Sticky Strands of Web Services Uncertainty

So, just who is the “A” team for Web services architecture? Is it
Microsoft’s .NET, bustling with newness and opportunity? Or is it the
time-tested Sun Microsystems-led Java language?


For the uninitiated, Web services are pieces of software that can be
integrated and run on distributed computers throughout the Internet or on a
network. Major vendors, including IBM, Microsoft and Sun, are investing
heavily in the sector in the hopes that their technologies become widely
accepted. Many research firms estimate the market for Web services will be
worth billions by 2006.


A recent study from Evans Data
Corporation’s
North American Developer Survey series found that the
battle for Web services technical standards is as about as even as it can
get. In a survey of more than 600 developers, the research firm found that
while 40 percent of developers are now creating apps for .NET, 63 percent
will develop applications using the .NET framework a year from now. In turn,
while 51 percent of developers surveyed currently write with Java, some 61
percent said they planned to take it up in 2003.


Dan Hay, a product manager for Visual Studio .Net at Microsoft, told
internetnews.com that although Microsoft doesn’t necessarily agree
with Evans Data’s methodologies, that the figures are consistent with what
he has heard in the industry.


David Harrah, marketing manager for Sun software, told
internetnews.com that the findings aren’t a surprise at all, that
they are consistent with what he’s heard on his end.


“That [.NET] is what we’re working against,” Harrah said.


Are Microsoft and Sun headed for pitched battle?


ZapThink analysts Jason Bloomberg and
Ronald Schmelzer took a stab at interpreting and extrapolating on the Evans
Data for internetnews.com. Neither is sure that choice of platform is
a major issue.


Bloomberg told internetnews.com the choice of a platform gradually
fade in importance as Web services evolve to be full, “coarse-grained”
business services.


“Software development isn’t going away, to be sure, but the choice of
platform or language will become more of a “right tool for the job”
question, where developers will pick and choose whatever language is
appropriate for the task at hand,” Bloomberg said. “In fact, the Evans data
hints at this — after all, with the two key numbers both well over 50%, the
number of developers who are planning on using both .NET and J2EE must also
be going up quite rapidly. And why is that? Partly because they want to use
the right tool for the job.”


Fellow analyst Schmelzer takes the concept further. Schmelzer said the
survey indicates that developers are confused and, more interestingly, he
theorized that .NET could eventually cannibalize (eek!) Java.


“With 63% of developers planning to implement .NET and 61% of developers
planning to implement Java, we can notice that there is an increasing trend
towards overlapping development. Basically, Microsoft has done an excellent
job of telling developers that they can develop on top of .NET in *addition*
to developing on top of Java. Why rip and replace when you can “embrace and
extend”?


“The challenge with this scenario is that while organizations can
double-team on .NET and Java, the reality is that developers cannot. A
developer has to make a choice as to which platform they would like to
develop on as the technologies and skills required for .NET are very
different from the skills and technologies for J2EE. However, organizations
aren’t as financially wealthy as they were before. They are operating with
far fewer developers and dollars, so they really can’t afford to be
duplicating their developer efforts. It seems that the above behavior is
more a reflection of uncertainty as to where the development activity will
happen rather than a choice. Organizations would rather choose one platform
rather than many, but the evidence of the survey, if we can bank on its
reliability, shows that they are increasingly not making a platform
choice — out of confusion.”


“Part of this confusion is over what Web Services and ‘interoperability’
really means from a practical perspective. Both the .NET and J2EE camps will
tell you that Web Services are an interface or abstraction layer, so that
Web Services developed with .NET should be able to interoperate with Web
services developed in J2EE. So, this begs the question, why do organizations
have to support both platforms? An organization can afford to choose one
platform and be ‘guaranteed’ that it will interoperate with other platforms,
within or outside the company. This is a benefit to Microsoft, since IT
organizations can now be able to cope with singular Microsoft servers
co-existing peacefully with a bunch of J2EE servers. However, this also goes
to the point of development — organizations will as a result migrate to
platforms with greater ease of use and lower total cost of ownership — an
area where Microsoft has already been strong. We should see that if
Microsoft lives up to its promise, it will continue to eat away at the J2EE
market share and we’ll see the Java numbers start to reverse while the
Microsoft numbers increase. This overlap percentage is a temporary blip —
at least for the next 2 years.”


Web services has generated a lot of buzz, sure, but there are
problems that need to be ironed out. See Page 2.


Different strokes


Most research studies analyzing Web services predict major adoption from
year to year. Evans said the prevalence of Web services-oriented
applications is expected to explode in the next year, blossoming from a
current adoption figure of 57 percent for developers to 87 percent next
year. Forty-three percent of developers surveyed are either now deploying or
expect to deploy a Web services application in the next half year, with the
majority of them geared for business processes.


“Six months ago, most of the Web services development was happening in
departments within a company,” noted Evans Data analyst Esther Schindler.
“Now, we see the experimentation period is coming to an end, and Web
services is being adopted by whole enterprises.

Jupiter Research reported different
findings in their new Web services study. But it also parsed a different
segment of the IT population. While Evans focused on developers, Jupiter
surveyed executives, noting that 82 percent of IT executives say that they
have deployed Web services.


In its report entitled “Web Services: Gauging the Impact on Business Alignment with IT,”
Jupiter said that Web services technology will not become
mature for some three to five years, but that businesses are tinkering with
it. Interestingly, while Evans found that security was a concern among
developers, Jupiter said executives “have chosen to ignore security concerns
and the relative immaturity of the technology.”


To that end, Jupiter cautioned that Web services have the potential to
strain the relationship between business executives and IT departments. In
stark contradiction to the rosy notion that Web services will free business
executives from their dependency on IT organizations, Jupiter Research
envisions a different, problematic scenario.


“Ironically, Web services technology could shift IT decisions and power to
central IT groups and away from technology groups aligned with internal
business units,” said David Schatsky, Vice President and Research Director
at Jupiter Research. “This could create friction between
business-unit-aligned IT groups accustomed to developing and deploying
applications without central IT oversight.”


Like most research firms, Jupiter Research concurs that Web services will
become pervasive over time, permeating all levels of an enterprise’s
software stack, from infrastructure and tools to enterprise and desktop
applications. However, contrary to most Web services study findings, the
firm said they will provide little in the way of distinct revenue streams to
most vendors with the exception of a few niche providers.


IDC is also reticent to trumpet the riches Web services can conjer — for
fiscal reasons.


“Organizations may believe that there is strong value in the Web services
architecture, but justifying resources for any new technology in such a
tight economy has been a challenge,” said Sandra Rogers, Program Manager for
Web Services Software at IDC. “Users are proceeding with caution, which
could be good news for both users and vendors in the long run, setting the
stage for a more sustained and rational evolutionary growth curve for this
market.”


Can I get some security here?


But before we can even get to the points about how many are deploying Web
services, how much will be spent to get them, and who is choosing what
platform, there remain some prickly thorns in the side of the IT industry.


What’s hampering the embrace of massive Web services development? A few
things, chief among them are concerns about security, or, perhaps more
apropos, the lack thereof. Evans noted that 24 percent of respondents are
concerned about security, 21 percent are leery of vague Web services
standards. Of course, the issues of security and standards are intertwined.
Lastly, the technical issue of how to architect and integrate
services-oriented application architectures was troubling 16 percent of
developers surveyed.


Sun’s Harrah agreed with the findings that security is the biggest concern
among Web services developers.


“We’ve been making this point since the whole issue of Web services came up,
since it was hyped out of proportion a year ago,” Harrah said. “The press
hyped it and companies hyped it, but they neglected to point out that there
was no security framework in place. Applications could communicate with each
other, but sending vital info across XML, which is a platform-neutral data
format, is insecure. People are doing Web services with Java or other
platforms behind the scenes.”


Microsoft’s Hay agreed that security standards are crucial.


“It’s not that there is no security for Web services,” Hay said. “There are
certainly security mechanisms, but if we don’t have a standard it makes it
difficult to work with multiple partners. That is why we are working
diligently with IBM and others to drive industry standards.


Indeed, ZapThink sees great opportunity here, estimating that the XML and
Web Services security market will hit $4.4 billion by 2006.


Details of the 2002 North American Developer Survey Vol. 2 can be seen here.


Jupitermedia Corporation is the parent company of internetnews.com.

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