RealTime IT News

Industry Majors Make the Push for Web Services

SAN DIEGO -- Big Blue and industry players Sun and Oracle voiced the push for the industry-wide implementation of Web services this weekend at the Software Information Industry Association's (SIIA) annual industry pow-wow.

Taking the lead among topics like ePublishing profitability and information portal strategies, Web services, the latest buzzword for IT professionals, was widely referenced in panel discussions and key notes throughout the weekend.

Coined the "next step" in the evolution of application integration and interoperability, Web services is still fuzzy math to a lot of software developers and industry professionals and much of the SIIA Web services discussion was at an introductory level, explaining the cost-effective role Web services can play for small and medium-sized businesses, benefits for online consumers, and the technology supporting Web services platforms.

Web services in effect is a business function or service that can be accessed by another application over public or private networks using generally available protocols. As defined by Gartner, Web services is "loosely coupled software components delivered over Internet-standard technologies that can automatically maintain information based on open standards that span multiple platforms."

Based on Extensible Markup Language (XML) over standard protocols like HTTP, Web services represent a shift toward the broad adoption of standard interfaces, enabling systems to interact and exchange information regardless of the platform or environment.

As opposed to Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), XML-based interfaces are used to create common information formats for sharing actual data, not just pictures of it.

Although the general consensus among those who are conversant in the Web services pitch seem united behind the idea that Web services is the next revolution and will entirely change the way business is done over the Internet, the actualization of this technology is still in its infancy and its widespread industry use won't be fully functional for another 3-5 years, says Sandra Carter, vice president of IBM's Tivoli Software, a securities systems management and monitoring company.

Besides wowing the SIIA crowd with Internet growth statistics, the alarming shortage of IT professionals in the U.S., and the prediction that by 2007, the dominant language on the Internet will be Chinese, Carter also gave a hearty plug for her alma mater WebSphere, the IBM middleware division that develops products designed to make it easier for businesses to build and integrate Web sites with advanced business features using open standards.

IBM's development of its WebSphere arm has been elemental to the gradual industry awareness of Web services. After making its initial debut at the 1996 Olympics as the most cutting edge technology for posting game scores, WebSphere has been an industry mainstay and boasts a Web services client base of 35,000 global companies.

WebSphere recently made moves to expand its software into the wireless space, allowing users to get behind a corporate firewall with a mobile device and access data in real time. Through an alliance with Qualcomm, IBM will utilize Qualcomm's Binary Runtime Environment for Wireless (BREW) as a plug-in to its WebSphere Studio Device Developer, an integrated development environment for deploying mobile e-business applications.

IBM's WebSphere was also earmarked by Giga Information Group as gaining fast over close competitor BEA for the lion's share of the Java application server market with a 34 percent piece of the industry pie, up from 31 percent last year.

Touted as the perfect solution for small and medium-size enterprise looking to utilize its knowledge or expertise, service applications can either be internal or external, exclusive to a small audience of clients or corporate entities, or widely accessed across the Web.

"It is the perfect way for a small or medium-sized business that can't afford a full-blown marketing strategy to get their expertise out there on the Web," said Carter.

According to Carter, Web services can increase developer productivity by 30 percent and make it easier for companies to add value-added services, relieve labor-intensive issues, increase the flow of information throughout an organization, and keep up with industry trends.

"Web services will revolutionize business-business commerce in the much the same way as it did for business-to-consumer," said Carter, predicting that Web services will be a $15 billion industry by 2003.

A recent Web services survey by Gartner and industry research firm IDC indicated that 63 percent of 250 IT professionals polled on the subject of Web services implementation expect to increase external software support by 2003.

75 percent of those professionals interviewed with more than $100 million in company revenue expect to interface with Web services. And by 2005, according to Gartner, $145 billion spent on system integration will include Web services consulting.

"The promise and hype of Web services is that applications will begin to function as services that can be identified, located, accessed, compiled, and assembled in pre-specified configurations, dynamically in real time," stated IDC.

However, according to Bob Paskor, co-founder of Kenamea, a communications software company, Web services and its long-term benefits on the industry are still an anomaly.

"We really don't know what works in Web services," said Paskor. "Not enough of it is deployed yet and interoperability is still a big issue."

Microsoft's recent shelving of its .NET My Services, a key component in its Web services strategy, raised some eyebrows earlier this month as to whether the push for Web services is still too premature.

Not so, said SIIA panelists Kevin Green, managing partner of TripleTree, Tony Wasserman, director of Hewlett-Packard's Mobile Services Lab, Olok Srivastava of Oracle, Steve Garone, senior strategist for Sun One, and Siva Darivemula, market manager for WebSphere.

If anything, agreed the panelists, the temporary closure of My Services is indication that the market isn't quite primed for the software giant to make its move, although it will soon enough. My Services also brought to light that many enterprises don't want one single company to control all their data, meaning that in the Web services crystal ball, according to Darivemula, no single company will take Web services market share. The playing field is leveled.

Or at least that's what the industry giants are saying.

But some analysts think Microsoft is just in retreat and will reappear when the time is right to take the lion's share of the Web services market and that IBM, Sun, and BEA are after the same thing, the last big Internet monopoly.

Another criticism is that while Web services is being marketed as a cost-effective way for a company to improve information accessibility and interoperability, the cost of ongoing development and maintenance of these applications could prove very pricey, in the meantime turning a pretty penny for industry players providing the services.

IBM's Darivemula takes a more humble approach by saying that not even a Microsoft or an IBM could ever hope to control the Web services landscape. IBM wants to develop the industry foundation for Web services and then act as a conduit for other companies' products and services.

"It's just a question of getting a very small slice of a very, very large pie, not a large piece of a small pie," said Darivemula. "No single company will ever dominate the Web services industry. There is just too much of it."