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Web Services CEOs Speak Out

Web Services CEOs Speak Out

The buzz around Web services is enormous. Every day more and more developers are asking themselves if Web services should be used in their next project. Microsoft views the Internet and Web services as a complete development platform. Other companies view it as a set of complementary protocols. WSJ asked seven leading i-technology players for their expert opinions on the world of Web services.

WSJ asked those at the very heart of the emerging Web services paradigm: What are Web services? How might they change business as we know it?

Andy Roberts, Chief Technology Officer
Bowstreet, Inc.
Portsmouth, New Hampshire

"Web services are software components exposed on the Web using standard protocols such as HTTP and data formats such as XML. Web services enable software systems to call each other over the Internet, as well as on intranets, independent of the 'back-end technology' that's being used.

The generic markup concept behind XML is about separating information from its descriptive metadata, so that people can repurpose information in different contexts, using different devices. Web services is about breaking applications into pieces, so that units of functionality can be repurposed in similar manner.

By exposing functionality using standard XML data formats, rather than hiding behind a particular fixed presentation for humans to view via a browser, that functionality can be repurposed for different uses by different applications on different platforms in different contexts. Web services thus enable business processes from different providers to be combined in new and different ways. For example, a product manufacturer can provide product configuration, shipping, and financing services, all rolled up into one service, even though they are provided by different suppliers.

Without Web services, the Web enables individual businesses to reach out to customers, but only through 'silos' or 'one-to-one' connections. Web services enable a new kind of virtual business, brought about by connecting multiple business processes together within a software node, and redeploying it as composite, or aggregated, service."

David Litwack, President & CEO
Silverstream Software, Inc.
Billerica, Massachusetts

"Web services is an important technology. However, the really important thing that's happening is that the industry is going through a once-in-a-decade transformation to a new application paradigm - a new way of building applications.

I'd like to draw a comparison with client/server. Client/server wasn't a specific technology. It was the culmination of a set of technologies - graphic user interfaces, relational databases, networks, and personal computers - that resulted in a new way of building applications. And that way of building applications was very important because it was a clean separation of information from the user interface. It transformed the way we use computers in businesses from what had been predominantly an administrative or clerical function, to having the corporate repository of information available to everybody that had a computer on their desktop. That was the revolution.

What's happening today is we have a set of very important technologies - Java, J2EE, XML, SOAP, WSDL, UDDI, HTTP, the Internet - that have reached a level of maturity where we can think about building the applications in a completely different way. The Gartner Group calls this a services-oriented architecture and Web services is certainly a key piece of that. The important thing about a services-oriented architecture is a clean separation of the transaction, information, or service from the audience where it's supposed to be delivered. Put another way, it turns the traditional design paradigm backward, the traditional being: architecting in who the audience for the application will be. In a services-oriented architecture you shouldn't know or have any design criteria that involves knowledge of who the audience is. That is so important today, because through the Internet we can deliver applications to people we've never met or to devices that haven't been invented yet. We can deliver applications inside or outside a firewall.

So a services-oriented application meets the needs of e-businesses in the Internet age because it allows us to build applications that can be flexibly deployed in the future to unknown future audiences. Web services are great but we don't want to deliver Web services in the same way to everybody. We want to tailor Web services depending on who the users are - what their jobs are, whether they're high net worth individuals, or retirees, whether they're business partners, corporate customers, or your own salespeople, whether they're inside or outside the firewall. We may increasingly tailor Web services whether it's the weekend or the week, or based on what device they are connected from. Someday, with GPS in wireless devices we may want to tailor the service depending on where they are, because with GPS devices we'll know where they are within 10 meters. These are all parts of the services-oriented puzzle."

David Clarke, President & CEO
Cape Clear Software Inc.
Walnut Creek, California

"For us it's all about opening up development, with a small d, to a much wider community of developers than those who only understand Java and Enterprise Java. The application server vendors still think of Enterprise Java as the central and fundamental programming model - so although they're beginning to provide SOAP stacks, they tend to view SOAP as just another way of connecting into the app server. 'We support TCP, IOP, RMI, and SOAP,' they're saying - so they seem to view SOAP as a protocol instead of, as we do, as a world-shattering new paradigm."

Simon Phipps, Chief Technology Evangelist
Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Santa Clara, California

"Web services is a new name for an old idea. It was called RPC, it's been called IOP, it's been called COM, it has been called all sorts of things. This time it's going to be big because it's going to allow linear cost growth while providing access to exponential business opportunity.

Companies are going to be able to discover each other over the Web and automatically initiate trading behavior. We're right on the cusp of that at the moment. The place beyond that is what happens when Web services meets wireless technologies, at which point the consumer will come back into the picture again, and we'll begin to see consumers being able to use the context of where they are to have options presented to them by the swarm of devices, software, and networks around them.

The place where we're headed to after that - this is probably about 3 years out - is a place of connected Web-smart services being conveyed over mixed media like over wireless, also over high speed connections into the home, and over 3G connections into more powerful wireless devices. The mixed nature of the client space in that world is what makes open standards even more important."

Tyler Jewell, Principal Technology Evangelist
BEA Systems, Inc.
San Jose, California

"Developers find it incredibly easy to start working with BEA technology. It's not just about our application server and implementation of servlets, JSPs, and EJBs any more, it's about enabling developers to leverage their J2EE knowledge into a variety of different areas including Web services.

Our clients are definitely interested in Web services, but when we go and talk to BEA clients they're looking for ways to use Web services with J2EE. I know there's been a lot of talk about Web services as a new platform, but BEA actually views Web services as an extension of J2EE - it's just an exposing of the existing applications and programs that they've already written, but in a new format. One of the big things that we're doing with WebLogic 6.1 is finding ways to take programming expertise that Java developers already have and converting that directly to Web services expertise.

So with WLS 6.1 we now have point-and-click autogeneration from EJBs to Web services, and we have that available today."

Barry Morris, CEO
IONA Technologies PLC
Dublin, Ireland

"There is a big difference between service-orientated architectures in the abstract and Web service implementations in the real world. IONA has been building service-oriented systems for ten years and has a deep knowledge of the technology. Our systems have always been built on standards but we are embracing a new set of standards, such as SOAP, J2EE, and XML, and we are utilizing them in our Web services products.

IONA now has developed XMLBus, a Web services development system that is all about service-oriented architectures built in XML. We have taken a leadership role in the new standards bodies defining SOAP, UDDI, WSDL etc. We are also active at the higher level, at the business process choreography level, with support of ebXML and Rosettanet and that level of standard. XMLBus was created to build exactly those kinds of systems.

Our large customer base is moving increasingly toward services based on standards like XML and SOAP. We are seeing activity short term in intranet implementation and expect real Internet-based integration around Web services in the next six to twelve months. IONA is committed to meeting the needs of the large enterprise market. Toward that end we have recently introduced the IONA B2B Integrator, based on our acquisition of a leading firm in Business Process Collaboration. The combination of B2B Integrator, XMLBus, and our unique expertise in standards-oriented architectures, positions IONA for leadership in the Web services market."

Uche Ogbuji, CEO
Fourthought, Inc.
Boulder, Colorado

"Web services is not as glamorous as its usual billing has it. It is merely a way to assemble a toolkit that allows rapid development and deployment of collaborative applications. It takes advantage of Internet protocols for inexpensive implementation and XML data formats for extensible expression of data that is readily processed by people or agents. Both of these core technologies also bring the advantages of broad adoption and support in almost every vendor tool released in the past year or so.

Where the fruits of innovation are conveniently dispensed on the Web, Web services will lower the barrier to deploying such innovations. Service providers will be able to get their products in place rapidly, update them with relatively little pain, and advertise them to a potentially unlimited marketplace.

However, there are dangers. Many of the champions of Web services have every reason to combine the enticing openness of Web services with clever tricks to keep developers tied to their products. The best safeguard against this is to minimize the coupling of systems using Web services as much as possible. This means not insisting on quirks of data format, encoding or protocol, but allowing strong support for negotiating all these factors. It also means leaning on other open standards as much as possible: for instance, service descriptions and classifications might better take advanatge of the well-established resource description framework (RDF) rather than reinvented XML formats.

Fourthought, being providers of software and solutions for XML applications, is very active in the community trying to avoid these pitfalls, and finding the right practical mix of Web services technologies for our clients. "

Conclusions

Distributed computing technologies have been around for a while and so, to that extent, the ideas behind Web services are nothing new. But anyone looking at Web service technologies for some particular technical characteristic that's getting people excited about them won't find it. The reason that Web services are so exciting isn't any particular technical quality they have. Rather, it's the unprecedented agreement that the new paradigm is getting from so many parties who traditionally have been business rivals.

There are still disagreements, but a standard foundation is established and that foundation is growing every day. One note of caution, amid all this optimism and excitement: there's still a great deal to be sorted out in the areas of trust, security, payment, and so on. It's precisely for this reason that the places where companies are gaining the greatest benefits from Web services at present are within the enterprise.

This will undoubtedly change. There's still a lot of work to do, but companies can and are using Web services today. And as for the consumer plays well - the future, as they say, lies ahead.

More Stories By SOA News Desk

SOA World Magazine News Desk trawls the world of distributed computing and SOA-related developments for the latest word on technologies, standards, products, and services and brings key information to you in a timely and convenient summary form.

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