Interop: from Java/RMI over SOAP to WS-* demo on Open Source !!

Interesting message from Robert Wahbe, MS Corporate VP Connected Systems Division:

"A decade ago, Microsoft competed in a world in which promises of interoperability were tightly associated with Java and J2EE middleware products such as IBM WebSphere and BEA WebLogic. Last week at TechEd, Bob Muglia conclusively demonstrated how much Microsoft’s ten-year investment in XML and Web Services changed the terms of that competition. 

Given this key milestone I thought it was appropriate to take a moment to recognize these accomplishments, put this all into a context that we sometimes forget, and thank the people involved who put in enormous effort to advantage our platform.  

Rather than just follow Java, we set out in 1997 to create a better and more open interoperability technology.  Specifically, we defined two goals to be achieved in two stages: First, move the industry off Java as the default interoperability mechanism and move it onto open, platform-neutral, standard protocols.  Second, get a critical mass of vendors and standards orgs to agree on a new middleware protocol architecture based on those protocols and compatible with Microsoft’s product direction.

The first stage created XML and SOAP. XML is a completely extensible, open, transparent, vendor-neutral text syntax while SOAP is an XML-based, extensible message format and the basis of XML Web Services. We demonstrated that Microsoft could work productively with other vendors to drive interoperability through technology-motivated, open standards, in contrast to proprietary technologies such as Java RMI. Perhaps as importantly, XML Web Services drove a technological advance into interoperability by replacing DCOM’s and Java’s Remote Procedure Call assumptions with an explicitly message-based approach. We achieved our first milestone in 2003, when the SOAP protocol became a W3C recommendation.  In the years since, SOAP has grown in usage to become a basic interoperability protocol across the industry.  The message-based orientation we drove is also at the core of the REST approach, yielding a compatible path from REST for simple, ad hoc message exchanges to SOAP and Web Services for extensibility and advanced features in a standard way.

But interoperability needed to go beyond basic message exchange to appeal to IT managers and provide an open-protocol alternative to J2EE. Interoperability protocols needed sophisticated security, addressing, transaction and reliable massaging protocol components.  So Microsoft began the second stage, working with an expanded cast of industry vendors, and created the WS-STAR (WS Secure, Transacted, Addressed, Reliable) protocol and associated metadata architecture. These simultaneously reflected the best collaborative practices of the Web Services Standards and Partners team and the best engineering knowledge of the WCF team – meaning that the protocols and our implementation are very compatible. We achieved our second milestone this year, when the WS-STAR protocols became official recommendations of the W3C and OASIS standards organizations and multiple middleware vendors (IBM, Oracle and SAP) announced plans to support these standards in their products.

While tenured vendors such as IBM, SAP and Oracle will often demonstrate interoperability with us, because we compete with them, there is always a certain amount of ambivalence and mixed messaging in these demonstrations.  Consequently we’ve been looking for a way we irrefutably  prove to customers and vendors that WS-STAR is complete and viable.  So we thought what could be a more direct demonstration of the breadth of acceptance of the WS-STAR protocols than to also have the leading open-source middleware project embrace them?   And what if we made all of this available to customers in the form of a reference application that could be used by customers to clear away any FUD on WS-STAR from our competitors?

This is exactly what Bob Muglia demonstrated in his keynote speech at TechEd: The Apache Axis2 open source application platform now has a complete WS-STAR implementation and it is fully interoperable with WCF.

Greg Leake did an incredible job both in building the demo app and in showing it off. Watch the video here.

While much remains to be done to secure and build on the XML, SOAP and WS-STAR, proving that these protocols and this architecture works in field use by real vendors and then by real customers, and helping the industry to operate at the semantic level made possible by these protocols, we have now demonstrated completion of both ten-year milestones and constructed the base on which we and the industry will build future connected systems.  It is a remarkable accomplishment.

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