Companies jumping into web services are reaping 'extraordinary benefits', but several fundamental issues around the technology could be years from resolution, according to an analyst.
s2 Intelligence managing director Bruce McCabe told journalists at the MediaConnect Face the IT Media Forum in Queensland that around 100 companies may have implemented true web services projects by the end of this year, but it could be years before the concept reaches maturity.
'We're in the first two years of about 10 ... on the road,' he said.
Although progress towards workable web services standards was occurring, the fight between the J2EE and .NET development platforms would continue to discourage widespread industry adoption of the technology, he said.
McCabe said a recent s2 Intelligence survey showed 'lots' of companies were experimenting with web services. However, there were less than 50 product implementations in Australia at the beginning of 2003, mainly in verticals such as government, transportation and agriculture.
'There will be more than 100, maybe close to 200 ... this year and it's definitely growing,' he said. 'They are seeing extraordinary benefits.'
McCabe said web services were all about having universal protocols to create application to application integration, to increase the flexibility of other IT products and cut costs. Web services were altering the way software was delivered and integrated, he said.
However, users wanted platform neutrality or applications that could hook J2EE and .NET together.
'The biggest concern is ... whether vendors will be determined enough to maintain the integration of the standards, because everything about web services depends on universal standards, which in our business has always been a dream,' McCabe said.
Security standards were the other 'biggest concern' of users, an issue reflected in the type of web services implementations underway. In particular, business leaders had remained cynical about UDDI and whether it was sufficiently secure, he said.
'What they're not doing is e-commerce using web services, because that's very complex,' McCabe said.
Bill Karagounis, national architect adviser at Microsoft, agreed that web services potentially offered a way to solve software complexity and lower costs, by getting applications and platforms to 'talk' to each other.
He said web services would be useful for businesses wanting to rationalise their IT infrastructure.
'If a CEO wants to introduce new product or change business processes, quite often the systems become the barrier to being able to execute that. Web services [will be] the RCA jack in an organisation,' Karagounis said.
He claimed Microsoft was working closely and productively with standards organisations.
'We believe that the Microsoft platform will be a good integration portal. Also, we have close to 2.5 million developers in the world working on .NET-based languages,' Karagounis added.
Keith Garelja, regional manager for SunONE sales in Australia, said most major players agreed on the importance of standards for web services.
'Although it has been a rocky road to get there ... and more standards are required and a lot more collaboration and innovation required so there's potential for more differences of opinion as we move forward,' he said.
Garelja added that web services would help solve interoperability issues, but not necessarily integration issues, especially if trust could develop between organisations and their business partners.
'But .NET is driven by one organisation and Java is really a community,' Garelja added.
Derek McKim-Smith, head of the web services division at HP, said web services was pivotal in the development of what HP called the 'adaptive enterprise', a strategy broadly similar to IBM's 'e-business on demand' approach.
'Management [of services] is king,' McKim-Smith said.
Michael Smith, principal technologist at BEA Systems, agreed with McCabe, saying web services 'won't be there for a while but it's going well'.
'We're all using web browsers to talk to systems -– that's Web 110. Web services – that's Web 210, everything getting to talk to everything using the web,' he said.
Eventually, every layer of corporate infrastructure would be affected, and businesses would adopt large amounts of new types of back office products to tap into the benefits promised by web services, he said.
'It could create a new form of pricing power for customers in how they get vendors to compete with each other, because now there will be a line in the sand which enables [vendors] to compete with each other,' Smith said.
Fleur Doidge travelled to the MediaConnect Face the IT Media Forum in Queensland as a guest of MediaConnect.