For anyone who fondly remembers the good old days of the Cold War, the geopolitics of Web services platforms offer a grimly entertaining substitute. All the antagonists espouse the ideals of standards-based interaction among loosely coupled modules, but each craves the status of first among equals—and the power it confers to define the path through the gray areas of those standards.
Enterprise IT architects who want to draw their own technology road map tend to avoid tight coupling to any framework. Theyre learning the Web services technologies of XML for content representation; SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) for the exchange of requests and responses; and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) for the disclosure and discovery of capabilities.
However, theyre flipping the switches and turning the knobs using Java, which is widely perceived as being a nonproprietary tool (this despite Sun Microsystems Inc.s major role as an owner of key intellectual property) and as being less risky than letting development options be defined (and limited) by a more elaborate framework of uncertain future openness.
Microsoft Corp.s .Net commands mind share among developers who are looking for the best packaged, best supported, most comprehensive offering. The companys Visual Studio .Net, a radical redesign of what was already the dominant development suite for desktop and client applications, is essentially a portal for exploration, design, testing and deployment of Web services.
Recognizing the enormous learning hump that developers must overcome along the way, Microsoft last month also unveiled a major initiative— the .Net Architecture Center—to address enterprise developers questions about Web services development with an evolving knowledge base of developer guidelines, code fragments and other resources. These build on Visual Studio .Nets exemplary ease of exposing Web site capabilities as services—a crucial step beyond merely rendering pages in a browser and one that paves the way for application-to-application interaction as the dominant model for what the Web enables.
Sun also recognizes the combined challenge of acquiring the proper tools and achieving a more sophisticated understanding of loosely coupled design in making it possible for developers to adopt Web services with confidence.
Early this summer, the company rolled out the Application Services Reference Architecture for its Sun Open Net Environment platform. Like Microsofts .Net Architecture Center, Suns reference architecture attempts to address developers difficulties with tested and documented modules.
With the vertical integration that is either Suns strategic strength or tragic flaw, depending on whos talking, Sun will also offer reference architecture elements through its Sun Customer Ready Systems program to accelerate deployment. The services reference architecture complements previously released Sun architectures for data warehousing, business intelligence, mail and messaging, and management and operations—all among the missions for which companies are evaluating Web services as a connective-tissue technology.