Fear and loathing of Web services

If you listen very carefully, you can hear the sound of large application software vendors damning Web services with faint praise. Just about every software vendor has announced support for Web services on some level, but most of that support comes in two distinct flavours.

The first level of support involves major vendors committing to the lightweight integration capabilities made possible by Web services as an alternative to existing EAI (enterprise application integration) tools. Many of these vendors, however, are quick to point out that there are numerous unresolved issues surrounding Web services, including how robust and secure the technology is when it is deployed in production environments.

These are valid concerns today, but large application vendors make it sound like this will be a permanent state of affairs, rather than a natural moment of time in the evolution of a still-emerging set of technologies.

The reason that large ISVs go to such lengths is that the concept of Web services is downright frightening to them, because it opens up the entire best-of-breed can of worms again. From their point of view, the suite wars fought during the past 10 years were a good thing because it allowed ISVs to lock customers into a suite of applications based on proprietary interfaces. This meant that if you wanted to optimize business process integration across a suite of applications, a suite of applications from one vendor was the place to do it. The trade-off, however, was the fact that in any given suite of applications, you would be lucky if two of the applications were best-of-breed in their category. Typically out of any given suite, two-thirds of the deployable applications were not being adopted on their individual merits.

But with the advent of Web services and corporate portal technologies, much of the rationale for purchasing application suites from specific vendors is going to disappear. Granted, these vendors argue that they will leverage Web services to provide levels of business process integration that exceed what can be accomplished across a set of disparate best-of breed applications, but proving that is going to be very difficult.

A number of cross-platform business processing integration efforts are already under way at companies such as Vitria Technology Inc., EcoNovo Holdings Ltd., Collaxa Inc., AltoWeb Inc., WRQ Inc., and iBusinessHub Inc. that leverage Web services to integrate business processes across any number of applications. Most of these solutions will be more than good enough for any organization, thereby giving enterprises the luxury of once again evaluating best-of-breed applications across the enterprise on equal footing.

But support also comes in another flavour. The one place you do hear broad support for Web services is among providers of specialized applications seeking to integrate their offerings with larger sets of applications. For example, Spotfire, Stratify, Vignette, Ultimus, Elite Information Systems and Comergent are all rushing to embrace Web services as a way of overcoming the proprietary lock-out interfaces employed by the major software vendors.

So once again, if you listen very carefully, that sound you actually hear is a breath of fresh air rushing across the enterprise. Breathe deeply and enjoy.

Michael Vizard is editor in chief of InfoWorld (US) and InfoWorld.com. Contact him atmichael_vizard@infoworld.com.