Web services winners and losers become clearer

Leaders have been established in the race to develop Web service technologies, but where there are winners there are also losers

IBM, Microsoft and Oracle are establishing strong positions in the developing Web services market - while rivals HP and Sun are faltering.

Meanwhile most users are taking positive steps to position their organisations so they will profit from Web services, which involve software components connected via the net using several sets of standards to make a range of business interactions (internal, external, B2B and B2C) easier.

That's according to Martin Butler, founder and president of Butler Group, a UK consultancy that follows this market closely.

IBM, he said, is concentrating on the integration of Web service technologies, especially in large companies, whereas database giant Oracle is leading the way in providing applications on an outsourced basis. Meanwhile Microsoft, long considered the company that tries to own such emerging markets, is showing a new openness with its .Net offering, establishing it at the consumer end.

Butler told silicon.com: "Microsoft have to be more open [than in the past], because Web services will only work if they are widespread across the industry."

Oracle now has 25 percent of US customers in certain sectors using hosted applications, a model that is proving 20 percent cheaper than handling all their IT themselves, he added, and web services will be crucial in linking outsourced systems to the rest of an enterprise.

On the subject of Sun, Butler said: "In the late nineties they were in the right place at the right time. They practically won the Lotto. But now it's not that their [Web services] technology is bad but how they position themselves."

But HP comes off worst of all, having effectively exited the middleware market, for example canning its own application server software -- integral to Web services -- to work with partners. It is now in the tier of vendors below IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Sun.

As for the users that are carefully watching these vendors' web services offerings, Butler added: "Every IT director I've spoken to is convinced that the future lies down this road."

He pointed to companies such as Dollar Rent-a-car in the travel industry as being especially progressive in their use of Web services standards.

In the past Butler Group has been among analysts suggesting most users are currently experimenting with some Web services standards, often on internal projects, but it will take until about 2010 for fully integrated systems, across all sorts of companies.

What standards will drive the next wave of Web-based services, and how will they interact? Check out the latest developments on .Net, Java, Liberty Alliance, Passport and other technologies at ZDNet UK's Web Services News Section, including analysis, case studies and management issues.

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