Web services: Winding its way into the enterprise
Software plumbing is not glamorous. But people get excited when the entire software industry agrees on one standardized system for sharing data.
The steady adoption of Web services in 2003 made it clear that standards based on the Extensible Markup Language (XML) are fast becoming the default plumbing to link software programs, old and new.
The leading software companies built "Web services stacks," or implementations of Web services standards, into their respective products. Corporate customers moved from experimenting with Web services to full-scale production applications. And, according to surveys, businesses were committing themselves to using Web services in the years ahead for internal application integration and for sharing information with business partners over the Internet.
The leading providers of development tools and application servers duked it out during 2003, trying to get a piece of technology spending dedicated to software development projects. During the summer, IBM released WebSphere 5, which includes all the bells and whistles for high-end transactional systems. A few months later, IBM rival BEA Systems released WebLogic Platform 8.1, which it said was a leap forward in application integration. Sun Microsystems took a completely different tack on the task of delivering the server software to run custom-written Web services applications. With its Java Enterprise System, corporations can pay a flat per-employee fee.
As the Java software companies battled for the hearts and minds of Java programmers, Microsoft improved on its .Net line of software for building and running Web services applications on Windows. The main focal point of its massive engineering resources is Longhorn, the next version of Windows, due in two or three years. Web services are being built into the fabric of Longhorn, with the goal of providing the industrial-strength computing features to make Web services applications mainstream.
With of the promise of Web services hinging on industrywide standardization and collaboration, concerns over standards fragmentation loomed this year. Long-standing political rivalries between industry powerhouses Sun, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft and others spilled into the public realm as dueling vendors took opposite sides on new specifications for reliable messaging and business process integration. Meanwhile, the Web Services Interoperability organization demonstrated its authority, publishing guidelines to ensure interoperability between competing vendors' Web services products.
Initially reserved to the realm of software programming, Web services spread out. Hewlett-Packard acquired a tiny start-up to accelerate its Web services management. Integration software maker WebMethods sought to recast its company with the purchase of a Web services specialist. Meanwhile, Microsoft's Office System 2003 is rich in XML, allowing people to exchange documents more easily and link to Web services over the Internet, such as those at Amazon.com.
In 2004, discussions of plumbing are certain to continue, but Web services will become increasingly transparent. Instead, consumers should see benefits such as easier access to multiple data sources over the Web. And corporations will start to design more flexibility and interoperability in their systems as services-oriented architectures enabled by Web services take hold.
-- Martin Lamonica