COMNET - Web services showdown

Web services aren't fully cooked yet, but they are getting there, according to a panel of vendors participating in a debate on the topic at ComNet.

The group of four vendors says continuing cooperation on standards is key to progress and that one key element missing is asynchronous messaging that allows users to communicate over small network connections where the demands of synchronous traffic might create traffic loss that would break down communication altogether.

The vendors, BEA Systems Inc., IBM Corp., Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. withstood about 90 minutes of questions from each other, Network World President and Editorial Director John Gallant, and IDC Senior Vice President of Software Research Tony Picardi.

Agreement on standards for the technology, whose goal is to enable applications to talk seamlessly over IP networks regardless of platform or device, is essential to success, says Adam Bosworth, BEA's senior vice president and chief architect for advanced development. Once the technology is solidified, it should rightly assume an unglamorous role, he says. "It's going to be part of the core plumbing, Web services should be just part of the architecture," Bosworth says.

Along with integration of existing applications into a Web services framework must come security that is inherent in Web services software that ties together applications for business purposes, says Bob Sutor, IBM's director of Web services technology. "Businesses want to use it to connect to the Internet and to partners. You want transactions with security and not throw out [the infrastructure] you have now," Sutor says.

The key to Web services is software tools that enable businesses to customize their own infrastructure so it can be accessed via the Web, says Ted Farrell, Oracle's architect and director of strategy for applications tools. And these tools must be broad enough to apply generically to applications, he says. "You won't see Oracle out writing a database or tool for specific applications. We want to wrap the [application] layer with Web services and offer any application as a Web service," he says.

The basic tools to set up Web services - text editors - are available today, says Neal Charney, Microsoft's director of platform strategy. "You really don't need any of us to write a Web service - if you don't want to do it quickly and easily," Charney says.

Picardi questioned how a relatively small company like BEA would be able to compete against the other, much larger competitors on the panel once the technology is mature. Bosworth cited BEA's adherence to standards, the long experience of its developers and tight communication with its customers. "We key in on tools. We are an enterprise company and we know what our customers do," Bosworth says.

He says the tools his company is developing will enable users to focus on the application logic and business logic needed to run their companies, not on the minutia of how to create Web services. He says the tools will be so good that using them will not require an understanding of the underlying protocols, much as Web designers need not be well versed in HTML itself because of the HTML tools that have been developed.

Charney says that while customers can secure Web services today with Secure Sockets Layer, security is not built in to Microsoft's Runtime, but that is coming. "You will see security in all our products," he says.

Other vendors on the panel pointed out that their gear will support Microsoft's Windows platform, but others such as Unix and Linux as well. "Windows is not all of the market," Sutor says. "It's a very important part of the market, but it's not all of the market."

Bosworth challenged whether Microsoft would "charge a toll for Internet use" by failing to make some of its key Web service intellectual property available for free as part of Web services standards. Charney said it was not Microsoft's strategy to charge a toll, but that it would also be disingenuous to say the company would offer up its intellectual property for free.

Oracle's Farrel said standards for how applications and platforms interoperate should not be vendors' source of revenue. "APIs are not what we make money on. We compete on implementation," he says.

Sutor promised that IBM would support a key standard, Java 2 Enterprise, later this year. "Interoperability is key and we prefer Java. We think it gives the best bang for the buck," he says. IBM's variances from the standard are due to a need to write applications with Java but to make them look native. "Java is deficient on how to draw," Sutor says.

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