March 14, 2001 4:00 AM PST

IBM advances Web services strategy

IBM announced Wednesday the next phase of its Web services game plan.

Big Blue is shipping a new version of its WebSphere application server--fortified with support for the leading Web services protocols and standards--that it plans to make available to developers for free.

As the battle for developer mind share in the Web services market is heating up, each of the major software companies is attempting to play to its strength. In IBM's case, that means its middleware Internet infrastructure software and related development tools.

"This is the first application server to deliver all of the major Web services" in a single package, said Scott Hebner, IBM director of marketing for WebSphere software. "It is an investment we're making to get the developers the platform sooner."

Giga Information Group analyst Mike Gilpin agreed with Hebner's assessment. "IBM is really the first to (make generally available) tools like these that are needed for Web services to take off," Gilpin said.

Gilpin added that widely available tools, such as those in IBM's WebSphere Technology for Developers release, will likely take the pain and expense out of hand-coded Web services. Most existing payment, insurance and travel Web services have been built by hand from scratch, Gilpin said.

WebSphere Technology for Developers includes built-in support for XML (Extensible Markup Language); UDDI (Universal Description and Discovery Integration) standard; SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol); WSDL (Web Services Description Language); and J2EE (Java 2 Enterprise Edition) technology.

XML is the new lingua franca of the Web, designed to make sharing data easier. UDDI acts like a Yellow Pages for Web services by exposing them and helping developers to locate them. SOAP is an emerging standard for distributed computing interoperability. WSDL is an XML format aimed at improving Web services messaging-interoperability technology. And J2EE is a standard technology for developing and launching enterprise applications.

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Gartner analyst Massimo Pezzini says that although several application service vendors have committed to supporting Web services in their J2EE platforms, Big Blue's announcement makes it the first to deliver a product.

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WebSphere Technology for Developers, a developer must be "referred" to IBM as a potential WebSphere customer by either an IBM salesperson or an IBM partner. Developers can contact IBM for a referral.

IBM announced the WebSphere release in conjunction with its weeklong WebSphere 2001 trade show in Las Vegas. IBM also announced on Wednesday availability of a version of its WebSphere Internet infrastructure software that has been written to run on its eServer z900 and OS/390 mainframes.

All of the leading tech vendors, including IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Sun Microsystems and BEA Systems, are pushing their own technologies as the premier vehicles for individuals and companies interested in writing and running Web services.

IBM does not have an umbrella term, such as Microsoft's .Net or Sun's Sun ONE, that it uses to describe its Web services initiative. But the company is emphasizing its middleware and development tools as the crux of its Web services development business.

Microsoft, for its part, is building Microsoft.Net software-as-a-service technologies into its development tools, operating systems and applications. The company also is repackaging its Web-based applications--such as its Hotmail e-mail service, Passport Internet authentication technology and MSN Messenger instant messaging client--as horizontal Web services building blocks code-named Hailstorm. Microsoft is expected to announce Hailstorm on March 19.

As companies such as Microsoft, IBM and others manage to get Web services development tools more widely circulated, one possible new danger could emerge, Giga's Gilpin said.

"It's going to be easier to screw up and write bad services," he cautioned. "But that's true whenever you first get a set of new tools widely into the hands of developers."

 

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