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Looking forward on Web services in 2003
What's in store for Web services in the coming year? On the downside, given the state of the economy, analysts and Web services vendors say not to expect a breakout year for the technology. On the upside, they add that this year Web services should gain a firm foothold in larger enterprises, with business applications being rolled out rather than merely pilot programs. And further agreements on standards — particularly security-related ones — should establish a firmer footing for the technology as well.
Where Web services are in the technology cycle
Web services are in the middle years of an evolutionary cycle that any new technology follows, believes Nicholas Evans, director of the Integration Services practice of BearingPoint (formerly KPMG Consulting).
"Emerging technologies follow a similar evolutionary path over two to five years," he says, "and Web services are in the middle phase, with the first several years spent building standards and getting them into place."
In 2003, he says, the technology will mature further, and begin to be seen as a strategic business asset by enterprises. Business units, rather than centralized IT departments, will start driving the use of Web services.
"Instead of big IT infrastructure projects where they do plumbing, we'll see more business-focused applications, where Web services are applied to a specific business application," he says. In 2002, he adds, "the implementations were sponsored by the IT side and for enterprise application integration (EAI). But in 2003 we expect to see greater crossover to the business side, and we'll see business units investing in Web service initiatives, such as for portals and financial services."
Bubbling Web services from the bottom up
Kerry Champion, president and co-founder of the Web services security product company Westbridge Technology, takes Evans' thoughts one step further, and says that in 2003, the demand for Web services will bubble up from the bottom within corporations — from departments and even individual users — rather than be imposed from the top down.
The reason for that is a surprising one, he says: The release of Microsoft Office 11 in 2003, which will work with XML.
"People don't appreciate how much Office 11 will give a bottom-up rather than a top-down impetus to Web services," he claims. "Excel will become the application that handles more XML data than any other. There will be diverse sources of XML traffic in the coming year…People will also be able to write a Web service in Visual Basic, and it will become very simple for people at any level to send and receive XML. There will be a great deal of ad hoc usage, but corporations will need some way of providing a core set of corporate policies for managing Web services, and so we'll need a tool set that allows for bottom-up ad hoc use, as well as top-down management."
Moving into a critical year for standards
Thomas Murphy, senior program director for Meta Group consulting firm, disagrees with Champion that Office 11 will have an impact on the way that Web services are used in 2003, "because XML is really just the format of a document" and not an application.
He agrees with BearingPoint's Evans that Web services are in the middle years of an evolutionary technology cycle, but isn't as optimistic that the technology will begin to see widespread use this year, because of potential squabbling over the acceptance of standards.
"It will be a difficult year, because as we move away from the core base of standards, it becomes more difficult for the major players to agree on the next set of standards. This year will be critical, because it will determine whether people can work together, or whether there will be an escalation of conflicting standards."
Particularly important, he says, "is how well standards bodies will be able to bring forward standards that are usable and workable…This year will be the third year of the technology lifecycle, and so by the end of the year, ideally, standards should be in place for future growth. How well the year goes just depends on whether we can get people to play together, because the atmosphere in the market is not good."
On the standards front, Patrick Gannon, president and CEO of the OASIS standards-setting body, is a lot more optimistic than Murphy. He expects that the first half of the year will see the formal finalization of the WSDL and UDDI specs, and SOAP 1.2 should move closer to finalization as well. In fact, he expects the entire year to be a good one for agreement about standards.
"A year from now we'll have formally approved standards at the core level, and we'll have proposed standards for architecture, and committee specifications for the mechanisms needed for business-to-business Web services and security infrastructure. WS-Security will most likely be completed as a committee spec, and so security will start to fall into place."
Where the market is headed
Aside from standards, the major movement in the coming year will be Web services management and workflow, says Ron Schmelzer, founder and senior analyst of the ZapThink consulting group.
"Management will become an issue because once companies put Web services into production, the issue becomes how can you guarantee that they will actually run?" he says. "You need to manage Web services across many different platforms and enable service-oriented architectures."
As for workflow, "you need to put a group of Web services and make them work together in an orchestrated way." For now, he says, management and workflow "are concepts rather than products," but he expects that products addressing the issues will be released in 2003.
As for how successful the year will be, "that depends on world-wide economic stability. We see a lot of pent-up demand for Web services, but there's not a lot of budget available. If the market and economy turns around, we think Web services will go gangbusters. That's not true for all of IT, but it is true for Web services."
In conclusion, he says, "This is not a bubble here. Web services is a real movement, and the hype curve does not apply."
About the Author
Preston Gralla, a well-known technology expert, is the author of more than 20 books, including "How the Internet Works," which has been translated into 14 languages and sold several hundred thousand copies worldwide. He is an expert on Web services and the author of a major research and white paper for the Software and Information Industry Association on the topic. Gralla was the founding managing editor of PC Week, a founding editor and then editor and editorial director of PC/Computing, and an executive editor for ZDNet and CNet. He has written about technology for more than 15 years for many major magazines and newspapers, including PC Magazine, Computerworld, CIO Magazine, eWeek and its forerunner PC Week, PC/Computing, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Dallas Morning News among others. As a well-known technology guru, he appears frequently on TV and radio shows and networks, including CNN, MSNBC, ABC World News Now, the CBS Early Show, PBS's All Things Considered and others. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including from the Computer Press Association for the Best Feature in a Computer Publication. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This was first published in January 2003