Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration (UDDI) is an operational registry and a platform-independent, distributed, open framework that uses the Internet to describe services, discover businesses, and integrate business services. UUDI is available today; in fact, many businesses have been leveraging UDDI's power for more than a year. UDDI gives businesses a way to publish their products (i.e., record information about their products) on the Internet so that consumers and other businesses can automatically locate them programmatically (or manually with Web-based search tools).

UDDI evens the playing field by letting small businesses compete against large companies they might never have been able to go against. Consider this: Your company hosts a Web service on your IIS server and leverages UDDI to search the Internet for the best price and quantity for a particular product. UDDI performs the search and negotiates the purchase—automatically and programmatically. In this case, it doesn't matter whether you're buying from a large or small company—only that you receive the best price.

Platform independency is the key to UDDI's functionality. Many folks worry that Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) extensions (e.g., from Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, and IBM) might ruin the Web-services initiatives that make cross-platform communications so exciting. If each of the big industry players adds extensions to SOAP that alienate the other players, the miracle of Web services becomes a nightmare. UDDI is the first truly cross-industry initiative by all major platform and software providers. And UDDI's specifications, by nature, facilitate platform independence. UDDI's driving goal is to provide a public specification for Web services interoperability.

Why is UDDI important for you? UDDI specifications define a way to publish and discover information about Web services, and Web services are truly the future of distributed, computer-leveraging Internet protocols. Keeping Web servers secure and running 24 x 7 is your job.

UDDI's core component is the UDDI business registration, an XML file that describes a business entity and its Web services. UDDI.org defines UDDI business registration this way: "Conceptually, the information provided in a UDDI business registration consists of three components: 'white pages,' including address, contact, and known identifiers; 'yellow pages,' including industrial categorizations based on standard taxonomies; and 'green pages,' the technical information about services that the business exposes. Green pages include references to specifications for Web services as well as support for pointers to various file and URL-based discovery mechanisms."

Eventually, the UDDI community—more than 200 companies that are defining UDDI's standards—will submit UDDI to a standards body such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) for ratification. The UDDI community is a group of companies that encompasses not only the major software vendors such as Microsoft, IBM, and Sun, but also giant industry players such as Ford and General Motors. In the long term, a standards board that will ultimately own the UDDI initiative and operate it exclusively will determine the future of UDDI.

The good news is that you don't need a lot of software engineering to employ Web services right now. You can register your business and its services manually at the UDDI.org site and use the site to manually search for services.