Vendor panel: Web services are essential

The success of Web services will depend on how well they enable businesses to build relationships with each other and whether they place end users at the center of control.

That was the consensus of a panel on Web services Wednesday held among representatives from Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. Developers need to understand that such services have to be “business-centric,” rather than get too wrapped up with the different technologies involved, the speakers said.

“Web services are about building loosely coupled pieces of information around business processes, and individual control of that information is a key component,” said Dan’l Lewin, vice-president of .Net business development at Microsoft, who spoke at the debate hosted by the Software Development Forum. He added that developers should not get too “frenzied” over which infrastructure technology to use but instead think about the business relationships involved. That was the mistake of online marketplaces, he claimed.

Rod Smith, vice president of emerging technologies at IBM, said Web services give companies “just-in-time integration” between business partners, business models, customers and supply chains. “Web services raise the bar from developers to the business process folks. Web services empower business users, and software becomes a pliable asset instead of being behind glass in IT shops,” he said.

The panelists agreed that Web services could breathe new life into existing stand-alone applications as they become integrated into supply chains. “This demands levels of heterogeneity in systems, and XML is a great technology for that,” said Rob Gingell, CTO of Sun’s software systems group.

Smith added that IBM, which Monday announced its Web services initiative, decided to enter the market because of the company’s background in messaging, which he believes is a key component of Web services. “A lot of [Web services early adopters] are reconditioning their software – decomposing what they have and recomposing on messaging. This is not propeller-head stuff; it’s just XML, text and messaging, and has nothing to do with the Internet,” he said.

When asked why IBM and Sun originally declined to support Microsoft’s Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Gingell joked that for Sun, there was some element of “primate behavior.” However, the company decided that it was better to work with the Redmond, Wash., giant and others to help the technology become accepted as a standard. Similarly, IBM became interested when customers began saying that SOAP, which uses XML and HTTP to let one software component identify and activate others on remote servers, filled a need in the market.

The panelists also agreed that Web services present great opportunities for independent software vendors to deliver new applications built around business processes, which can be integrated with a host of other products. “You are going to have to think about integration quickly. This is not rocket science – it’s a business-fundamental add-on,” Smith concluded.