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Wading into Uncharted Waters
By Michael Champion

October 4, 2004

Mature Web services technologies deployed in mission-critical applications have been predicted to be about 18 months in the future for at least 36 months now. Likewise, Googling for “Web services hype” brings up a rather long list of articles, most of which boil down to “sure there was a lot of hype (by our competitors) in the past, but things are going to settle down real soon now.”

The vision is being realized, but in back-office integration scenarios that are not apparent from the outside. Nevertheless, the fact remains that there are already at least 50 specifications from at least three organizations and a continuing buzz of related acronyms like SOA, ESB and EDA that are difficult for non-specialists to track.

The challenge for CIOs was well stated in a recent InfoWorld article that wryly concluded “There must be a way to simplify all this because it is surely going to be a tough task for vendors and enterprises to support all this complexity in the name of simplicity.”

Realistic Expectations

Much of the “Web services is the solution … Now, what was your problem again?” hype has died down the last few years. However, it is still important to keep careful track of the problems that Web services are designed to address before worrying about whether or not they are ready for prime time. Begin by asking yourself what you really expect to get out of Web services technology and make sure that Web services make sense for you.

What Web services offer is:

  • the ability for software alone (as opposed to people using browsers) to access IT services over the Web;
  • the ability to do this across hardware and software platforms in a vendor-neutral way; and
  • the ability to do this quickly and cheaply by leveraging the “network effect” created by common standards.
  • There is a downside in that such universality comes at a price in quality-of-service (QOS), possible security vulnerabilities, increased demands on processing and network infrastructure, and other potential drawbacks. The bottom line is that CIOs should have realistic expectations of the benefits and costs to be achieved by a Web services strategy.

    Michael Champion is a senior technologist at Software AG, Europe’s largest and most established systems software provider. He has been a software developer for 20 years, and has had extensive involvement with the W3C, including co-chairing the Web Services Architecture Working Group. His participation on the W3C’s Document Object Model (DOM) Working Group from 1997 to 2003 included work as an editor of the core XML portion of the DOM Level 1 Recommendation. Champion has authored numerous articles and is a frequent speaker at industry events.

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