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Sun joins Web services standards board

Integration software company WebMethods also takes a seat on the board of directors at the Web Services Interoperability Organization, which controls compliance with Web services standards.

The Web Services Interoperability Organization Wednesday announced that Sun Microsystems and integration software company WebMethods have been elected to its board of directors.

WS-I provides guidelines to software companies and businesses on how to conform to published Web services standards. The group, which has about 160 members, was created in February 2002 to coordinate the work of different standards bodies and ensure that Web services products adhere to the same software blueprints.

The term Web services describes a series of XML-based protocols and a method for writing programs that can easily exchange information across disparate systems. Because companies can implement published standards in a somewhat different way, incompatibilities can arise between different companies' products. The WS-I's intent is to publish "profiles," or guidelines, that give companies and customers a way to ensure smooth interoperability between standards-compliant software.

Particularly significant in the voting results is the election of Sun to the board of directors.

In what was perceived as maneuvering to minimize the role of Sun in the Web services standards process, the company was not invited as a founding member of the WS-I. Microsoft and IBM were among the founding members of the WS-I although Sun later joined the group.

The board of the WS-I will set the agenda for the standards group over the coming year when the term starts April 1. The group will tackle Web services standards that address security and are expected to take on reliable messaging specifications as well.

The WS-I has already published a draft profile for adhering to the basic Web services protocols, including Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Web services Description Language (WSDL), Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) and XML document definitions.

Sun's chief Web services strategist, Mark Hapner, will server a two-year term on the board, and WebMethods' vice president of enterprise Web services, Andy Astor, will serve one year. Current board members Accenture, BEA Systems, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP will stay on. Starting next year, members will be elected each year to two-year terms.

With Web services standards becoming increasingly important to future products, there is a lot riding on the success of the WS-I's goal of interoperable software, analysts said. The WS-I is expected to help sort out overlapping standards proposals, some of which have caused friction among companies.

As the WS-I moves beyond basic Web services capabilities into areas like security, the group has its work cut out for it, said Sun's Hapner.

"It's taken a lot of work just to do that initial basic profile. And there is a lot to consider, so things are going to get complicated very quickly," Hapner said. "This end-to-end viewpoint that the WS-I is taking on is very important and actually will require significant investment by the industry to achieve."

Thus far, WS-I is getting the appropriate industry and customer support for its work, said John Kiger, director of Web services strategy at BEA Systems.

"It's a dynamic process where we get a lot of divergent views," Kiger said. "With the appropriate leadership, the WS-I can corral the divergent views into a resolution that meets the initial goals."