We invited BEA, Cape Clear, IBM, Iona, Microsoft, MindElectric Co., Novell, Oracle, Systinet and Sun to our Green Bay, Wis., Real-World Labs® to see which of their secret sauces could withstand our rigorous testing. IBM passed, saying a forthcoming release would be a better fit, and Microsoft reluctantly declined as well, preferring to serve up Windows Server 2003 at a later date. MindElectric bowed out, citing resource issues, and though Oracle worked hard to meet our deadlines, resource issues also prevented its participation.
So we tossed, whipped, mixed and beat products from BEA, Cape Clear, Iona, Novell, Systinet and Sun with the frenetic energy of the Swedish Chef. All the products deserve a standing ovation for their interoperability--during our testing, a failure to interoperate with our clients, regardless of the operating system/ development language platform used to build each client was negligible, and total interoperability was achieved with minimal tweaks to product-generated WSDL (Web Services Definition Language).
One of the beautiful things about Web services is the agnostic nature of the standards behind SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol). Because every existing Web services standard--from SOAP to WSDL to UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) to WS-Security--is based on XML, it really doesn't matter what underlying operating system the product resides on; to provide Web services functionality the Web service must process XML. That means that half of the Web services' secret sauce, regardless of whether it's served on a J2EE or Microsoft .Net plate, is the XML parser used by the product. The second half is the way in which a product handles marshaling and unmarshaling of arguments. Marshaling is the process of taking arguments from the submitted XML document, such as a purchase order or customer ID, and putting it in a format usable by the developer. Unmarshaling is the opposite process--taking a language-specific construct and turning it into XML. If either of these ingredients is substandard, it means poorer performance and a more difficult time for developers to create Web services of their own.
The success of any such initiative is also dependent on the development environment and its support for building Web services. There's a multitude of new standards in play, and all the products we tested try to minimize the need for you to learn these standards, thus making your foray into the Web services world painless. The degree to which a development environment is seamlessly integrated with the target deployment platform is crucial, as is the product's ability to develop Web services rapidly--with minimal training. If a product can generate the framework and require only that the developer write business logic code and push a button to deploy, it has the chops to move your developers into the world of Web services.
As for security, we were disappointed in the general lack of support for XML-SIG and XML-Encryption in almost every product we tested. We understand the reluctance of most vendors to include support for
WS-Security--it's still under development--but XML-SIG, albeit still a work in progress, has been available since 1999, and XML-Encryption appeared in 2001. Both BEA and Sun have indicated that support for both standards will be available in their next product incarnations, while others are waiting for finalization of WS-Security before offering support.
Taking all this into consideration, we gave our Editor's Choice award to Novell's Extend 4.0. for its appearance, easy-to-follow Web services development and management, and broad range of features. BEA's WebLogic 7.0 was hot on Extend's trail, followed closely by Cape Clear's CapeConnect.