Web Services Wave

Major hurdles must be overcome, but the time is right for close evaluation.

The next big wave in application design is out there, gathering momentum beyond the shallows of day-to-day IT.

That wave is Web services—business logic or information made available using the XML (Extensible Markup Language)-based SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol).

In this package, eWeek Labs explains how Web services provide ways to lower costs and tighten business relationships and how and when e-businesses should figure the architecture into their strategic planning.

Until now, and for the near future at least, Web services are more hype than substance, although vendors such as Microsoft Corp. and Sun Micro- systems Inc. have built their respective .Net and Sun ONE development strategies on the concept. Theyre not alone—expect legions of Web services advocates to crop up soon, and stay away from those who arent pledging unswerving dedication to the World Wide Web Consortiums XML and SOAP standards work.

Web services are the great leveler of heterogeneous networks, a universal communicator technology for IT.

In fact, easy communication between wildly different hardware platforms is one of the most obvious—and most immediate—benefits to a Web services architecture. For example, an employee could use a J2ME (Java 2 Micro Edition)-based handheld device, such as a Motorola iDen mobile phone, to directly access services on an IBM OS/390-based mainframe (using, in this case, a J2ME SOAP client from Lutris Technologies Inc. and mainframe SOAP server software from IBM or Iona Technologies plc.).

Web services also are the most likely foundations for a new wave of e-business relationships carried out using loosely coupled IT architectures. Web services let organizations selectively provide business partners with access to internal applications or data without having to design custom, one-off gateways for each business partner. They also let organizations access these same types of services provided by others to build client applications that integrate information from a wide variety of internal and external sources in real time.

Web services as a common computing platform are still a couple of years away; the infrastructure needed for many external (though not internal) Web services, such as a licensing or payment system, isnt available yet.

A number of demonstration services are already online, however: The xmethods.net Web site provides FedEx Corp. package tracking, currency conversion and lookup of California highway road conditions; integration tools vendor Cape Clear Software Inc. provides weather conditions at airports; Continental Airlines Inc. provides flight status information; and ActiveState Corp. provides stock quote data. In addition, Microsofts HailStorm project is its initiative to provide Web services of various kinds.