Greg Enright: Web services idea has IS, apps talking

Carly Suppa’s article on page eight of this issue (“Web Services heed misconceptions”) offers an introduction to the world of Web services. Get ready to hear a lot more about this important concept both ’round these parts and at the proverbial tech-world water cooler.

Why should this development get more of the limelight than the myriad other trends spreading throughout the networking sector? Because, from the most basic, ground-level perspective, Web services will help companies perform a critical task that they’ve had such difficulty carrying out in the past: getting unfriendly, uncommunicative business applications to bury the hatchet and talk to each other by way of the Internet. And to do so without making huge time and monetary investments in technology as wonky and unpredictable as a ’58 Edsel.

You’ll no doubt hear, or have already heard, the term Web services being used in a number of different ways, but don’t get discouraged if it’s all a tad confusing. Aside from the actual act of communication between disparate apps, you’ll hear the term refer to the actual code that makes it all possible, or to a service offered by a provider that allows the apps to talk to each other.

The common thread to all of these definitions is the act of talking. Where, for instance, a company once had so much difficulty in getting their PeopleSoft supply chain software to communicate with a partner’s Oracle software, a new dynamic will emerge. Thanks to a number of specifications that are making that communication a reality, new, more open paths of electronic communication will emerge.

If the Web services blueprint develops the way proponents are hoping it will, the constant chatter surrounding enterprise application standards should be considerably muted. In an ideal Web services world, Microsoft can disagree all it wants with what Novell does in the area of network directories, for instance, and the products can grow around different philosophies. If an able translator, or mediator, if you will, can arrive at a truce and get them communicating, who cares?

You’ll hear a lot about the Web services concept because the plan is so promising. But remember that, in many regards, it is still just a plan. Critics question the ability of such a process to handle the security needs of today’s enterprise. They also point to the fact that when they do talk to each other effectively, today’s Web apps do so at rates of speed and efficiency that Web service-oriented apps cannot rival.

Both valid points, but consider: one, have security concerns held many large enterprises back in deploying other, less-promising technologies?; and two, speed and efficiency will come. Let’s give the concept time to grow. However long the wait, it is certain to be worth it.