Reality strikes as Web services settle in for long haul

While it's virtually unanimous that Web services will be an important factor going forward, some of the hype is beginning to die down as reality kicks in.

Web services, which are essentially a new class of applications that can talk and work with one another over the Internet, have been touted as the next big thing by a plethora of big names. Microsoft, as a prime example, is wagering its whole .Net strategy on the success of Web services.

However, some people, such as Paul Marriott, local business development manager for Oracle's 9i platform, believes the move to Web services is merely an evolutionary step, rather than a revolutionary leap.

"Web services are not the be-all and end-all of application development," he said. "If you want to integrate sophisticated business processes across multiple applications, Web services are just a small part of that. It's an important part, but only a small part of the bigger picture."

Marriott believes that some groups have been perpetuating a myth of Web services being a 'revolution', promoting them as a kind of panacea of integration and application development. Instead, Marriott believes the bigger picture of delivering software as a service extends far beyond what Web services does.

"Web services is very important, and it's a great way of enhancing applications to provide access to simple business logic in a very effective way. However, if you want to truly run an accounting application or a customer management system on a hosted environment to hundreds of thousands of users, with scalability and 24x7 availability, Web services isn't the only thing you need to do. You need a sound foundation to build them on," he said.

However, Web services still has its disciples. Ken Burrows, managing director of Software AG, believes that Web services will be 'huge'. In addition, Burrows believes that the role of IT will change in response to Web services.

"I think you'll find that traditional IT -- where people build systems from scratch -- is probably going to disappear to a large degree and be replaced by a component assembly," he said, adding that the characteristics of IT people will also change.

"They'll have to have a better understanding of the processes rather than real technical skills, the reason being that the main emphasis will be identifying what components will satisfy the business need, rather than building them from scratch," he said.

However, Marriott believes that the role of applications developers will remain unchanged in the face of Web services.

"To write a Web service, a developer still writes code, and defines a standard interface by which you access that code. If that code changes, the applications that access it may have to change as well," he said.

"There will still be the full software lifecycle of developing the code, testing it, deploying it, and then maintaining it, so this idea of developers just putting the thing together is a nice idea, but the reality is they still require the same maintenance that any custom-built application needs."

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