Web Services and Your Career

Web services are the hot technology topic of the moment, but is the concept just another hype-driven flash in the pan?

IBM, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and other companies tout the amazing potential of Web services. But most techies -- the programmers, system administrators and others who actually create and maintain the technology -- havent even begun to work on Web services projects. Is this another overhyped trend, or is it, as some contend, a transformation likely to dominate software for the coming decade and beyond?

Put it this way: How often do Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Sun CEO Scott McNealy agree on something?

Gates, McNealy and other information technology executives have rallied around Web services in ways rarely seen in the IT world. They view this as nothing short of a revolution, likely to increase efficiency and spur innovation in every aspect of business and communication. As Gates said at the launch event for Visual Studio .NET, "Web services are the key to productivity that will span the entire economy."

Web services will have an effect on technology professionals, too, but what will it be? Whats more, how can you begin to prepare for it?

Web Services, Explained

Interoperability is at the heart of the Web services concept. In the broadest sense, Web services refer to a standardized way of connecting disparate applications, systems, and devices over the Internet. The key standards include XML (Extensible Markup Language), SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), Universal Description Discovery and Integration (UDDI) and WSDL (Web Services Description Language). In the nirvana promised by the Web services model, consumers, business partners, customers and others would all communicate and exchange data seamlessly, no matter what the device or platform. Integration would be accomplished via Web services standards, rather than more complex -- and costly -- middleware solutions.

Beyond the Hype

Web services will take years to mature, and so far, according to Colin Adam, editor of WebServices.Org, an online community devoted to the topic, we remain "at the early stages of Web services development."

Judith Myerson, author of The Complete Book of Middleware, says Web services "are still immature due to some interoperability problems," but she also points toward industry analysts who see an "exponential increase" in Web services. ZapThink, a research and analysis firm, sees the market for Web services platforms, application development suites and management tools expanding from $380 million in 2001 to more than $15.5 billion in 2005. Another firm, IDC, expects the Web services market to catapult from $1.6 billion in 2004 to $34 billion by 2007.

"In the near future, I believe all major development projects will be constructed using the Web services paradigm," says Adam. "All software vendors involved in middleware and development tools have made huge investments in the Web services model of development. We see for the first time companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Sun, BEA and Oracle following common interoperability standards. The result is tools and platforms will become easier to use and interoperable."

Getting Involved

Technology professionals eager to get involved in Web services should consider these routes:

  • Watch for Web services initiatives within your company. A ZapThink report released in late 2001 found 75 percent of surveyed companies planned internally focused Web services deployments. With ongoing questions regarding security and reliability, many organizations will use pilot projects as a way to test Web services without much risk; such projects will also be the chief route for techies to gain skills in the field.
  • Current Web services action is focused on developing the tools, platforms, and other widgets needed to bring organizations and systems into the Web services world. Microsoft, Sun and other companies are at the forefront of this arena, but theyre not the only players. If youre looking for a challenge and can live with a certain degree of risk, you might consider a position with a startup -- yes, a startup -- devoted to Web services. Bowstreet, Cape Clear and scores of others are aiming to provide Web services consulting and tools.

Learning About Web Services

Even if youre not rushing to latch onto a Web services project, youll want to familiarize yourself with Web services standards and tools. Next week, well cover what you need to know.

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