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Web services' time is now

After more than five years, Web services have finally moved from an interesting concept to a technology that comes in basic and advanced levels, a Gartner analyst says.

BALTIMORE -- After more than five years, Web services have finally moved from being an interesting concept to being a technology that comes in basic and advanced levels, according to a speaker at the Gartner Application Integration and Web Services Summit.

"Web services are entering the generation where the impact is beyond developers and IT," said David Smith, a vice president and research fellow at Gartner Inc., the Stamford, Conn.-based consultancy. Smith spoke Monday at the conference.

Companies can choose either an "opportunistic" or a "systematic" approach to Web services. The former requires few IT infrastructure resources to consume or provide a service (application) over a network. Such efforts tend to work best for small application integration projects, he said. The latter is more difficult to achieve but provides a greater return on investment.

Five Web services 'gotchas'

Exposing an organization's applications over the Internet as services can have many benefits for the provider, as well as for its customers and partners, but there are traps that must be avoided. David Smith, a vice president and research fellow at Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn., said that companies should steer clear of these five Web services "gotchas."

  • Web services are "too easy." Because Web services, in their simplest form, are relatively easy to create, some companies forget that they must be integrated with other applications and systems.
  • Legacy interfaces. "The interfaces still have to be mapped [to the Web services], and all that other hard work [such as] process analysis," he said. "These problems don't go away because you sprinkle some magic Web services dust on them."
  • Dirty data. Your data is just as dirty after you deploy a Web service as it is before deployment. "There's nothing about Web services that cleans it up," Smith said.
  • Big files. XML files that carry Web services messages between requesters and providers are notoriously large and can bog down a network. Message transmission performance is not a "showstopper," but it is important, he said. XML accelerators can help.
  • Undocumented services If you don't document your organization's Web services in a registry such as UDDI, then, basically, the services don't exist, because no consuming application is going to find them.

Smith said that these two approaches are not mutually exclusive. An organization can build different Web services at the same time using either one, depending on the size and scope of the project.

Not everyone at the conference shared Gartner's view that most companies have deployed at least a simple Web service at this point. Several attendees from a range of industries said that they are either still exploring the possibility of Web services or are just beginning to plan a request for proposals from vendors.

One company in the planning stages is the IT consulting firm Computer Science Corp. of El Segundo, Calif.

Within six months, the company plans to integrate some of its own legacy applications as well as connect them to recently deployed applications using Web services, said conference attendee Dan Lam, a software technical manager at CSC. "We want to be able to bridge them with Web services so we can operate seamlessly," he said.

Web services are still a bit hazy to Dennis Sutch, a computer specialist for the Department of Commerce. He said that Web services look like a possible solution to the problem of data redundancy for the agency's employee directory.

"We see a use for it probably in sharing data between different applications," he said. "Right now, the way we do it is pretty much manually loading data and dumping it from one application into another."

While Web services are still a "moving target," Smith said, the idea of building software as a service has been around for a while. It's just that Internet-based standards are helping Web services succeed where other concepts, such as Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA), failed.

"[Web services] should be thought of as the next generation of the Internet, as opposed to the next generation of CORBA," he said.

Smith said that Web services also hold the potential to deliver on the elusive IT goal of software code reuse -- developing application components that can be used to create multiple applications.

However, that promise won't become a reality without a dose of fear, Smith said. In this case, it's a fear of outsourcing parts of the application development process, such as construction and testing a Web service application.

Traditionally, application developers have looked at their work as more "art" than engineering, Smith said. So, outsourcing -- or at least the threat of it -- "will help drive application development organizations to start taking the reuse issue a lot more seriously," he said.

CSC's Lam said that fear of outsourcing is only one possible motivator. "Outsourcing is not the whole thing," he said. "It's only a part of it."

He said that peer pressure from competitors will play a much larger role. If a competitor's developers are doing reuse and your organization isn't, they will have a competitive edge, Lam said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Article: Developers hold key to reuse of software code

Tip: SOA + information architecture = code reuse (finally!)

Article: Iona squeezes new life out of CORBA, middleware

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