Internaut: Place your bets in Web services race

Shawn P. McCarthy

Government managers were startled this summer when the Office of Management and Budget seemed to endorse two Web services platforms for enterprise architectures: Microsoft .Net and Java2 Enterprise Edition.

Web services are supposed to make possible cross-platform, application-to-application data sharing. It's not the first time this has been attempted.

Unix has long supported remote procedure calls. IBM's late-1980s Systems Application Architecture allowed interprogram communication. And the Object Management Group's Common Object Request Broker Architecture remains an all-purpose scheme for object interaction. But Web services developers are putting a specific set of Internet protocols behind the notion.

Three standards drive Web services:
  • The Simple Object Access Protocol, a program-to-program binder, initiates communication between apps.

  • The Web Services Description Language offers a standard way for apps to tell other apps about their interfaces and sharing rules.

  • The Universal Description, Discovery and Integration specification provides a sort of registry for locating apps and services.

On the downside, Web services technology so far is short on basics such as security, reliability and access to all enterprise-level features of an application.

In addition, many early adopters do not use pure Web services protocols. Half-breed projects make unsatisfactory templates for expansion.

So much hype surrounds the Web services race between Sun Microsystems Inc. and Microsoft Corp. that some potential adopters are waiting to see who wins. But remember that the goal of Web services is transparent, cross-platform app integration. There can be no single winner because all vendors will have to follow standards and support interoperability.

A dominant player might emerge because of easy configuration and use, but not because of a proprietary protocol or language. Microsoft's .Net strategy can change this scenario only if it spreads widely enough to become a de facto standard. The same can be said for Sun's J2EE, promoted by IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and others.

Check out Web services if:
  • Your agency needs to reduce app development costs.

  • You must improve access to existing services but cannot solve interoperability problems.

  • You're ready to upgrade your app server platforms or to outsource app services to multiple vendors.

Don't bother with Web services if you:
  • Have a mission-critical production environment.

  • Run secure, high-transaction programs.

  • Don't need your apps to interact outside your own organization.

Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at [email protected].

About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.


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