Technology leaders have high expectations that Web services will meet a broad variety of goals -- everything from cross-enterprise integration to reducing development costs -- and their desire to explore is keen, according to our 2001 InfoWorld Web Services Survey. But except for some early rudimentary adoption, little practical application of Web services is yet in circulation.
When asked which vendor is likely to match needs with solutions in the transition to Web services, our survey respondents place Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun Microsystems nearly neck and neck, which accurately reflects the race under way. All four are leading providers of Web services frameworks, adopting support of Web services standards and capabilities into their development tools, application servers, and server software.
For vendors to meet customers' Web services expectations, they will need leadership, and they must address many of the outstanding issues still impeding Web services adoption. Fortunately, vendors are laying impressive groundwork for true Web services interoperability.
Microsoft casts its .NET
Without a doubt, Microsoft has played one of the more prominent roles in service-oriented architecture development. Our survey results consistently placed the .NET strategy as the most recognized effort in Web services.
By founding the development of SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) as well as adopting XML into its .NET server architecture, Microsoft has left little room for ambiguity about the importance it places on Web services in the future of distributed computing.
The .NET programming model, including a new version of ASP (Active Server Pages) for SOAP-based service delivery, will help Web services supplant the COM (Component Object Model)-family architecture of Microsoft's heritage.
Given the comprehensiveness of Microsoft's .NET vision, the delays in releasing a complete Web services framework are only modestly surprising. Many components are still under development, including essential tools for building and testing Web services.
Issues that may eventually affect a company's adoption of Microsoft's vision include the software giant's poor track record of maintaining, rather then extending standards. And that Microsoft discontinued support for Java in favor of the competitive CLR (Common Language Runtime) doesn't get the company off to a good start.
Although Microsoft's reluctance to play well with other platforms may be boxing the company into a corner with developers, the vendor is still a major force in the promotion of Web services.
HP takes NetAction
Hewlett-Packard pioneered the Web services idea, creating the Java-based e-Speak in early 1999. HP once held visionary prominence but has since been playing catch-up to newer luminaries seeking broader standards for services adoption.
This can be attributed in part to HP's early desire to forge a rather close-minded ideal of Web services. With e-Speak, HP championed its own RPC (Remote Procedure Call) rather than SOAP, and proprietary directory technology rather than UDDI (Universal Discovery, Description, and Integration).
HP has since put a new face on its efforts, now called the HP Web Service Platform, and has aligned its service-oriented framework under the NetAction moniker.
HP still promotes its own proprietary communication protocol, registry engine, and service description language in e-Speak installations, but it has broadened its standards acceptance to include SOAP, UDDI, and ebXML (e-business XML) to ensure interoperability with the outside world.
IBM plays nice
In the development of standards for service-oriented architectures, few companies have played as important a role as IBM. In the spirit of openness, Big Blue has donated its Java-based SOAP implementation to the Apache Project (an open-source development group) and continues to advance initiatives such as the WSFL (Web Services Flow Language), a standard for defining workflow between Web services.
Perhaps IBM's most notable achievement has been successfully taking the middle ground between Microsoft and Sun, adopting all of the most prominent standards without eschewing the Java community.
IBM still has much work to do to prepare its enterprise-class servers for Web services. However, it has adopted early Web services capabilities into its products, including the WebSphere application server products and its DB2 database offering and has released WebSphere Studio service-ready application development.
Sun also rises -- slowly
A latecomer to the Web services arena, Sun did not present a Web services initiative until earlier this year when it announced Sun ONE (Open Net Environment).
Sun ONE suggests a plan for smart services and context-sensitive Web services that will enable developers to capitalize on real-time parameters, such as user identity and location. Using J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) and the Java Connector Architecture, Sun is hoping to create easily pluggable resource adapters to that end.
A supporter of common standards such as SOAP, WSDL (Web Services Description Language), and ebXML, Sun has added Web services support into the Forte IDE toolset and the iPlanet server. And JAX (Java APIs for XML) has provided a crucial XML interface for Java.
With an established industry base of Java developers looking for direction, Sun must follow through on promises of a more comprehensive road map for Java in a future with Web services.
In the end, it will take more than mere technological innovation to establish the Web services model. The platforms used by tomorrow's enterprises must be developed, implemented, and supported by vendors capable of realizing ROI through innovation and leadership.
The bottom line
Executive Summary: Given the still-nascent endeavors across the board in Web services, it is premature to choose a particular vendor's Web services vision. Your developers should be familiarizing themselves with the standards and examining toolkits to be at the ready when standards solidify.
Test Center Perspective: The Web services tools and specifications of each of these companies has the potential for success. Because interoperability will no longer be the deciding factor in choosing a solution, vendor success must be driven by innovation and leadership.