WS-ReliableMessaging is a more complex, end-to-end spec that addresses intermediaries -- an essential feature of B2B messaging," Bloomberg told internetnews.com. "Sonic understands that WS-Reliability is a first step, and is willing to work with the vendors in the other camp to develop a unified spec."

To be sure, Sonic VP & Chief Technology Evangelist Dave Chappell, called for cooperation.

"In the grand scheme of things, customers want to see vendors cooperate, not compete, for the establishment and adoption of standards," he said in a statement. "When opposing vendor groups pick these kinds of fights, they all suffer in the eyes of the customer. We at Sonic believe these efforts should converge. It's the only sensible outcome here."

With that, Bloomberg harshly questioned Sun's defensive mentality.

"That perspective begs the question as to Sun's attitude," Bloomberg said. "Is Sun still taking their tired, sour grapes stance regarding Microsoft and IBM? It sounds like it to me."

Stephen O'Grady, senior analyst with research firm Redmonk, conceded Sun could still be stinging from the WS-I issue, in which Sun was fighting with Microsoft and IBM over its status in the Web Services Interoperability (WS-I) consortium. Sun desired to be considered a board member and an equal partner. Microsoft and IBM stalled early on but ultimately let Sun join their party as a contributing member.

"As for sour grapes, clearly Sun is somewhat bitter about the late WS-I entry, O'Grady said, "but has some cause here as it would have been better if the folks here had approached WS-Reliability for this work."

Interestingly, Sun is currently making a bid for one of two board seats being added to WSI in the next two weeks.

Sun's vitriol in this case is symptomatic of the tense relationships in the industry, as the company accused its rivals of muddying the Web services space: "The publication of these two new specifications add to the complexity and general fragmentation of Web services standards. There is absolutely no reason for vendors to duplicate efforts that are currently underway in recognized standards bodies. It's detrimental to our respective customers, to the industry and to the advancement and adoption of Web services as a technology."






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