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Extreme Web services: A simple framework for thinking about Web services strategy

Pretty much everyone now understands SOAP, WSDL and perhaps UDDI. But are you making best use of Web service concepts?

Guest Commentary
Extreme Web services: A simple framework for thinking about Web services strategy
by CBDi Forums Limited

The other day someone sent me a mail with some comments on a CBDi Newswire. He concluded by saying that "I think we met briefly a couple of years ago, at a seminar ...I thought your position on Web services was a bit extreme then, but I imagine we've both shifted somewhat in the intervening time." You bet! My thinking has moved, but not necessarily in the direction that my correspondent anticipated!

When we presented and wrote our first reports on services over two years ago now, we made some pretty profound predictions on the upside of the service-based approach. Since then we have all been immersed in the minutiae of the technology and practices, and it might be a reasonable expectation that cold hard reality would have doused (not so youthful) enthusiasm for the service concept. But not so!

I am not shy to report that I am still just as convinced of the long-term impact that services will have on the industry as a whole. Long ago we formed the opinion that we are on an evolutionary journey, which is likely to be measured in decades. This journey commenced in the mid-nineties with thinking on how we componentized software, and continues today with Web services. And surprise, surprise, Web services will not be the end of the technology journey, and understanding the underlying principles and how they impact on current practices, allows you to predict where we go next.

In this framework we use a simple cause and effect analysis. For the four basic Web services principles - enforced encapsulation, self describing, open and dynamic, we define the impacts and consequences that we expect. You can view the framework now by clicking here.

In each of the important, and ultimately successful phases of IT that we have observed over the years, it has been easy to plot an "adoption curve" that shows how early ideas and hype, become temporarily tarnished by practical experience, and that general perceptions undergo a reality check, before the concept eventually becomes mainstream. Further, early technology-led concepts eventually undergo considerable morphing as business and commercial pressures exert market reality. Whether a concept takes one or ten years to reach some level of acceptance, the same profile can be observed.

For Web services we are still in the early stages. So far there has been insufficient practical experience for disillusionment to set in. In fact most feedback remains upbeat at the technical level, though it is clear there are many technical and business obstacles to overcome, particularly in areas such as establishing trust and using external third party services.

It is quite easy to dismiss Web services as simply message interaction protocols that are a thin layer on top of existing products and processes. Indeed many vendors are guilty of exactly this practice. However the successful (vendors and users) will be those that search out the real opportunities. It's important to start exploiting Web services; they are not just another adapter or interface technique. Smart vendors and users will do new things such as blurring the boundaries between development and execution and taking advantage of self discovery.

Very soon Web services, as a separate concept will actually disappear. They won't however get superceded and replaced like so many other technologies. In the same way that (the vast majority of us) don't give any consideration to telephone wire and transport protocols, we won't be concerned with Web services protocols. They become part of the infrastructure that we reply upon and the core concepts will continue to evolve.

Vendors are already doing quite a good job of hiding the underlying protocols. What we all have to learn is how to take a service oriented approach. For example learning how to provide and work with SLA's and contracts. But within a couple of years at most, (no prefix) services will have entered the vocabulary, and everything will be delivered as a service. At that stage there will be another set of "new kids on the block" that take us onto the next stage of development. But the underlying principles will persist and evolve. A couple of years ago these ideas might have sounded a little extreme. Today we can observe sufficient development activity that convinces us our original ideas were probably only extreme in terms of the time that it would take to achieve them.

Feedback and comments are welcomed: david.sprott@cbdiforum.com

Copyright CBDi Forum Limited 2002. The CBDi Forum is an analysis firm and think tank, providing insight on component and web service technologies, processes and practices for the software industry and its customers. To register for the weekly newswire click here.

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