A wish list for Web Services

Dr Bob Sutor: It's up to us in the IT industry to build the middleware and applications that can provide the total systems integration to get us to on-demand computing.

It's a new year, and we're thinking about how the last one has turned out and how this one's shaping up. In our personal lives, we make resolutions for the new year. I'd like to do something similar for the professional side of my life by making some educated wishes about where I'd like to see Web services heading in 2003.

Before looking ahead, let's take a brief look back. In the beginning, we used phones and faxes to exchange business information. The digital revolution changed all that as the Internet allowed us to exchange data easily with one another as well as across the enterprise. From there, enterprise resource planning helped us integrate as many business functions as possible to run the business efficiently and cost-effectively.

Web services was the logical next step in building an open technology platform that would enable different applications, systems and data to communicate transparently with one another. With Web services, enterprises can link their customers, employees, suppliers and partners, no matter what proprietary technologies each is running. Further, Web services software enables enterprises to bring their legacy IT systems up to speed without having to rip and replace them. It's evolution rather than revolution.

The road hasn't been without its bumps, but we've made good progress in IT integration through Web services. We entered 2002 with two major objectives in mind: to address interoperability issues throughout the industry, and to improve the security of Web-services systems.

The Web Services Initiative (WSI), begun last year with members from across the IT industry, has made huge strides toward improving interoperability by publishing specs that enable companies to coordinate their Web-services products. And in the area of security, we've gotten past the amorphous "I don't know what I need, but I know that more is better" approach. We're now identifying what the real needs are and where we must do more to make systems safe from internal and external intrusion.

So that's where we are. Now, here's where I would like to see 2003 take us: * This is the breakout year for Web-services technology. It's been around for about four years, with more and more enterprises integrating their IT operations. This is the year that I'd like to see the words "Web-Services Enabled" on as much new enterprise software as possible. * We need to continue to address interoperability issues, but it's time to get customers involved in the process. Up to now, the IT industry, through the WSI, has created standards in a vacuum. How are they working? What are the experiences of the growing number of enterprises using Web services? Until we begin to get, and act upon, that customer feedback, we can't take the steps that will truly make Web services user-friendly. Let's get customers into the WSI. * By the same token, we need to address security issues from the users' points of view. That way, we can fine-tune solutions to make IT systems integration no more open to risk than cashing a check at the bank. Actually, let's make it even more secure than that. * The Java platform, with its openness and flexibility, is the foundation for Web services and IT integration. As good as Java is, however, its adaptability is limited by the fact that it's owned by one company, and must answer to that company's business imperatives. This may be a long shot, but since I'm wishing, I wish that 2003 would see the freeing of Java so that it could achieve its true potential as an industry-wide, transparent platform. * And let's not forget Linux, the UNIX-based open operating system that is a beautiful match for Web services. This may be a well-kept secret now, but 2003 could be the year in which Linux becomes the operating system of choice for Web services. Finally, 2003 is the year that we'll begin to look beyond the elementary business-to-business applications of Web services, and we'll start to embrace the true promise of IT integration. This is the year that "on-demand" computing shows itself to be the objective that Web services has been aiming for. Why should we have to input information that already resides in the system? Why should we have to tell our IT systems to coordinate orders, purchases, and inventory controls? Why should we not be able to do all this wirelessly, from anywhere on the globe? Why should we have to call infrastructure problems to the attention of our programmers, rather than let the computers themselves identify and fix the problems in an autonomic fashion? And why should our computers not work together, on a grid, even when no one is around to tell them what to do? The answer is, soon computers will be capable of all these things. It's up to us in the IT industry, with feedback from our customers, to build the middleware and applications that can provide the total systems integration to get us to on-demand computing. We may not do it all in 2003, but we're going to make some giant strides in that direction. As director of IBM Web Services Strategy, Dr Bob Sutor is responsible for establishing the IBM-wide strategy for the development and deployment of key industry standards such as those for XML and Web services. Prior to his current position, he was IBM's programme director for XML Technology.
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