BEA users talk up Web services

While BEA Systems Inc. was busy touting new Web services capabilities this week during its annual eWorld user conference, show attendees demonstrated interest in the emerging application development and deployment paradigm, though with some degree of caution.

At least one developer said his company has already deployed Web services-style applications.

“We were doing this at my previous job,” said John Duclos, senior software engineer at Arbitron Co. in Baltimore. “We didn’t use the term [Web services], but we were extending applications to our business partners with XML – that’s Web services. So I definitely think there is something to this beyond the hype.”

Looking to prove that Web services hold more promise than hype, BEA’s CEO Alfred Chuang demonstrated how to build a Web service that can track a stolen vehicle and report its location to the police, which – at least during Chuang’s demonstration – was done in less than 20 minutes without writing a line of code. Chuang used BEA’s new WebLogic Workshop tool, formerly known as Cajun, to build the application.

“As a developer, I am always suspicious of tools that don’t let you see the code,” Duclos said. “So I am withholding judgment on Cajun until I get a better look at it.”

With piqued interest, developers were eagerly attending sessions to learn more about SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), WSDL (Web Services Definition Language), UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration), and WSFL (Web services Flow Language).

Beyond the de facto standard protocols, conference attendees were also looking for ways to apply Web services when they returned to their workplaces. Dale Tubig, for instance, works for defense contractor BAE Systems, based in San Diego, and said that Web services may earn a role in the nation’s security.

“If Web services perform as advertised, they would be good for an application we are trying to build for the intelligence community to consolidate data from disparate silos of information. It would be very useful, for example, to be able to correlate and combine target location information with an image of the target. Right now, that can be very difficult to do in a timely fashion. I often hear people say, ‘The government doesn’t know what it has, and if it did, it couldn’t find it,'” Tubig said.

Some developers, however, expressed more immediate concerns.

“I am not so much interested in the new version of WebLogic Server, Cajun, or Web services, said Brian Sorkin, senior software developer for Overture Networks Inc., in Pasadena, Calif. “The sessions I have found helpful are the ones that tell me how to avoid problems with the current release of WebLogic Server, things that have me pulling my hair on a daily basis.”

Although Web services are hardly the only type of application that can be built with BEA’s forthcoming toolset and platform, Web services garnered much of the attention at this year’s show.

Kevin McIsaac, program director for the Meta Group Australia in Sydney, said BEA is definitely on to something, but the company faces major challenges.

“BEA’s strategy to make Web services easy for any level of developer puts them right in the lion’s den with Microsoft (Corp.),” McIsaac said. “And their play to be the application infrastructure provider is lacking a database,” so in that regard, Oracle Corp. has a leg up on BEA.

McIsaac, however, said that the potential for success is big.

“I think even BEA underestimates this market, especially in the middleware space. The question is who will be able to capitalize on the opportunities,” he said.