Heading into the Cloud

Web Services will evolve as it meets the real world.

I ate dinner last night, listening to my sweetheart rant about the vulnerabilities of Passport—and about how we could never, ever really trust our data to a company like Microsoft. I tried to pay attention, but my mind was elsewhere, in a hotel off Central Park in New York City sometime in the late ’80s. Ashton-Tate, Microsoft and Sybase were making an announcement regarding the joint development and marketing of “SQL Server,” an RDBMS designed after the client/server model that would run on the OS/2 platform. Up to that point, the concept of client/server was a vague idea whose manifestation would be months—really, years—in the making. Members of the press and analysts in attendance were put on teams headed by technology experts who patiently explained the concepts behind client/server. It was mind-boggling and seemed fraught with flaws. Didn’t it take too much control away from the user? How could it possibly compete with other major applications already in use? We users would have to change the way we worked and the way we thought about our data.

Now it’s happening all over again. But the model is Web services.

Microsoft’s approach, .NET, consists of three layers. The .NET framework implements standards such as XML, SOAP and UDDI as capabilities within its products and development tools. .NET enterprise servers supply the core features for creating Web services. And .NET services such as Passport and .NET My Services deliver these new capabilities to the user.

Those integrated activities we think of as our applications, currently delivered to us on our PCs or across servers, will give way to a services model in which functionality comes to us through the Internet “cloud.” Eventually, we and our enterprises will buy into it because those functions will be enhanced with purpose and value along their routes.

In brief, .NET is the next step in the human effort to create digital entities of ourselves and our business activities.

Of course, as Gary Hein of The Burton Group wrote in his report on the subject, “Much of .NET in particular—and the whole Web services model in general—remains unproven and will undoubtedly evolve as its current theories meet the practice of real-world deployment.”

But just as Microsoft owns all of the client experience and much of the server side—after a decade and a half of working at it—we can presume it will do all in its power to wield Web services. Microsoft will find a way through our concerns about privacy, pricing, security and reliability. And it’s a good thing that Microsoft has finally learned to talk to the Feds, because it’ll have to tromp on trails blazed by those companies in financial services and healthcare, which are accustomed to governmental oversight and regulation.

I don’t think IBM, Sun or others stand a chance. You’d be well advised to learn all you can now, while the concepts are still new and shiny. It’ll make a difference to you and your work—if not this year, then in 2003, 2004 or 2005.

About the Author

Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.

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