Enterprises face challenging Web services buying decisions

A Forrester Research report points out that major vendors are encroaching on the Web services market currently dominated by smaller specialty vendors. That could make for some trying times in the near future for enterprises exploring Web services and SOA.

IT decision makers considering new Web services deployments or extending the reach of current projects to customers, partners and suppliers will face challenging buying decisions in the next five years.

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A recent research report from Forrester Research Inc., of Cambridge, Mass., concluded that niche vendors currently selling Web services infrastructure products are facing increasing pressure from major vendors like IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co., Microsoft, Cisco Systems Inc. and others. Enterprises, meanwhile, have to spend carefully as investments with some smaller vendors could be obsolete within 24 months, as consolidation in this market is inevitable.

"Companies must get immediate value out of a niche bet. Make sure you get payback quickly," said Forrester vice president Randy Heffner. "Reinforce the fact you have to be careful with smaller vendors. Go with someone who has a broad vision of the market."

Giants like IBM and HP increasingly encroach in specialty areas currently serviced by smaller vendors, leaving IT buyers in a Catch-22. Heffner said enterprise decisions have to be based on immediate versus long-term needs.

"If you need to do something right now, you're going to be looking at one of the smaller players," Heffner said.

Heffner cautioned that consolidation will come in this market.

"The dominant technology vendors, which control much of the embedded base, are also pursuing XML and Web services technology, and present an interesting alternative for architects designing their firm's Web services infrastructure," he said.

Currently, smaller venture-funded startups have found their home offering products touching several areas of Web services and XML development like monitoring and reporting, attack protection, XML acceleration technology, WSDL code generation, registries and more.

Enterprise IT shops doing Web services or service-oriented architectures need these technologies, but in buying from the niche players means they are introducing new vendors into their environment. Some of these vendors don't have a lengthy track record where support and product references would be readily available. As Forrester points out, introducing new vendors for these specialized technologies also adds to the planning, building, testing, maintenance and integration loads on staff.

Pressure and big money from major vendors, meanwhile, not only threatens the long-term viability of these smaller players, but will force smaller vendors to broaden their horizons.

Forrester identified four "centers of gravity" for enterprise application infrastructure and outlined the challenges smaller vendors face in competing in the application, management, identity management and security platform markets.

Java and Microsoft's .NET are the dominant application development platform, each coming hard-wired with their own security, management and other features. Web services standards for security, transactions and more will be baked into the next versions by 2007, leaving the niche players likely out in the cold, Forrester said.

Web services management platforms are another area where Computer Associates International Inc., HP and IBM have a heavy hand. CA's Unicenter, HP's OpenView and IBM's Tivoli management platforms already offer some level of service management and reporting. Adding business-level insight, Forrester said, is the next stage of advancement for these platforms putting the onus on smaller players to fill in gaps, stay ahead of the curve or lose out.

Identity management platforms from Novell Inc., IBM and others are beginning to integrate with Web services. Although specialists are ahead of the curve here, Forrester said, they may ultimately lose out. As the giants catch up and projects mature, companies may bypass specialists and connect applications platforms to identity management platforms.

Attack protection is the final center of gravity, and more network firewall vendors like Cisco and Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. are adding application-level protection to their portfolios, and could soon expand into XML protection.

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