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A cross-industry, joint-customer effort at web services group OASIS designed to put some beef into the term Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) has hit an early snag.

Some of the biggest names in enterprise computing, companies whose software is expected to provide the underpinnings of SOAs, are dragging their feet on joining a technical committee to establish a basic SOA reference model.

A reference model is vital because the term SOA has come to be used in an increasing number of contexts with different - even conflicting - meanings, according to the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards.

"There is no industry standard for this," technical committee chairman Duane Nickull told El Reg. "It's an absolute necessity for people who are architects, for SOAs to have logical boundaries and components."

The term SOA is the industry's latest buzzword, and considered an extension of web services by using XML-based interfaces to deliver services from loosely couple systems. Vendors often talk of putting specifications and standards in their middleware products to "enable" SOAs.

The proposed reference model, already in early draft, will not be tied directly to any standards, technologies or other concrete implementations. The model is expected to define core items such as how to discover an SOA and check for availability. The model would help vendors build and define the various components that would be used by customers to build specific SOAs.

The committee has seen strong early support from big IT users including Boeing, General Motors and credit card giant VISA International. This is arguably the strongest customer line-up for an industry effort since the launch of the Liberty Alliance Project to devise specifications for federated identity and single sign-in to web services.

Industry participants include Adobe, NEC and Fujitsu.

However, there is a yawning gap in membership from some of software's bigger hitters. Microsoft and Oracle have both signaled their intention to remain outside the group.

Microsoft - currently a committee observer - said it would not become a fully fledged member, while an Oracle spokesperson said the company would "pay attention" to the group's work but called it "premature" to converge on a single reference architecture. "There are a number of ways to build service oriented applications using the basic principles of well-define contracts, loose coupling and meta discovery," Oracle's spokesperson said.

Nickull noted Microsoft may not need to become directly involved, because the reference model was "very well aligned" with specifications in the company's WS- roadmap of specifications for web services. He speculated that Microsoft would probably only become involved in the work if: "They saw something that was in totally the wrong direction and [they] needed to save it."

IBM and BEA Systems, whose products lead in application servers, portals and integration, applied to join the technical committee during the last two weeks, Nickull said. ®

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