Iona CFO touts Web services ‘standardization dream’

Unlike earlier distributed computing technologies, Web services and XML give the software industry a chance to finally realize the “standardization dream” enjoyed by industries such as transportation and manufacturing, said Iona Technologies PLC CTO Eric Newcomer on Thursday.

During his keynote speech at the XML Web Services One conference in Boston, Newcomer said that the proliferation of XML-based Web services standards and development – particularly around application integration – will enable software “mass assembly” on a wide scale.

“Software right now is still a craft industry, where you have lots of individuals coming up with unique solutions that then need to be handcrafted together,” said Newcomer. “Rapid assembly of components will change that.”

Web services interfaces and standards will enable the lashing together of commodity application functions such as billing systems or credit check approval processes, freeing companies to focus on the value-added elements of particular applications.

And while more established distributed computing middleware, such as CORBA, features more robust, reliable technology, Web services will ultimately prevail as the dominant system-to-system integration mechanism because it is based on the Internet and standards and affords a higher level of abstraction to developers through XML versus a language like C and the use of IDLs, he said.

“Simplicity and pragmatism always win out,” said Newcomer, drawing the comparison to HTTP and HTML that won out because of ease of use, despite the existence of technically superior transport protocols and development languages. “XML and the commodity software around Web services gives us a real potential to define the missing standards for integration, get faster time to market and better ROI.”

To get there, however, Newcomer believes the standards around quality of service features such as security, workflow, and transactions will need to be ironed out – no easy task given increasing fragmentation among vendors and standards bodies. Agreement on this second layer of standards, above the core XML, SOAP, UDDI, and WSDL, will be slower to come because vendors have money at stake around these protocols, he predicted.

In addition, Newcomer said the establishment of a standard Web services reference architecture will be essential to adoption. The W3C, of which Newcomer is a member, is currently working on such an architecture and will release a proposal for public review sometime next month, he said.