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Web services: Coming soon, sort of

The industry has to clearly outline the advantages of Web services if they want the technology to catch on in business.

By Jan Stafford

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Web services will become commonplace in the business world but the technology probably won't take that world by storm.

That was the consensus of developers and vendors at the XMLEdge 2001 International XML Conference & Expo.

XMLEdge attendees' cautious optimism about Web services is clear evidence that this is an age of diminished expectations.

"If businesses today were adopting new technologies at the same speed as they were not long ago, Web services would be a huge phenomenon in 2002," said Michelle Sonstein, vice president of business development for Splitfire Technologies of Ann Arbor, Mich.

"As it is, I think Web services will be widely adopted four or five years from now, and probably not in the same format we see right now," she said.

The economy is casting a shadow on any new technology today, said Mahmet Sen, a developer with Ana Inc., a small business software developer in San Jose.

"Many people may like the idea of Web services, but they'll wait a while to try it," he said.

Sonstein agreed.

"Today, the next new technology isn't being adopted just because it's the next new thing," she said.

Before shelling out hard cash, businesses have to see ample proof today that a new technology will have a positive impact on the bottom line, she added.

The good news is that the business case for Web services is very strong. Web services will make it possible to continuously and easily improve and extend highly functional systems, said Chad Malik Williams, product manager for Epicentric Inc. of San Francisco.

"When you see companies like Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Sun all getting behind Web services, then you have to figure that there's some meat to it, " he said.

Most early adopters of Web services will likely be Fortune 500 companies, which will use Web services on intranets to improve performance and reduce costs, said David Bennett, chief technology officer of Cyclone Commerce Inc. in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"Web services are going to be viable and even dominant internally in large companies," he said. "Externally, it's going to take years for widespread adoption, because of all the security and change management issues."

Creating the infrastructure and realizing the service level agreements needed to support Web services are big challenges, said Bennett.

"Today, people throw up Web servers and Web technology without thinking about reliability of back-end systems," he said.

"Web services will need five nines (99.999%) availability to be viable."

Since high availability is still hard and costly to achieve, the cost of deploying Web services will be high, he said.

Sen said he hopes eventually small businesses will get a piece of the Web services action. For them, Web services could make it possible to deploy new applications quickly and cheaply, he said.

The Web services industry needs to build greater awareness of this technology outside of the Fortune 500, said Sonstein.

While IT professionals understand the concept of Web services, many users do not.

"The industry needs to get a simple explanation of Web services in front of the business community," she said. "More importantly, the industry needs to present a strong business justification for adopting this technology," she said.


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