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Web services: Enterprise tempest in a tea pot?

All the major enterprise application vendors are talking about Web services, along with everyone else in the industry. But where are all the Web services? Obviously, part of the issue is the still emerging standards for Web services. In addition to standards, there are issues surrounding security, single logon, licensing, pricing, and most importantly, the effort involved in componentizing the big beasts.


Enterprise Applications
Web services: Enterprise tempest in a tea pot?

All the major enterprise application vendors are talking about Web services, along with everyone else in the industry. SAP has committed that the entire system will be available as a Web service in the next year or so. PeopleSoft announced that its entire system is being componentized and made available as a Web service. Oracle has been talking about Web services as an essential part of its offering as well. So with all the talk, and all the seeming commitment, and all the resources these big guys bring to bear on the subject, where are all the Web services? Except at Microsoft Great Plains, where there's an obvious incentive to further the adoption of Web services, there's a lot of talk, a lot of smoke, and a lot of mirrors.

Obviously, part of the issue is the still emerging standards for Web services. In addition to standards, there are issues surrounding security, single logon, licensing, pricing, and most importantly, the effort involved in componentizing the big beasts. The question is, with the exception of Microsoft Great Plains, which has in fact shown working Web services throughout its eEnterprise application, why would any enterprise application vendor want to make its product available as a Web service? Not only does it wreak havoc with their existing business models, it doesn't really offer a benefit to anyone, not even customers, just integration tool vendors and SIs.

Allowing customers to pick a single componentized program and integrate it with an existing legacy system, sounds great. Maybe Web services will function as a Trojan horse, allowing the Web service author to gradually displace legacy or competing applications. But at what cost to the author? And the enterprise? Even a cursory examination of the effort involved in this type of approach will reveal the pitfalls.

THE HURWITZ TAKE: It seems that Web services is an example of a cool technology looking for a problem to solve. The idea of taking Web services from several authors and plugging them together into a uniquely customized system sounds intriguing on the surface. Lurking just under the surface, however, are those nasty integration issues that Web services won't solve. Companies that elect to take Web service applications from several authors and try to meld them into a single enterprise application will find themselves faced with a daunting integration and mapping effort that makes a simple "best of breed" integration project look like a Sunday picnic.

At Oracle Apps World a few weeks ago, Larry Ellison pointed out this issue in his keynote address. There were collective gasps from the audience, who had been primed by the media hype to think Web services was roughly equivalent to the Holy Grail. Oracle's marketing people were probably trying desperately to figure out how to spin themselves out of this one, but astute observers of the industry had probably already noticed the integration vendors cheering for Web services, while trying to sweep the mapping issue under the rug. In this case, despite his visionary reputation, Larry Ellison didn't need to be much of an "oracle" to predict the future of Web services in enterprise applications.


Copyright 2002 Hurwitz Group Inc. This article is excerpted from TrendWatch, a weekly publication of Hurwitz Group Inc. - an analyst, research, and consulting firm. To register for a free email subscription, click here.

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