This year, substance reigned over style. According to industry experts, not only did Web services technology live up to its hype in 2002 -- thanks in large part to cooperation among many vendors -- but the industry will continue to grow by leaps and bounds in 2003.
Tony Picardi, senior vice president of global software for Framingham, Mass.-based research firm International Data Corp., said the most important industry achievement of 2002 has been the unprecedented way in which major vendors, including IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and others, joined forces to foster common specifications.
"Vendors have gotten the message that Web services are about open standards, and they're trying to support that so far," said Picardi.
Microsoft's Web services marketing director, Steven VanRoekel, said the WS-I's formation was not only important to Web services but will also be "a landmark moment in the history of computing."
"The forming of the WS-I really set the stage for Web services being not only a high priority item, but also for the upswell of vendors getting together and saying, 'We need to solve these interoperability problems,' " VanRoekel said.
But it remains to be seen whether the major vendors will keep cooperating or if they will turn on each other in favor of promoting their own software and tools. The WS-I in particular will face close scrutiny now that Sun, which is currently suing Microsoft over its use of the Java programming language, has joined its ranks.
"I think it's good that Sun has joined, but I don't think it will have much effect," said Graham Glass, chief executive of Web services infrastructure vendor The Mind Electric in Addison, Texas. Glass, whose company works with both J2EE and other platforms, said Sun fought against the Web services movement until recently.
"I don't think people look to Sun anymore for leadership, in Java or any of the surrounding technologies," Glass said. "Sun did a great thing by creating Java, and that gave them a great initial boost, but ... IBM on the Java side has the mind share in terms of pushing these new standards."
Users and standards
Standards evolution, according to Picardi, is an "exponentially important" factor in the growth of Web services. He said that standards groups -- such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and OASIS, as well as the WS-I -- have made great strides this year. He added that the next step in standards evolution won't be led by industry groups but by the leading vendors in vertical markets.
"[Specifications] will sprout up in little interest communities, semantic communities, around companies who want to agree on how to communicate together. The most interesting ones are going to be led by major pharmaceutical companies or health care insurers," Picardi said.
"Unfortunately, everybody's going to have to break away from the group to really sell the benefits of what they've got over somebody else, and I don't know how that's going to play out," he added.
Picanso, whose organization's Web service from Compuware Corp. is performing "very well," (see sidebar) said that 2003 may be a turning point not only for standards but also for end-user adoption.
"I'd certainly like to see the standards get adopted and supported and followed through; if every company goes off and builds its own standard, we're going to lose a lot of the momentum we've got right now," Picanso said. "It's going to have to be a real concerted effort from the industry."
Not all good news
Dozens of small Web services vendors have sprouted up over the past 18 months, and Picardi said it's only a matter of time before the industry faces a jarring consolidation.
"It's too early to tell who is going to be there," said Picardi. "The probability is very low that a small startup vendor is going to end up dominating any market at the end of five or 10 years. They'll get bought out or go out of business [because] larger vendors want to buy their way into these markets."
In 2002, there were only three notable consolidations: IBM's purchase of business process toolmaker Rational Software, Novell Inc.'s acquisition of Web services platform player SilverStream Software Inc., and e-business software maker Progress Software Corp.'s purchase of XML tools specialist eXcelon Corp.
Glass said companies that specialize in Web services management are most likely to see their numbers dwindle in 2003.
"We think these guys are way ahead of the game," said Glass. "They have funding, but there are very few services to be managed. They'll either be gobbled up by application server vendors or they'll consolidate to better their positioning."
"There's going to be explosive growth in people doing Web services" in 2003, said Picardi, because many of the back-burner projects involving Web services, like portals and legacy data access initiatives, will be rolled out.
"I see development dollars being much more difficult to acquire in private or public organizations," Picanso said. "I think it'll [mean] a lower cost in terms of future development projects."
Picanso said his organization shaved eight to 10 weeks from its development schedule this year, thanks to Web services. He said that it was that ROI that sold his peers on the merits of the technology, and he added that more companies will likely have similar experiences in 2003.