REST vs. WS-*: A Parable

Hi there. My name’s Rusty, and I’m an air conditioning tech. I’m not a rocket scientist, but I know how to wield an electronic screwdriver and recharge the freon in a unit. Lately I’ve taken a job with Roy’s Environmental Systems Technology. It sounds impressive, but really it’s just another air conditioning and heating company, nothing cutting edge, nothing fancy. We mostly just call it REST.

However I am proud to say that we’re a pretty good air conditioning and heating company. We can do everything from window units in studio apartments to million dollar custom factory installations. However big or small your job is, REST will get it done, on time, on budget, (often under-budget), and very, very reliably. We focus on simple, reliable systems. Most of the time if something breaks, the customer can fix it themselves without even calling us. If it does require an onsite visit, we’re usually there in an hour or two. Honestly, once we get a system up and running, it very rarely breaks outright. More often, the the company has simply grown to a point where they need need another unit or two, so I hop in my truck, drive over, and install it. No muss. No fuss.

Lately, however, we’ve been losing business to a newcomer in town, and I’m not quite sure why. A couple of years ago Water Supply-Strategic Tactical Air Recycling (WS-STAR) opened up a branch in our town. WS-* (as my IM crazy kids would type) came about from the merger of Secure Operations Air and Power (SOAP) with Expert Machine Lubrication: Radiators, Power, and Cooling (XML-RPC).

WS-* started taking out ads in the local business rags, and began chatting up the managers on the golf course. They explained to our customers, who had previously been quite happy with us, that a traditional cooling and heating system wasn’t good enough for the new millenium. Instead they needed a hermetically-sealed, precision controlled, air filtration and recycling system that would guarantee them a precise balance of nitrogen, oxygen, and H20 at all times and which could be remotely monitored from their offices. Instead of just pumping in air from outside and cooling or heating it as appropriate, they’d install huge tanks of water, nitrogen, and oxygen which they’d truck over from their factory every week for an ongoing fee. Then they’d inject this into the factory in the correct mixture, and then pump it out again. After all, you wouldn’t want to depend on the atmosphere for something as critical as the right percentage of oxygen, would you?

To install one of these very impressive systems, they’d spend months swapping out glass for bullet proof plastic, sealing the walls, replacing external doors with air locks, and installing internal doors that dropped down with warning sirens and flashing red lights in the event of a vacuum breech just like you see on Lost. They promised the managers a system that was so incredibly air tight, they could run their factory on the Moon.

Of course, getting ready to move your home or office or factory to the Moon costs money. Here at REST we used to think a million dollars was a big job, and the salespeople high-fived everyone and took the mechanics out for pizza when they landed one of those big jobs. Over at WS-*, prices start at a million dollars; and that’s just to install a small system for the corner bodega. Retooling an entire factory to WS-* specifications can run into the hundreds of millions or more. In some cases, the existing building was just too old and too full of holes to ever hermetically seal, so to install the WS-* system, they had to shut down the entire production line, tear down the building, and erect a shiny new building that met WS-*’s specifications. You can imagine what that cost. At least once, when the factory finally came online a couple of years later they discovered a new competitor had spent a week installing a REST system instead, and had now stolen their market out from under them.

The thing I never understood was that the companies WS-* was selling these Moon-ready systems to were the same companies that had been very happily using our old, prosaic Earthbound AC and heating for years. These were all factories on Earth, not on the Moon. I’m sure somewhere if you looked hard enough, you could find one or two companies that are dreaming about building factories on the Moon, but personally I’ve never met them.

Oh, one more thing. The last two or three years were a little slow here at REST while a lot of our biggest customers invested all their time and budget in WS-*. For a while we made our nut on homes and small businesses that couldn’t afford WS-*’s prices even if they wanted to. A couple of those small businesses are now quite large businesses, and starting to compete with the big boys that spent the last two years wrestling with WS-*. And lately we’ve started hearing from our older, larger customers again. They’ve been running their hermetically-sealed, precision controlled, air filtration and recycling system with service level guarantees for a precise balance of nitrogen, oxygen, and H20 at all times and which can be remotely monitored from their offices for a couple of years now; and they’ve noticed something: their factories are too hot.

It seems the big, complicated, WS-* systems aren’t working out quite like they were supposed to. The WS-* technicians are visiting their shop floors daily, and twiddling this knob and tweaking that dial; and inspecting every widget and seal with some really impressive equipment that would look good on Star Trek. Yet they still can’t seem to get the temperature below 83Ëš in the summer or above 57Ëš in the winter. Now the lawyers are waving multi-hundred page contracts in each others’ faces, and threatening lawsuits; and the factory still can’t maintain an even 72Ëš. Tomorrow I’m visiting one of these factories that just escorted the WS-* techs off the premises to install one of our old, reliable REST systems so they finally get their temperature back to a workable level. The next few years look like they’re going to be quite busy. :-)

23 Responses to “REST vs. WS-*: A Parable”

  1. Yoda Says:

    One has to be an eir conditioning unit repairman indeed in roder to deem WS “complicated”.

  2. Rich Clark Says:

    Nicely done.

    I’m new to web services but recently spent a lot of time looking at options for a new system. There was no direction given and no precedence for SOA in the area I work. At first this seemed like a disadvantage. I now appreciate the option to completely avoid SOAP RPC as a luxury most people don’t have. It’s a complete mystery to me why so much energy remains behind the ‘worst available option’ for the vast majority of purposes.

    (LOL at confused AdSense)

  3. Jason R Briggs Says:

    There’s so much energy behind the “worst available option”, I think, because of a fundamental genetic abnormality in about 90% of the population. The more I see of the current crop of frameworks and standards and specifications, and the fanboys cheering them on, the more I despair… ;-)

    By the way, Rusty, that was brilliant.

  4. Adrian Says:

    >One has to be an eir conditioning unit repairman indeed in roder to deem WS “complicated”.

    True – you’d have to be somewhat retarded, or worse, to call it “simple”.

    I would say much of the energy comes from the major consulting companies, naturually because there’s money in it. Although the end of EHR’s story implies an uptake for Roy’s Environmental Systems Technology, who would have profited more over the last two or three years: them or Water Supply-Strategic Tactical Air Recycling?

  5. Adrian Says:

    >The more I see of the current crop of frameworks and standards and specifications, and the fanboys cheering them on, the more I despair…

    Oh, and a hat-tip to the fellow Aucklander :)

  6. Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah Says:

    To continue with the elevator pitch, parable and gospel metaphors, I’d throw in some further reading namely The Intuitionist by Colson Whitehead. The novel is set in a New York like city and concerns the Guild of Elevator repairmen.

    Lila Mae Watson, the city’s first black female elevator inspector, uses the “Intuitionist” method of ascertaining elevator safety. This is controversial in the Elevator Guild, because the Empiricist faction would do most anything to discredit the Intuitionist method. As the blurb at amazon puts it the city “combines 21st-century engineering feats with 19th-century pork-barrel politics and smoky working-class pubs”. That sounds very much like the Wild Wide West.

    At issue in the novel is who can clearly see the soul of the machine and I’d like to think that the web style gets close to the Intuitionist notion.

    It’s a mystery and allegory and you can read the novel to get the denouement…

  7. MikeD Says:

    > [...] who would have profited more over the last two or three years:
    > them or Water Supply-Strategic Tactical Air Recycling?
    The customer.

  8. links for 2006-05-11 | Edward O’Connor Says:

    [...] REST vs. WS-*: A Parable (tags: rest soap web-services humor ws-*) [...]

  9. Edmon Begoli Says:

    This is the best tech reading (and I do not mean parody) I came accross in years.

    I may be biased because I am all for REST and not for WS-*, but still your writing is so intelligent, funny and VALUABLE to hype victims that it should be required reading for any that play with these SOA-ESB words these days.

    I will post an entry on my relatively popular blog to bring some attention of some “serious” people to read this.

    Again, FANTASTIC writing!

    Best regards,

  10. Stu Says:

    Well I guess I’m the first voice of dissent.

    It seems that the REST advocates believe that if they keep repeating it over and over that WS-* is astronomically expensive and requires too much fiddling, than it will some how be true. Sure, some vendors and approaches are too expensive and sloppy. The same can be said of a REST based solution! I can only say that this satiric parable is completely contrary to my experience in how I (and my customers) deal with WS-* based systems, and the success rates with them. People are doing good work with this technology, and it’s yielding tremendous benefits.

    These “my tech is better than your tech” pissing matches are not an effective way to promote a philosophy’s merit — it’s a form of mockery and self-congratulation. Perhaps that’s your point, and if that’s the case, great, we all had a laugh. But I think you’e actually making it harder for people to buy into this approach because of the attitude. You’re falling into an evangelical trap that will actually hinder adoption, though perhaps that’s part of the goal, to stay an elite club.

    I love the REST style and think Roy’s thesis is one of the most clear and illuminating works on architecture in years, and I would love to bridge the gaps among the skeptics (which, in my customers, are near 100%+) where I can, but this kind of stuff doesn’t help.

  11. Edmon Begoli Says:

    I actually do not think that this is a match of any kind.

    I’ve done both styles of AC systems on multi-million even a billion dollar project and I am yet to see where
    simple REST is less useful than standardize-everything, interoperability-with-everything WS-* stuff.

    The biggest champions of WS-* are the vendors like IBM who sold you some billion dollars big iron thirty years ago and now instead of helping you to migrate to a more nimble, future proof platform they are selling you a
    ‘pig on a lipstick’ WS-* friendly, ESB solutions that will make your COBOL/CICS based iron run forever.

    Just buy 100 million WebSphere ESB bus and everything will be just fine … Just keep putting wrapper, over wrapper …

    REST in this case is really selling you a different model. Instead of selling you a SOAPey story of ultra-interoperability and standardization it is giving you the value what good old webservices
    were meant to provide you. Location independence, simplicity, universality.

    I do not care if eBay’s webservices are WS-* compliant as long as they are easy to learn, easy to use, performant and if they add value to my electronic business.

    Isn’t that the formula behind every technology that successfully took off.

  12. The Web 2.0 Place Says:

    Mandatory reading on WebServices

    Every now and then some voice of reason raises up above the hype hypnotised crowd and offers the chance for awakening to the ones that have not been completely brain washed.

  13. Digital Earth Weblog » Blog Archive » Web Services Humour - A Parable Says:

    [...] REST vs. WS-*: A Parable [...]

  14. think Says:

    A breath of fresh air

    Thanks, Andrew at Digital Earth Weblog for today’s entry. I’ve been noticing lately a bit of a discussion about REST vs. WS-* that’s been going on.

  15. Soft-dev: mainly about software development » Representational State Transfer Says:

    [...] More discussion [...]

  16. The Cave » Blog Archive » REST vs. WS-*: A Parable Says:

    [...] Very amusing. [...]

  17. Michael Poulin Says:

    [ precedence for SOA in the area I work. At first this seemed like a disadvantage. I now appreciate the option to completely avoid SOAP RPC]

    Hey guys, who but marketing said that SOA requires anything like SOAP RPC? It is the most primitive and speculative approach to use SOAP RPC and call it SOA. If we talk about Web Services, I care about WSDL only. SOAP or REST are just transport/protocol models for SOA, which can easily stand on IIOP, for example. A crowd of RPC or message calls is as far from SOA as relational model far from OO.

    To me, the easier protocol the better. However, please, make it standard – mandatory for all. If you can do it with REST, I am for it. Otherwise, sorry…

  18. Practical Guile » A Story of REST vs WS-* Says:

    [...] Elliotte Rusty Harold has an entertaining story of REST and WS-* in the real world. One that involves air-conditioners. It wouldn’t take a genius to see that he’s in favour of RESTful interfaces as opposed to using Web Services. Personally, I haven’t had much experience with the implementation of external services using either, so it was a humorous read at least. [...]

  19. Mokka mit Schlag » REST Pessimists Says:

    [...] Several people have started to push back on the REST vs. WS-* and RELAX vs. W3C XSD and Rails vs. JEE fronts with a self-defeating argument. Well, of course, you’re right they say; but it doesn’t matter. The big vendors are selling these big, expensive complex solutions; and that’s all the CIO hears; so that’s all that matters. Sure, you can get the job done better/faster/cheaper with Rails/REST/RELAX, but you won’t. Well, to these pessimists I have a one-word response: [...]

  20. FAQ about Web Services and Related Technologies | Program Creek Says:

    [...] REST vs. WS-*: A Parable by Elliotte Rusty Harold [...]

  21. roger Says:


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  23. Sung Mckean Says:

    … The Cafes » REST vs. WS-*: A Parable …

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