Call for standards dominates Web services debate

Web services are an unstoppable phenomenon that will change the future of software development, but consensus on emerging standards is needed first, an industry panel has agreed.

Around 300 people gathered at the Commonwealth Club of California here Wednesday night to hear panelists discuss the state of Web services.

One of the most dominant themes was the concept that Web services will drive the "second wave of the web".

"[The rise of Web services] is a phenomenon that takes advantage of a center-less Internet," said Steve Holbrook, IBM Corp.'s Technology Evangelist, Web services, in Orem, Utah.

As such, demand for Web-based services will drive further adoption of industry standards, particularly with regards to reliable message provisioning, traffic management and access control, said Craig Donato, president and CEO of Grand Central Networks Inc. in San Francisco, Calif.

And central to that issue was discussion over how the industry will deal with the role of intermediaries in the Web services landscape. Microsoft Corp. naturally attracted its fair share of the discussion as one of the vendors pushing to become an influential Web services intermediary through its Passport, and Hailstorm initiatives. Already used in Microsoft's Hotmail service, Passport is a key part of Friday's release of Windows XP and allows users to sign on once, and access multiple Web sites without re-entering personal information.

Panelists agreed Microsoft has first mover advantage over other companies seeking to deploy similar user registries.

"What I'm seeing is Microsoft breaking down a wall and getting into some of the areas [in the enterprise] it's had trouble getting into before," Mullins said.

"If Passport becomes ubiquitous as a consumer service, that could definitely give [Microsoft] a leg into the enterprise," said Brent Sleeper, director of client services at The Stencil Group, organizer of the panel discussion.

But as Charles Schwab's Mullins observed, Passport will just be one of the many authentication methods for Web services. "Personally I'd like to see people more interested in Smart Card technology," he said.

Meanwhile, Grand Central's Donato said that while Web services remain largely a theoretical challenge for most enterprises, some customers are starting to roll out pilot programs -- albeit cautiously.

"People are not going to re-do their entire enterprise architecture," he said, indicating there will be a gradual move to adopt technologies that incorporate Web services standards.

The panel also touched on who the likely losers will be in the Web services race. If anything, large systems integrators are coming into the line of fire most from service-oriented, component-based application architectures that rely on either reusable or replaceable code, said Greg Waldorf, partner at Charles River Ventures in Menlo Park, Calif.

"You can't ship hundreds of people off to work on an integration project," he said, adding that Web services promise to drive down the complexity and cost of application integration.

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