Brokat revamp raises standards issue

Since the Web services concept has been endorsed by Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, others have been eagerly jumping on the...

Since the Web services concept has been endorsed by Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, others have been eagerly jumping on the bandwagon.

One such firm is Brokat, which sells personalisation, rules management and application server software. Last week, the company launched the latest version of its Brokat Server Technologies software. In mid-February, the company also revamped its strategy, repositioning its software into four product families, and announced a shift from an enterprise-centric to a user-centric software model.

Following the reorganisation, Server Technologies has become Brokat's application server and e-business server, Advisor handles rules management and personalisation, while Paymentworks handles mobile payment software. Financial Applications covers e-banking and e-brokerage software.

The company is focusing heavily on this release of its Server Technologies software. It supports Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) applications within the product family, which comprises Advanced Server - the next version of the /J application server from Gemstone - and, at the high-end, targeting mobile computing platforms, Enterprise Server, which includes C++ and Corba capabilities and is based on its own Twister application server.

The Server Technologies family offers "m-ecosystem" services, Brokat's version of a Web services strategy.

"We have this model where companies work together and create ecosystems - networks of service providers that offer better services to customers," said a Brokat spokesman. For example, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom in Germany is offering payment services based on Brokat technology to other service providers.

"If you buy at Amazon, you can think of paying by using your mobile phone instead of giving your credit card number. That is what we mean by the m-ecosystem," he explained.

To do this, companies need to exchange data and, possibly, remote procedure calls across the firewall, which raises the issue of standardisation. For remote procedure calls, an XML-based language would be useful - the World-Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) Simple Object Access Protocol (Soap) being the most obvious choice - while data exchange would require compatibility with a widely-accepted standard, such as EBXML.

But support for such industry standards is scarce within the Brokat architecture. At present, the company offers two modules that it has developed internally. The first is M-Trust, for exchanging digital signature information across mobile links, and the second is a mobile payment module, for exchanging secure electronic transaction information during mobile transactions.

There is some support for third parties within these products. For example, the M-Trust module supports the more popular public key infrastructure certificate authorities, but the company has taken a proprietary approach to defining data exchange mechanisms in other areas.

Brokat formed the M-Sign Consortium a year ago to thrash out mechanisms for the exchange of mobile digital signatures and for mobile payments. This seems odd, given that the W3C is working on defining an XML-based digital signature standard.

Brokat's story on Soap and the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) standard is equally ambiguous. UDDI is a multi-supplier effort to create a standard for the discovery and use of Web services, which includes extensive support for the early version of Soap. The company said it will build UDDI support into its products by the third or fourth quarter this year.

The current lack of standards support may not damage the company too much, as long as Brokat sticks to its deadlines - after all, it will be some time before most customers start to implement Web services. Nevertheless, the lack of standards support within the Brokat product family may go some way towards explaining the lack of m-ecosystem modules developed by third-party developers.

Now more than ever there is no excuse for a lack of standards support in the software development world and the market will be very unforgiving to those companies that do not acknowledge this.

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