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Meta panel touts Web service wars, but no shots fired

Though Meta Group promised fireworks this week when it brought together representatives from major Web services platform vendors, including Microsoft and Sun, they all cordially agreed that business leaders must play a major role in their companies' Web services development. They also discussed the merits of various Web services implementation strategies.

BOSTON -- When representatives from every major Web services platform vendor come together, as was the case this week at Meta Group's Summit on Web Services, more than a few barbs would be par for the course, especially for a session titled "Platform Wars."

However -- in what may have been a sign of the harmony promised by Web services -- representatives from Microsoft Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp., BEA Systems Inc. and others cordially agreed time and again on a number of issues, most notably that business leaders must lend a hand in developing their companies' Web services strategies.

"Web services will enable you to tackle process automations that you wouldn't have attempted before," because they make integration so much easier, said John Kiger, a director with BEA Systems Inc. He said the participants aren't as important as simply getting the development process underway.

Conversely, moderator and Meta senior vice president Nick Gall questioned whether merely implementing a services-oriented architecture based on Web services was enough, or if enterprises must focus as much attention on developing business processes and the teams that shape them.

Joel Farrell of IBM's Web services architecture team said that companies should involve "even more business people than they need" because it takes a lot of input to properly craft the rules that define how Web services work with partners and customers versus the different way private processes must function.

Neil Charney, director of Microsoft Corp.'s .NET platform strategy group, said he never had time to map out his company's business processes when he was the IT manager for a mutual fund company eight years ago because he was always too busy "trying to figure out how to move data from one place to another." But now that Web services are beginning to handle some of that stress, he said, companies will be able to invest more resources in business process development.

The panelists also agreed that there's no single, correct way to build a Web services platform, because every company has different priorities and areas of expertise.

According to webMethods' vice president Andy Astor, a company implementing Web services should utilize its strengths. For instance, if it develops much of its own software it should utilize its in-house developers as much as possible or, if it has already built a strong relationship with a big technology vendor, it should take advantage of those ties.

Charney agreed, saying a company should choose the most appropriate platform based on its individual needs, admitting Microsoft may not always be the best choice.

"The idea of one monolithic platform in a company isn't a true one," Charney said, which is why standards-based interoperability using XML Web services will be key.

"Web services are a natural evolution," added Steve Garone, chief technical strategist for Sun Microsystems' Sun Open Net Environment (ONE) software initiative. "When you're looking for a solution, look for a vendor who understands that evolutionary concept, because you're not going to restructure your data and applications in order to work in a Web services world."

However, Astor strongly advised using a major enterprise vendor that has been involved in guiding Web services standards, as opposed to a start-up that may not have as much Web services experience.

"You need to look at companies that are going to be there five years from now so you can protect your investment," he said.

"It's unusual that you see such a lack of conflict" among vendors, said Laurence Chait, an attendee and managing director of Lexington, Mass.-based consultancy Chait & Associates. "They really have embraced interoperability more than I've ever seen before."

Chait said it's too early to tell if any particular vendor has a superior Web services platform, but in the future the company that offers the smoothest implementation and the best service will likely win the battle.

Attendee Keith Doyle, a software engineer with Newton, Mass.-based Aircuity, said he sees Web services as a way to cost-effectively integrate systems while overcoming previous integration hurdles.

Doyle said his company is investigating whether to incorporate Web services in its real-time indoor air quality measurement system. He said there seem to be advantages to transmitting data in XML instead of binary code, but there may not be enough to make the switch worthwhile.


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