Web Services Pushed Toward Integration

IBM, other tool makers target common standards to facilitate development.

The winners in the web services race will be companies whose offerings internalize Web services standards, such as XML and WSDL, across their platforms in an integrated fashion, rather than simply by bolting them on.

IBM is among a growing number of major tool developers looking to make this dream of integration a reality. Earlier this month, the Armonk, N.Y., company proposed that industry heavyweights link their platforms to IBMs Eclipse open-source development framework.

IBMs reasons for such a move are twofold: It would attract open-source developers to its WebSphere tools and give it a unified application development platform to compete with Microsoft Corp.s .Net initiative. Open-source developers in the Eclipse network would gain access to Web services platforms and application servers from major players such as Microsoft, Oracle Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. IBM officials said they hope to offer interfaces for developers using technology from those companies to connect with the Eclipse development platform.

Discussions of the issue are in their early phases, and theres no guarantee IBMs competitors will sign onto the idea. But Bob Sutor, director of IBMs e-business standards strategy, said Web services is not a "rip and replace" technology but is rather one that adds on to existing systems. He said tools must continue to evolve to make it easier for developers to use the new technologies.

"Modeling tools are evolving to take advantage of Web services standards such as WSDL [Web Services Description Language]," Sutor said. "Over time, the consistent use of Web services standards will make it easier to model and link applications because the development tools will have more visual construction power and more wizards to automate a large part of code creation."

Analysts and industry observers agree that tools will evolve, but they differ on which vendor is taking the best approach to the nascent Web services market.

Mike Gilpin, an analyst with Giga Information Group Inc., in Cambridge, Mass., said Web services tools will continue to evolve as "refinements of current approaches. In some cases, that evolution takes on a more radical form, as in [Microsofts] Visual Studio .Net, since it was such a major release and was so long in coming. But one can also get to the desired place in an incremental way, which is what vendors like IBM, BEA [Systems Inc.] and Oracle are doing with their tools."

Annrai OToole, CEO of Cape Clear Software Inc., a Campbell, Calif., Web services infrastructure provider, said an architecture will be required that allows the application to be called at any time from the network. "Microsoft is the only established vendor who has thought through these implications," she said.

"The real issue at hand is only the elite developers are particularly good at developing these types of applications," said Anne Thomas Manes, chief technology officer at Systinet Corp., in Cambridge. "We need better tooling to bring it to the level of the script programmer. BEA is trying to bring complex application development down to the level of the nonprofessional developer with its new [Workshop] tool."