An alliance of the world's biggest software vendors have announced progress on specs for a language-neutral programming model for SOA (service-oriented architecture) environments.

SOA is a way to create and manage IT systems through re-usable software and services and is proving increasingly popular with companies. As more look to deploy Web services, their developers are calling for increased standardisation to make the process of integrating different third-party SOA technologies less onerous.

Rivals including BEA, IBM, Oracle and SAP first got together in November to begin work on the common programming model along with Iona, Sybase, Xcalia and Zend. "We want to give customers an easier way to build composable applications," said Karla Norsworthy, vice president of software standards at IBM.

Under the banner of Open SOA collaboration, the vendors have concentrated their efforts on two projects - service component architecture (SCA) and service data objects (SDO). SCA focuses on defining models for creating and assembling service components for building SOAs, while SDO aims to provide a consistent method for data handling within SOA applications.

The companies expect to submit their SCA and SDO specifications to an as-yet-undetermined standards body by the end of the year, said Michael Bechauf, vice president of industry standards at SAP. Over the coming months, the vendors will work on ensuring consistency across the specifications and incorporating feedback as they ready the specifications for submission, he added.

The work since November has focused on ease of use and adding support for more technologies, according to Jeff Mischkinsky, director of Web services standards at Oracle. The SCA specifications now include full support for BPEL (business process execution language) and the PHP Web scripting language as well as integration with the Spring Java development framework and Enterprise Java Beans (EJB). The SDO specifications have been revamped to be more flexible and include support for unstructured data, he said.

The alliance meanwhile has also grown to 17 members, with Progress Software, Red Hat, Software and Sun also joining recently. "We've got a very wide set of supporters, which is tantamount to gaining acceptance in the industry," said Ed Cobb, vice president of architecture and standards at BEA.