Giga's 2003 Developer's Guide to Web Services

Giga Information Group says that despite a slow start, web services in 2003 have the capability to turn application integration into a "Killer App." In this wide-ranging interview with Giga vice president Uttman Narsu, see why technology and standards are now in place (or will be in early 2003) to empower web services developers to do some neat integration projects.

Tags: Web Services, Narsu, Technologies, Integration, Developers, Standards, Vendors,

Web services are on track to make some significant inroads in 2003, especially as a core alternative to today's expensive and cumbersome integration technologies, according to a leading analyst at Giga Information Group.

"I'm a bit more an optimist than some of my colleagues," Uttam Narsu, Giga's vice president and senior web services analyst, told Integration Developer News in a wide-ranging interview on the politics and technologies whirling around web services development. The result is a focused outlook on what developers should expect from web services for 2003.

"Some analysts have ended up being a little more pessimistic because things hadn't happened, but now WS-I (Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) and W3C have gotten re-engaged in recent months," Narsu told IDN. He added he was especially encouraged that momentum would stay high, as work from both groups has been brought to OASIS.

Narsu is also encouraged by movements to bring legacy computers into the web services arena. He pointed to actions from OMG (Object Management Group) and pushes from Microsoft's .NET and the Eclipse Foundations to support COBOL and other legacy assets in their web services framework.

Political skirmishes between the Java and the Microsoft camps also seem to be quiet -- at least for now, Narsu added. "By the first quarter of next year, Sun will be on the board of the WS-I, and that will bring Microsoft, IBM, BEA and Sun all together under one organization," he predicted. While Narsu wouldn't go so far as to say that Sun's joining the WS-I will mean 100% peace and harmony on all future web services standards, he was confident that developers will benefit. "Now it will be hard for any one of these companies to just take their marbles and go home if things don't go their way at first. Many will be watching, and so there will be lots of incentive to work things out."

Other Top Trends for 2003:

Narsu also pointed to four other trends in web services and the broader IT spending climate that should make for a bullish 2003 outlook for web services developers.

  1. "Dollars and Sense" -- Examining macro-economic drivers for spending and adoption of technologies, even though a mindset of make-do-with-less has ruled spending during much of 2001 and 2002, in uncertain times, solutions that can help with flexibility should be pursued and supported. Web services is all about flexibility, with its emphasis on lower-cost integration techniques.

    As more technologies and tools become available, this value proposition will be more evident in a larger number of instances, and so flexibility moving forward will be a macro-economic driver for increasing web services adoption rates. "Right now, we're in such a cost-center pressured environment," Narsu said, "that many IT managers may be giving up on new spending all together. But the smarter ones will be looking for ways to invest a bit more to get something more valuable to their enterprise." If standards momentum stays high, web services in 2003 will be in a position to offer value, he added.

  2. An EAI Alternative -- Despite what Narsu calls some "notable failed EAI projects," enterprise integration is still the Number 2 priority among enterprise managers. With such high interest in tying legacy applications to the rest of the enterprise's client/server and Internet platforms, "you would have to think there will be strong interest in a standards-based, lower-cost technology," Narsu said.

    Some early providers of Internet-enabled integration services, such as WebMethods and Tibco, have proven to be more costly and restrictive than many IT managers at first believed. "There is no question, there is some anger and frustration" toward these companies, Narsu said -- and this frustration will set the stage for increased interest in web services. The reason, Narsu claimed, is that these proprietary providers of integration turned out to be "viral" providers: Some element of software had to reside on many nodes. With web services, the standards-based integration techniques and lower-cost tools, that (VANCE: Verb/prep. missing here?? LO'C)proprietary solutions that use Internet-friendly technologies, such as XML.

    "While web services today is not a full one-to-one substitute for EAI, in 2003, web services will be able to do a significant percentage of many costly integration projects," Narsu said.

  3. Evolving Application Platforms -- Many application platform vendors are busily adding integration functionality in both the Java and Microsoft worlds, Narsu said. As integration becomes a more pronounced feature for application servers, web servers and other platforms, tools will become a more important feature. Narsu notes IBM's recent move to purchase Rational Software, and Microsoft's continued push to attract many ISVs and tools vendors to its .NET framework.

    While that doesn't exactly make web services a "Killer App," Narsu said for a new technology to take hold it must do "something old in a quantifiably better way, or…do something that couldn't be done before." Seen in this light, Narsu said, the large investments in web services technology by the platform vendors make sense. "We are seeing a rebuilding of EAI technology on top of a Web services foundation and efforts to create standards to ensure that such a Web services based EAI will remain broadly interoperable across platforms."

  4. Simple to Get Started -- Narsu likens the direction of web services to the long-standing "publish and subscribe" model. While today, web services are strictly point-to-point, the future trend for a service-oriented architecture is still something many developers would be able to easily grasp, because web services -- today and into the future -- will use interface and connect paths to link resources (business rules, data, GUIs) to one another.

    In addition, basic technologies -- SOAP, WSDL and UDDI -- are all having standards codified, and tools are beginning to include native support for these features. Moreover, XML security standards have just been put in place by the W3C, and OASIS has launched several vertical sector committees -- in the financial and legal spheres, notably -- to codify how systems in these industries should structure web services documents and/or messages.
    However, Narsu said that higher-level specs that address XML namespaces, however, could become a more complicated issue to solve.

In summary, for these rosy outlooks to make web services more popular, Narsu said the industry faces a specific challenge: "Web services is creating for IT a 'ready-to-integrate' technology, which means that integration is not considered an expensive afterthought, but can be put into the initial ROI thinking when a company buys a piece of technology."

Web services vendors in 2003 need to begin to start illustrating this capability, Narsu said. "While all the pieces won't need to be in place next year, vendors will need to show developers that for packaged application and custom app development, such ready-to-integrate options will exist. That's how web services will demonstrate some value to the business."