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At last, a vendor who tells it like it is

At last, a vendor who tells it like it is

Web services are currently touted as the “next great thing” yet in reality exist more in that land of fable called vapourware than they do in reality.

Web services are currently touted as the “next great thing” yet in reality exist more in that land of fable called vapourware than they do in reality. So it’s a pleasant surprise to meet a vendor who says as much, rather than simply painting a word picture of a blissful future available right now. Of course, web services are on the way and they will ultimately change how we do business, both on the web and off, but just not tonight Josephine.To be fair, there are some web services available today but for the most part they are either at the demo stage or are locked behind firewalls on private intranets. Genuine web services, as in ubiquitous, anonymous services, are still some way off — anywhere between 2003 and 2010 depending on how optimistic the analyst you are talking to is at the time.

Marty Robins is Sun’s senior director for SunOne, which is the company’s strategy for how it sees web services developing over the next 18 months to two years. Robins visited New Zealand last month to launch SunOne at events in Wellington and Auckland.

According to Robins, web services development is currently at an infrastructure stage with major vendors working well together on refining standards such as XML, UDDI, SOAP and WDSL. Robins says that Sun also believes that EBXML will become a key component in web services. (EBXML is the development of a common set of business objects and processes, driven by OASIS and UN/CEFACT — see www.ebxml.org for further information.)

Robins says web services will, at first, become common via portals although by the end of 2002 he expects to see widespread deployment of private web services on intranets and extranets, where there is a trusted relationship and a private web service registry in place. Even at his most optimistic Robins doesn’t expect to see ubiquitous, anonymous services until at least the end of 2003.

As is usual for a vendor of web services, Robins points to the supply chain as one of the richest opportunities for web services to save time and money for companies, citing Sun as an example of how supply chain web services can be implemented.

In Sun’s case it built a supplier portal and implemented a dynamic bidding process for hardware component suppliers. Robins says the new system has saved the company millions of dollars and squeezed weeks out of the purchasing process.

Sun’s supplier portal is a good example of a private web services implementation where there are trusted relationships and security can be directly controlled. For public services to fully develop the issues of security and “proof” have to be addressed and the industry is still some way off from agreeing on how this can be achieved.

Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, predicts that the next stage of web development is the “Semantic Web” where data is structured for machine-to-machine interaction, which in turn will allow the development of intelligent agents that can interact with each other to provide services as required.

For these services to function anonymously, not only must there be security in place but agents have to be able to “prove” to each other that the information they are supplying is accurate and valid. When the industry has developed standards for “proof” expect to see ubiquitous, anonymous web services, but despite Robin’s optimism, don’t expect to see them any time soon.

When he’s not dreaming about intelligent software agents writing his column while he has his afternoon nap, Casement is the business manager of CIO magazine. He can be contacted at doug_casement@idg.co.nz

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