IBM attacks Microsoft over SOA

The two IT giants continue to tussle over open standards, as the argument spills over into service-oriented architecture
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor

IBM has criticised Microsoft over its approach to service-oriented architecture, saying the software giant offers a "lightweight messaging infrastructure".

Service-oriented architecture (SOA) links business applications to provide services. By creating an architecture where applications communicate with each other, using protocols including Extensible Markup Language (XML), the aim is to enhance business processes. SOA requires open standards to link applications. These can be produced by third-party vendors or in-house.

IBM said on Monday that Microsoft's approach to SOA was stymied by its emphasis on linking Microsoft-compatible processes. "We're doing all platforms; all applications," IBM Software Group executive Steven Mills told ZDNet.co.uk. "We're integrating everything. Microsoft is trying to provide connectivity capabilities for those that are running on Windows platforms. That's a profound difference."

"Their perspective is how to make Windows environments connect, as long as you're using Microsoft technology. Our view is: how do you make every environment connect whether you are using Microsoft or anyone else's technology," Mills said.

Mills claimed there is a "big difference" between IBM and Microsoft's approaches, saying that, in contrast to Microsoft, IBM uses open standards for XML and web services.

XML is used in SOA to describe both the data in the applications and the metadata necessary for the interaction between the applications.

Microsoft and IBM have tussled over XML standards. Microsoft favours Office Open XML (OOXML), which was originally developed in-house at Microsoft.

Microsoft wants OOXML to be accepted as an ISO standard. It insists that OOXML, having gained certification from standards organisation Ecma International, is now an Ecma concern, and no longer a proprietary standard.

Microsoft is one of the major technology players that participate in Ecma, along with IBM. IBM, however, uses and favours OpenDocument Format (ODF), an ISO-certified, open-source standard. The ODF Alliance and many in the open-source community argue that OOXML is proprietary.

Mills provided further contrast between IBM and Microsoft, saying that, in SOA, IBM takes vertical approaches to automation around inventory management and transaction control, and makes these horizontal processes.

"We want to be frictionless in transactions as we rethink business-processes models," said Mills. "Transaction integrity requires sustained access flow, and Microsoft doesn't do that. Microsoft is about passing messages from one Windows-based system to another, not about involving the transaction function. SOA is not just about the message-passing architecture, which is why Microsoft SOA is significantly different from IBM. The [Microsoft] MSDN mechanism is a lightweight messaging infrastructure in a message-based environment, whereas IBM delivers a fully functioning infrastructure," he said.

However, Microsoft argued that its SOA offerings were not "lightweight".

"Microsoft's SOA offering co-ordinates far more than Windows-based applications," said a Microsoft spokesperson. "In fact, 92 percent of our platform middleware customers report that they use our technology to co-ordinate applications on heterogeneous platforms. Microsoft customers recognise that SOA is not only about interconnecting services running in the data centre. In order for SOA to deliver real value, the right information capabilities have to be exposed to people, in a way they can consume it and use it. As the industry looks at SOA strategy, we must not overlook the people. We need to connect the endpoint nodes — the client PCs, the mobile devices — into the architecture. That's a key area of capability for Microsoft's holistic SOA platform."

Microsoft also insisted that its SOA approach is based on open standards. "Microsoft has repeatedly been recognised by independent analysts as leading the industry drive toward defining and implementing open protocol standards such as XML and WS-*. We think the Microsoft platform, quantitatively speaking, supports more web services standards than any other company in shipping enterprise-ready products — this includes thousands of standards in its products and participation in more than 400 standards organisations and working groups," the spokesperson said.

"Microsoft customers value the ease-of-use and productivity they experience with Microsoft SOA infrastructure, especially in comparison to more complex offerings from other vendors. Many customers benchmark Microsoft application platform technology versus technology from traditional "big enterprise" vendors, and find that, with Microsoft they get better performance, lower acquisition costs, faster development, and better applications. These customers find Microsoft to be lightweight, but only in terms of cost and complexity," the spokesperson said.

Editorial standards