Web services dream remains a distant reality

Having snubbed the vendor in early 2002, the Web Services Interoperability Organisation (WS-I) has finally welcomed Sun Microsystems aboard as it looks to promote web services interoperability.

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By  Matthew Southwell Published  November 25, 2002

I|~||~||~|Having snubbed the vendor in early 2002, the Web Services Interoperability Organisation (WS-I) has finally welcomed Sun Microsystems aboard as it looks to promote web services interoperability across all platforms, applications and programming languages. As well as looking for a place on the organisation’s expanded executive board next March, Sun intends to play an active role in developing WS-I’s technology guidelines.

“We have always applauded the objectives of the WS-I and intend to be energetic participants in the industry effort to promote transparency, openness and interoperability in the marketplace,” says Mark Herring, senior director for Java Web Services at Sun Microsystems.

Joining the WS-I will also help Sun flesh out the web services components of its Sun ONE platform offering. As Jim Laden, a staff engineer at Sun Microsystems says, “web services is the next big thing and… [Sun ONE] is an integrated suite of products that can deliver web services.”

With Sun now on board, the WS-I has the buy in of all of the major software vendors and should be in a position to demonstrate that web services can actually achieve the levels of interoperability that the technology has promised since its inception. As a recent Gartner Group report states, “all of this means that WS-I has now become a test case for extensive interoperability. If WS-I can’t deliver on this promise, web services will have more difficulty progressing beyond the low level interoperability of remote procedure calls.”

While the future participation of Sun in the WS-I is a step in the right direction, the move may have come too late for web services. Evidence of this comes from a number of analyst houses, which say web services have, so far, failed to deliver for the increasingly restless end user community.

“Most of the web services vision is just pure speculation, with no real consideration of what is achievable and [what] it will cost to actually build out the vision for full use on the open internet,” says Rikki Kirzner, a research director for IDC.

Bloor Research takes this denouncement a step further, arguing that web services are just the latest in a long line of failed attempts by the IT industry to create an infrastructure based upon functions delivered by third parties across the internet.

“It started with modular programming and has moved through various stages of component and object technologies before we have arrived at today’s web services. The objective is always the same — to set out an idealistic model where individual functions are created and published so that they can be accessed by anybody from anywhere. Web services are today’s equivalent of those past initiatives and there is no substantial reason why these components will be any more successful than their predecessors,” says the analyst house.

||**||II|~||~||~|IDC, Gartner and Bloor identify a number of weaknesses in the web services model, including the inability of the vendors to develop suitable standards — the very thing that WS-I is supposed to be doing. “Web services are a direct consequence of the fact that the big names in IT could never stop competing long enough to come up with something that was good for their customers,” says a recent Bloor Research report.

Chirag Patel, director of product & strategy at local web services vendor, Vertscape, agrees. However, he also argues that the delay in achieving interoperability is standard for the IT industry, and not confined to web services.

“The issue has been in agreeing to a set standard. However, this is the typical cycle in the IT industry as prior to any key player agreeing to any set standard they want to see if their competitors have signed up too… The practical scenario has always been to buy time until most key players are good and ready to agree on the set standard,” he says.

Another criticism, and perhaps the one that is most pertinent to the Middle East where it is hard getting even departments from the same company to share data, is that web services require high levels of trust.

“Nobody is going to trust their key business operations to an unknown third party they just happened across using UDDI. The only sharing that is going to take place is between internal locations and highly trusted partners,” states the Bloor report.

Unsurprisingly, the vendors disagree. Ihab Foudeh, technical manager at Microsoft Middle East & South Gulf, for example, argues that web services already boast enough security in terms of authentication and authorisation to ensure their trusted use. He adds that members of WS-I are also working to boost this even further with specific web services security standards, such as SOAP-security and WS-Security.

“Security and encryption mechanisms exist that allow two authorised systems to communicate without an unauthorised third party having access to the data while it is in transit. It is definitely a misunderstanding that web services means opening up your data and systems to the world, because in fact you are only enabling an electronic means to access and share authorised data at a system level,” explains Vertscape’s Patel.

Despite the protestations of the vendors, the fact remains that wide scale deployment of web services remains limited. For instance, Forrester Research reports that only 17% of corporate IT shops are piloting web services and a recent IDC survey shows that those companies that have already deployed the technology have done so only to address internal integration issues, rather than outward facing customer and supplier relationships.

Such results have led IDC to suggest that web services in their true, and much hyped form, will not be available for at least another ten years.||**||

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