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Many of my colleaques in other jobs think that a standards architects job entails an exciting lifestyle. A popular belief is that we may travel to lots of meetings usually held in exotic places, hang out in fab restaurants and interact with famous folks from different companies that shape our industry. Having returned from yet another one of “these” trips, I thought a lot about the perks of attending this one and decided to write about the highlights of the meeting and my trip.

The first WS-Policy working group meeting was held in Austin, TX on July 11-13th. Yes, the scorcing heat probably reached close to “oven” proportions for mere mortals like me, but just like other meetings I spent most of the daylight hours of a day in a meeting room with my colleagues, where I know probably 90% of them prior to this trip and most my evenings/nights rushing to catch up with the work world that is moving on without me. Being a standards architect, that is standard fare. The little bonbons tucked into these busy days usually make lasting impressions, however. This trip, nonetheless had one too. First, lets talk about interesting tidbits of the meeting.

To be honest, I was not sure what to expect in this f2f meeting. After all, WS-Policy may appear to be in a solid state. A very successful interop event was held already (by SAP that Claus previously reported WS-Policy doesn’t rock – it just runs smoothly). Further, the charter of the policy working group is written in a way not to allow major upheavels or changes to the submitted specifications, but rather to enable tightening of the specifications, i.e. bug fixing. This is why the wg has a speedy charter.

If you have dismissed WS-Policy for these reasons, be aware however. There were some presentations given by vendors in this meeting that indicated that our job is not that simple or at least, may prove to be interesting going forward.

There are three areas of additional work and discussion items

  • A primer & Guidelines for users and domain assertion developers of WS-Policy. As a matter of fact, Microsoft submitted their intended Primer document as contribution to the wg. In my opinion, this was a great start, but not sufficient. The main challenge of the WS-Policy is not really understanding the details of the policy framework, but also have best practices and guidelines on how to use the framework. Having participated in WS-RX tc and have encountered several interpretations and debates on this topic, it is important realize that the terse language of specifications is targeted to framework developers, but not the users.

    Primers have these dual uses. Implementors first look at the primer, learn what the specification is about and then delve into the specification for implementation. Users look at the primers to find the use case that applies to their situation. People who write articles usually start with primers. (One day I expect a testimonial on a book, say, “All I needed to know about XML Schema I learned from XML Schema Primer” ). This is why this topic is so important for mere mortals who want to understand the intriquicies of using disjunctive normal form.

    For WS-Policy, Assertion developers need to know, for example when to use nesting vs complex structures to represent their assertions, how policy subjects may interact, when message policy subject is appropriate rather than endpoint subjects. The assertion development is also tied to the implementation of a specific capability of a domain. After all, the assertions enable how to use that capability by the provider and the client of the service. Therefore, assertion authors need to know how to use the framework properly and the pitfalls they may get into their own design. The experience gained in using the policy must be reflected in the guidelines document.

    Therefore, I am glad that a primer and guideline document for users will be developed. As a matter of fact, my colleaque Maryann Hondo (IBM) and I have an action to propose such a best practices guideline that we hope to work on soon.

  • Compatibility and Versioning. This area will be subject to more discussions whether it is within the charter, but I am glad to see that other vendors such as Oracle and BEA acknowledged the need to have semantic for compatibility of policy assertions. I believe that we need to develop at least the best practices on how to address compatibility. After a long debate, WSDL 2.0 addressed this important item as part of the Primer document as a set of guidelines to users. It was encouraging to hear that one of the chairs indicated the need for compatibility, stating that if compatibility and versioning is not considered from the very beginning, it is hard to design it later on.
  • Policy Negotiation/Protocol. This area is definitely called out as out of scope in the charter. However the chairs have not locked the door on tackling this topic, with possible approaches, including but not limited to, having task forces or incubator groups for future version of the framework. This will be interesting to see whether the development for future standard will actually be taken on with the members of this venue. I am also curious as to how we will end up defining what negotiation means as I observe policy negotiation means different things to different people. At least an effort in distilling the differences of opinion may clarify what people think are in scope or are not.

We will see whether in the end whether we will be able to retain some momentum for these items. I am very hopeful that we will end up with a reasonable policy authors guideline and primer document(s) that will help users and authors of policy assertions that will clarify some of the debates that had occurred in domain specific venues, such as WS-RX tc. In that regard, the first 2 items are expected to be part of the deliverables.

I should note that WS-Policy following the steps of other groups, have adopted having two very experienced chairs. I am not going to speculate whether this group requires doubling the chairing effort to keep the development in track, though. We will see.

Besides the progress of the wg, the highlight of the trip was a visit to see the bats in Austin that live under the Congress Avenue Bridge. I learned about this from my colleague Glen Daniels who alerted me to this attraction and arranged an outing. It is estimated that there may be 1 Million bats present in that location!. Walking over the bridge does not reveal a very pleasing smell due to, well, its large number of habitants underneath. There is also a piece of warning if you want to get up close and personal with the bats below.

A curious crowd gathers 20 minutes before the sunset to see these creatures to take flight to begin their night. It is absolutely amazing to see that sight. If you repeat the same experience yourself, please be advised to keep your distance or bring adequate protection. Otherwise, just like me, you may be the unlucky recipient of, well bat byproducts, and go home with more than what you bargained for in attending a WS-Policy f2f meeting.

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