Unlikely Partnership for Next-Generation Web Services

IBM and Microsoft are fierce competitors, but they've united to deliver protocols that will deliver a reliable and secure messaging and transactional infrastructure for heterogeneous environments.

In the movie Ghostbusters, Bill Murray’s character, Pete Venkman, cites a litany of occurrences—the uneventful cohabitation of dogs and cats foremost among them—which he says are clear indications that strange things are afoot in New York City.

If Pete Venkman had been in New York last week, he might have considered adding another example to his list. At an event held at the St. Regis Hotel, two highly competitive vendors—IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp.—came together to promote Web services technologies running on Windows Server 2003, WebSphere and Linux.

It’s actually not as strange of a pairing as it might sound. To be sure, IBM and Microsoft are bitter rivals in almost all of the spaces in which they compete. But for several years now, the two companies have found common ground in the burgeoning Web services arena. IBM and Microsoft famously co-developed the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) standard, for example, and have collaborated on other Web services standards as well.

Last week, Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chief software architecture and chairman, teamed up with Steve Mills, senior vice president and general manager of IBM’s Software Group, to tout a reliable and secure messaging and transactional infrastructure for highly heterogeneous environments.

"What you're seeing here for the first time is a heterogeneous case, with IBM in half the systems and Microsoft on the other half of the systems,” said Gates.

The two executives demonstrated an application that uses Web services—including Web services protocols that are still on both companies’ drawing boards—to link an automotive parts supplier with an auto manufacturer and its dealers. The demo exploited a combination of IBM and Microsoft products, including WebSphere Application Server, Windows Server 2003, SQL Server 2000 and the Tablet PC. The demonstration also tapped a Linux-based server, along with the Netscape Web browser.

The demonstration was enabled by code from three jointly developed Web services protocols that Gates claimed will “take Web services to a new level”: WS-Reliable Messaging, WS-Security, and WS-Transaction. Both executives said that when they’ve finished the protocols, they’ll submit them as “royalty-free” standards to both OASIS and the W3C.

IBM’s Mills—who acknowledged that it’s "important … that we give buyers a reason to spend" on technology in the tough economy—argued that the new Web services protocols could enable applications that ratchet up integration among business processes, helping to jumpstart a somnolent market for IT spending. "We think whatever they spend on Web services to do things like connect up supply chains offers them tremendous payback. I think there is a huge opportunity for making money here," Mills said.

Gates, for his part, said that the new protocols will finally start to deliver on the hype that’s surrounded Web services technologies from the get-go. "What we are trying to do is laying the foundation in hopes that all of that hype that didn't happen in the 1990s can happen now," he said.

The executives deflected questions about a thawing of relations between IBM and Microsoft, however. “There is always going to be a delta between industry standards we agree on and what [our] companies do uniquely,” Gates explained.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.