The Web services buzz

Like a mozzie in your bedroom on a hot and sticky night, the term 'Web services' is buzzing round our heads right now.

Web services promise a means of letting various applications communicate with each other automatically over the Internet. However, such automation could also prove a big headache for the average IT dept.

The buzz will get louder with industry heavyweights (Sun excepted) forming a coalition to 'accelerate the development and deployment of interoperable Web services' (see page 18), but experts are still arguing about exactly what a 'Web service' is.

The majority view at a recent Next-Generation Web Services Conference, hosted by US-sister title InfoWorld, was that Web services were "next-generation, service-oriented Internet applications". At least that could help the vendors' marketing departments. The same conference turned up other definitions including "component-based software architecture", and "a concept of a programmable Internet".

The lower level Web services standards are coalescing around XML (Extensible Markup Language), SOAP (Simple Object Application Protocol), WSDL (Web Services Description Language), and the UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration) specification. The trouble looming for IT departments is the complexity of the messaging, security and workflow involved in having applications 'automatically talk' to each other. According to commentators, it's easy to imagine that differences in interpreting the specifications could lead to breakdowns in product interoperability. (Now that would be a first in this industry!)An analyst from Meta recommends creation of some sort of middleware control layer to manage Web services. A niche vendor from the health sector claims that SOAP would not be reliable enough on a large scale and instead of waiting for a consortium of vendors to create a guaranteed delivery protocol, early adopters should opt for a message brokering system to ensure that Web services arrive at their intended destinations.

If I'm reading the current uncertainty correctly, at this stage IT departments should only be exposing small lumps of flesh to the Web services. Fleshing out Web services? Tell me about it:

Editor in chief.

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