Speakers at the Burton Group Catalyst Conference 2003 debated the pros and cons of web services-based application integration, illustrating the diversity of opinions still surrounding the technology.
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Speakers varied from fanning the flames of excitement to playing down web services as an immature platform that will have a place in - but won't monopolise - the integration world.
"Web services is one small step for technology and one giant leap for business," said Anne Thomas Manes, research director at the Burton Group.
Web services is basically middleware, but it will enable the "virtual enterprise" and service-oriented architectures, Manes said. It will succeed, unlike previous efforts such as Distributed Computing Environment (DCE) and Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA), she added.
"The reason that web services will succeed is because we have total industry buy-in," Manes said. She also touted the Web Services Interoperability Organization's Basic Profile, saying it will provide for basic interoperability across any language or platform.
Issues remain, however, such as scalability and performance, said Manes, stressing that users of web services need to fit their systems with web services management tools. But she believed web services will become part of the IT fabric.
"Five years from now, you won't even think about web services because it will become just part of your fabric", in the same manner that enterprises use sockets, Manes said.
The issue of security, which has long been a concern, is being addressed via the WS-Security specification, she said. "WS-Security is very close to being finished and it's a very strong specification."
WS-Security is under the jurisdiction of the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (Oasis).
A web services user speaking at the conference, however, expressed concerns with the level of security in web services.
"It's a miserable story and I think it's a reason why we don't do a whole lot outside our firewalls," said David Cohen, a vice president of the technology architecture group at Merrill Lynch.
"To me, web services is just a communications system," he added. "It's just at a higher level of the network stack."
Merrill Lynch, however, is a "huge champion of XML", said Cohen.
BEA Systems chief teachnology officer Scott Dietzen stressed that web technology providers need to get on the WS-Security bandwagon.
"Anybody who doesn't have WS-Security, for example, better have a road map where they're going to provide it in the second half of this year or I would question their commitment," Dietzen said.
Mercator CTO Dave Linthicum stressed that non-standards-based approaches to integration will continue, despite the heightened interest in web services.
"A lot of people say you can do it with standards-based infrastructure, and I'm here to tell you that is not the case."
While acknowledging a role for web services, Linthicum said other technologies would survive, including autonomous, monolithic applications. "The legacy systems won't go away and you can't change them," he said.
Linthicum added that services-oriented architectures is "much more complex than other approaches".
Paul Krill writes for InfoWorld