Vendor Update: IBM and Sun

June 26, 2000

Edd Dumbill

Sun Taking Careful Approach to XML Products

In the current atmosphere of all-encompassing visions of the XML future, Sun Microsystems is taking a cautious, bottom-up, approach towards its own XML offerings.

Sun announced today the free availability of their XSLT compiler technology (see our report from XML Europe), which will be available shortly from their web site. Sun also plan to donate this technology to the Apache XML Project. The XSLT compiler arose from research efforts, and is viewed by Sun as an important factor in countering possible future bottlenecks in the transformation stages of e-business servers. The donation of the XSLT compiler to Apache reflects, altruism aside, an enthusiasm on Sun's part to continue to promote a tight association of Java with XML.

However, no news was forthcoming on larger initiatives, such as e-business infrastructure products to rival Microsoft's BizTalk. According to Ed Jolson, Marketing Strategist from Sun's XML Technology Center, Sun isn't sure they want to build a product with functionality to parallel BizTalk server. Instead, said Jolson, they're pursuing with XML enabling existing products, such as Forte Fusion, and products in the iPlanet Sun/Netscape alliance family.

Despite Sun's involvement with the ebXML project, Jolson said that it was "too early to say" what ebXML-specific products they might build. He did say, however, that Sun is focusing on components that could be used to build XML-enabled business systems, and that the Java API for XML Messaging would likely support ebXML message routing.

Although Sun appears to have multiple research projects underway focusing on new XML technologies like ebXML, they seem to have little to offer the developer public now in terms of new XML product strategy, beyond an XML-enabling of their current product lines. Despite their positive noises about their long-time association with XML, Sun doesn't yet present a very clear or confident front on their vision for XML.

IBM Charting Way For Web-Services Architecture

For IBM, this year is the "time to deliver" on the promise of XML, according to Bob Sutor, Program Director for XML Technology at IBM. After spending last year on technical evangelism for XML, IBM is introducing XML support across their product lines, and also rolling out XML infrastructure via their global services division.

The focus for IBM this year is more and more on integration, Sutor explained. It's because of this that IBM is concentrating on building web service-oriented architectures, connecting diverse businesses across the web. Core to this is the use of SOAP and XML schemas, both of which technologies IBM are firmly behind.

Sutor highlighted the importance of being able to do simple point-to-point transactions for e-business. More complex distributed architectures may emerge, but an important early need can be satisfied by the use of SOAP and XML schemas. To this end, IBM are currently looking at enabling their key middleware platforms with SOAP.

What about discoverability? Point-to-point connections have to start somewhere, unless the two parties already know each other. Sutor observed that portals such as Yahoo! and Excite could have an important part to play here, acting as registries for small business' SOAP servers. Service interface description languages are also critical here--so far, we've seen three separate proposals for these. Sutor said that IBM's alphaWorks site will shortly carry an implementation of NASSL, their proposal in this area.

Sutor was confident that the W3C was the place for vendors to continue to develop the specifications around web services. The consortium will shortly confirm whether it will pursue an activity with XML protocols--if so, we can expect to see its agenda enlarge to take care of infrastructure issues such as interface description. He also stressed that increased co-operation between standards groups such as ebXML and the W3C will be key, as the industry tries to formulate a strategy for the XML-based communication infrastructure of the future.

IBM is continuing to deploy XML within their products--and with a large commitment to their global services division, deploying XML within many organizations around the world. To a certain extent, their XML evangelism seems more sincere for this, as they sit on both sides of the implementation fence. Their donations to the Apache XML Project have certainly been of benefit to the community, and in turn have enabled IBM to more thoroughly test its XML parsing and transformation technology.

Once considered a lumbering giant, IBM now looks set to be in a position of leadership in XML technology, especially where XML and Java meet.