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Reader Survey: Web Services Taking Off

Cautious about the hype but hopeful for the model, ENT readers indicate a growing support for XML-based Web services.

By Joseph McKendrick

Are Web services the next wave in computing, following in the footsteps of the Internet, client/server networks, and PCs? Or are they merely vendor-generated hype?

Most people are greeting the new Web services model with a combination of hope and skepticism. Web services provide system-to-system delivery of Web-based applications. These applications can be rapidly assembled, deployed and executed using various components stored across the Internet. Web services are enabled by Internet-based standards, particularly Extensible Markup Language, or XML.

Acceptance of the leading languages and standards that underpin Web services -- such as Java and XML -- is strong. But plans for supporting additional standards are weak. And although Microsoft’s Web services initiative dominates the mindshare of developers, there hasn’t been tremendous support for its specific components, such as the C# language.

In May, ENT, in conjunction with a sister publication Enterprise Systems, conducted a survey of IT managers and developers to determine their interest in the Web services concept. A total of 53 people responded, representing companies from a range of sizes and industry groups.

And the Winners Are…

Everyone surveyed has an active interest in this new paradigm. More than half, 53 percent, will implement Web services-based applications within the next 12 months. Another 15 percent of those surveyed have an interest in doing so at a later date.

Not surprisingly, 83 percent of those companies involved in e-business application development (such as e-commerce sites, portals, and supply chain management systems) plan to move to Web services within the next 12 months. Respondents not involved in e-business application development are much more hesitant -- only 43 percent of this group plans to move into Web services.

Who’s Doing What?

The potential uses of Web services are as varied as the applications they support. For example, one survey respondent, representing a software development firm, will be deploying Web services to support its manufacturing customers’ e-business operations.

"The method used to interface with these manufacturers is varied from one to the next," says the respondent. "Having a more common platform to interface with many vendors will help ease our ability to link different systems’ data together in the future. We are also planning to Web-enable our products in the near future."

Vendor Action

Most major vendors have announced their own flavors of XML-based Web services: Microsoft with .NET, Sun with ONE, and Hewlett-Packard with e-Services and e-Speak. The survey finds that Microsoft is taking the lead, with more than a quarter of the group (26 percent) planning to deploy some aspect of Microsoft's .NET architecture within the next year.

IBM follows closely behind with 25 percent. A majority of developers in the sample (53 percent) develop Internet applications within a Microsoft framework using IIS and MTS. The open-source Web server, Apache, is the second most-deployed environment.

Guarded Enthusiasm

While respondents generally were skeptical at the level of hype surrounding Web services, some were enthusiastic about the new computing model. "I believe that Web services platforms such as Microsoft's .NET initiative will be the 'next big thing,'" says one respondent who works at a software development firm. "It seems such services could be the most useful application for the Internet yet."

Standards

Web services will be built on Internet standards that enable delivery of XML documents, including Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Web Services Description Language (WSDL) and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI).

Close to half of the developers surveyed (49 percent) intend to implement XML as a standard within the next 12 months. A quarter (25 percent) will be developing applications that support SOAP. Planned support for WSDL and UDDI is weak, however, with only 13 percent intending to support either standard in the near future.

Languages

While Microsoft is the dominant vendor environment for Web services development, Java tied with Visual Basic as the language of choice. Both languages are being used by 49 percent of those surveyed. Only 11 percent of those surveyed plan to deploy applications written in C#, Microsoft’s new language for Internet applications.

Host-it-Yourself

The Web services concept is often grouped in the same category as the ASP or third-party hosting model. The two concepts are not related, however.

When it comes to the actual hosting of these applications, the survey finds that most companies still prefer to maintain their own systems. Only 11 percent of those surveyed intend to use an ASP or third-party hosting service.

Verdict Still Out

Opinions are firmly divided on the efficacy of this distributed, Web-based architecture – and it’s not clear if this is good or bad news for vendors such as Microsoft. For example, one respondent noted that he preferred "to have the application on my PC, and not have to rely on the Web." However, another respondent took an opposite stance, noting, "When and if Web services are widely supported, our dependence upon individual vendors should be greatly diminished."

Another respondent branded Web services as "an attempt by vendors to dictate a business' IT needs rather than letting a business' needs drive its IT development and purchasing. They are not selling a service so much as a philosophy, in which they claim that they know a business better than the business' policy makers."

Only time will tell whether Web services turn out to be the next revolution in computing or simply this year’s hype. What is clear is that developers are ready and willing to give the new model a try, especially if it’ll offer a clear benefit to some aspect of their business.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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