I spoke late last week with representatives of Avanade, BEA, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Sonic Software and Systinet in a round-table session on the status and prospects of Web services: the technologies, the standards, and the development practices and business models that are growing on those foundations.
Youll see our discussion reported in the July 7 issue of eWEEK, but I wanted to share immediately one of the conversations key points: the role, beyond mere “services plumbing,” of the Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) standard in the next level of enterprise presence on the Net.
Already, its expected that an Internet presence will go beyond merely offering facts. What would you think, today, of a Web site that provided nothing but a company brochure or annual report? A site with no facilities for even beginning a business relationship, by contacting the company or placing orders for its products?
Even if the site provided an e-mail address and toll-free telephone number, youd probably feel that this was a company that was making you work harder than necessary to figure out what they were able to do for you. If its competitors offered comparable products and prices, and a more helpful and proactive Internet presence, that could easily tip the scales toward giving those other companies your business.
Its therefore important to understand that UDDI is not just an enabling technology for taking your existing IT stack and exposing relevant functions across departmental boundaries to integrate business processes. Its not even just a means of making your IT assets available to supply-chain partners, any more than your enterprise Web site is only there to serve up in-house reference documents to employees or provide online catalog data to your existing customers.
Just as its the job of your Web site today to attract, engage and serve new customers, so is it the potential of UDDI to elevate your offerings above the commodity fray by turning them into service-based solutions–perhaps for customers you may never have known you were missing the opportunity to serve.
UDDI 2.0, just ratified this month as the highest-level OASIS Open Standard, is already supported in platforms such as Microsofts Windows Server 2003 and by Microsofts Visual Studio .Net tool set. Microsofts implementation of UDDI relies on Windows infrastructure, to be sure, but availability on the Windows platform often marks a technologys crucial transition from possibility to ubiquity–followed soon by expectation that a facility will be provided as a matter of course.
Its therefore not too soon to look at features planned for the next version of UDDI, Version 3, which will make UDDI keys more convenient to use (in much the way that DNS names, like www.eweek.com, are more convenient than simple IP addresses); will incorporate digital signature mechanisms for greater confidence in using UDDI with external parties; and will offer policy management, a subscription interface and other mechanisms for making UDDI a channel for marketing rather than merely exhibiting the services that an organization offers.
Not everyone greets with joy the prospect of UDDI becoming the Main Street of the Internet: The existence of a UDDI registry, and its mediation by a complex standard with frequent revisions, looks to some people like a means of putting the effective definition of the Internet into the hands of a few self-serving providers. Its a concern worth keeping in mind, as the function of searching for facilities in a dynamic environment becomes ever more important to what we used to call an operating system–but which may need a new name as it deals with a new, much less static set of resources.
As we agreed during our round-table call, however, its essential for the potential role and influence of mechanisms like UDDI to be communicated to business managers, as well as to be understood by application developers.