WS-Heavy, WS-Lite, WS-JustRight

A fault line runs beneath the groundswell that began a few years ago with XML Web services and continues today as SOA (service-oriented architecture).
One theory holds that the heavy-hitting vendors, working closely with key customers and partners, have ratcheted complexity up to a level that only they will be able to sustain.
Another view holds that industry heavyweights, who have paid their dues when it comes to security, transactions, and reliable messaging, are indeed qualified to translate their experience in these matters into the language of XML.
None of the enterprise architects we interviewed for this story has pledged allegiance to either of these camps, though. They're intensely pragmatic people who will do whatever it takes to get the job done, and it's instructive to learn how they are -- and are not -- making use of Web services standards. [Full story at]

It's been a while since I researched and wrote a big feature story for the print magazine. This one, which ran on InfoWorld's cover last week, was a lot of fun to do. I looked for practioners with real-world SOA-style development projects under their belts, and very much enjoyed my interviews with them.

The original plan for this story was to explore the tension between the WS-* and Web 2.0 styles of service-oriented development. I wasn't expecting to find a lot of love for WS-*, frankly, but things turned out differently. Enterprise architects have a healthy respect for WS-*. RouteOne's T.N. Subramiam told me about the relief he felt when vendor-sponsored specifications enabled him to scrap several homegrown efforts. Corillian's Scott Hanselman described how the much-maligned WSDL 1.1 provided the framework for his service-oriented banking middleware. And Furrukh Khan, from Ohio State's medical school, related a compelling tale about the benefit's of WS-ReliableMessaging as implemented in Microsoft's Windows Communication Framework (Indigo).

On the Web 2.0 side of the equation, I wanted to get beyond the well-known poster children -- Amazon, eBay, Google -- and find enterprise architects who are making serious bets on non-WS-aligned service orientation. The example I found was instructive. Martin Brodbeck, with Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals, talked about using RSS to unify the strategic content of his knowledge-intensive enterprise. And he articulated the need for the same kinds of SOA-style management of that RSS knowledge network as he demands of his services cloud, whose reliability, routing, and policy-driven security are supplied by the Blue Titan fabric.

I was fascinated to learn, the day after the story appeared, that Bill Gates is thinking along the same lines (emphasis mine):

There is a little bit of tension between very interpretive, simple-to-create stuff, like REST or POX [plain old XML], and very structured, tight stuff like Web services. And if the industry is smart, we can get the best of both worlds, where things that are not very complex, you just want to go get a stock quote, a weather thing, fine. Use REST.

But as you get up to secure protocols that you want to audit what's going on, you really have got to exchange lots of data, things coming out of order, you want to correct that, if you get to richer protocols, you want to have continuity that you can start something in the simple form and then put it into these richer, very statically type-checked, contract-driven approaches. And so that's an evolution you've seen in the last, even last nine months, in the Windows Communications Framework, Indigo. [An interview with Bill Gates]

Three years ago, I hoped that formal Web services would continue to keep one foot planted firmly in the interactive and RSS-enabled Web. That wish is coming true. What I failed to anticipate was the inverse scenario -- that the interactive and RSS-enabled Web would in turn benefit from SOA-style infrastructure. That's about to happen now too, and I'm on the edge of my seating waiting to see what happens next.

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