"ALL OF MY CLIENTS are asking about .Net. What is it?
Do I need it?"
"Hello, your server has crashed. What do you want to do?"
"The White House said today ... Reporting from theWhite House ... A White House spokesperson ... "By themselves, each of these overheard voices doesn'tadd up to much. At the Gartner Symposium ITxpo in SanDiego last week, it was no big surprise to hear thatMicrosoft has been busy making a market for its XMLWeb services platform. Nor was it an earthshakingrevelation that several vendors had hooked systemmanagement consoles up to voice-responsive pagers. Andevery time the CNN reporter on the TV monitor said theWhite House, many of us involuntarily glanced up tolisten for new developments in the Middle East.
At first blush the Gartner conference seemed curiouslydevoid of any theme. A tour of IBM's Office of theFuture seemed promising at first: movable walls,screens, and desk; tasks broken out on a separatemonitor; an automated projector that positioned adisplay according to a worker's location and identityprofile. But ultimately it was hard to imagine a CTObursting into the CEO's office to announce, "It's adesk on wheels! We're saved!"
After the Bubble, IT has less faith and no budget toinvest in technology as a white knight. Instead, therewas more of the professional shrink approach: "What doyou think it means?"
Tuesday morning's Mastermind Keynote with ComputerAssociate's President and CEO Sanjay Kumar felt morelike a mugging than an interview, but it had the oddeffect of eliciting sympathy for CA -- no small feat.
Still, I couldn't dispel the faint taste of a WorldWrestling Federation event staged by promoter VinceMcMahon, as Kumar shook hands with his interrogatorsat the end.
Yet slowly but surely, all of these random data pointsbegan to form an image. Remember the halftonenewspaper photos -- dots on a white background? But asyou pull back, the picture emerges. And notsurprisingly, the connecting thread lay just beneaththe surface of virtually every product -- Web services.
Even where the jury is still out on Web services --"we're waiting for customers to ask for it" -- theunderlying infrastructure of enterprise products isdeep in XML. J.D. Edwards is readying a SOAP (SimpleObject Access Protocol) wrapper for its APIs, whileLawson is "examining Web services opportunities." ButLawson just acquired what it's calling SmartNotification, real-time notification collaboration andworkflow technology built on top of an e-mailarchitecture and, yes, XML.
For every problem, there's a solution, the Gartner tagline reminds us. And for every problem, there's aMagic Quadrant, too. Gartner calls this real-timealerting segment BAM, as in Business ActivityMonitoring. BAM startups at the conference includedPraja, Inciscent, and MIRLogic, which featured avoice-enabled Motorola pager that notified a remoteworker of a system outage and took action based on aspoken command.
Building a real-time alerting infrastructure may atfirst glance seem ready-made for a full-bore IBMGlobal Services deployment, but Web services may upendthat scenario by providing low barriers to entry forbusiness-class developers and drag-and-dropdevelopment tools. As vendors provide XML APIs totheir point solutions, the door opens for productssuch as firstRain and its RAD Snippets componenttechnology. Snippets are created by dragging a boxaround desired data on a Web page and then using theunderlying metadata for alerting, notification,personalization, and querying.
Gartner and most analyst houses have taken a cautiousapproach to Web services until recently, calling outlack of security and asynchronous transactionalcapabilities as gating factors outside the firewall.
But that's not slowing startup Journee down. ItsServiceStream technology acts as a hub for real-timetransactions through bidirectional data integrationand synchronization between front-and back-office systems.
The company is capitalizing on integration not justbetween systems but between multiple silos of Siebelor SAP data in business units within the enterprise.
By the time the Web services stack matures enough toventure outside the firewall, the aggregated datainfrastructure will be largely carried via XML.
And last but not least, Fast-Talk showed a real-timeaudio search engine that brings audio and video intothe Google Age, consuming .wav files 10 times fasterthan their playing length. The demo searched 10 hoursof CNN video for instances of the words "White House"and queued the results up so that you could click oneach instance and immediately start playing the fileat the keyword location. An XML API is in the works.
It's no longer a question of whether, but how long,with Web services. The exponential momentum that XMLinfrastructure enables is already reaching critical mass.
Vendors are busy carving up vertical slices of theexpanding Web services pie. Gartner may behard-pressed to manufacture enough Magic Quadrants tocontain the tsunami.
Steve Gillmor is the director of the InfoWorld TestCenter. You can reach him at email@example.com.