Web Services Edge West and XMLEdge 2001 opened for business October 22 with a series of sessions and tutorials on the hottest topics in the industry. Five tracks were maintained throughout the conference.
The conference began on Tuesday, October 23, with a keynote presentation by Dr. Charles Goldfarb, "the father of XML technology." Dr. Goldfarb's presentation was an intriguing exploration of the dichotomy that exists between application developers and document developers as they approach the concept of XML from two completely different perspectives. XML "is a precision tool...being misused by people who think it's a shotgun," he asserted.
He expressed this dichotomy with a number of examples that led to the development of a concept he calls HARP - Human, Abstraction, Rendering, and Presentation - and made a strong case for extracting and encapsulating data in XML format.
Goldfarb took the audience through the entire history of data systems in order to reinforce his point about how revolutionary XML actually is. But the interest level of delegates increased markedly as he asserted that many so-called XML "gurus" in fact misuse or manipulate some of the basic terminology associated with XML in order to sell XML-based products of one variety or another.
Goldfarb's vision for XML is pure and based on freedom, not proprietary solutions. "It frees developers from having to be locked into a single processing paradigm," he explained.
"XML is based on free and open standards. So every time I see that phrase MSXML, I get a little nervous," he quipped, in a reference to the initials of a parser that bear a wholly coincidental similarity to those of a certain company in Seattle with a well-known reputation for keeping things proprietary.
Goldfarb also told the audience at his keynote that he expected to see large companies like SAP adopting XML wholesale "very soon" since XML removes the need for monolithic data systems. XML, he observed in rounding off his presentation, "is, like SGL before it, designed as a standard for coping with the unstandardized - this is the most important aspect of the XML revolution."
The second keynote of the day was given by Oracle Corporation's vice president of product development for Oracle9i, Thomas Kurian.
Kurian explained to an attentive audience of developers and i-technology professionals how greatly they would benefit "if the J2EE and Web services programming models were rendered analogous so that you didn't have to learn a new programming model."
Kurian outlined Oracle's vision for a world of Java-driven Web services and presented in detail how the architecture of, for example, Oracle's own 9iAS application server with its unified model lends itself to building, deploying, and managing Web services.
"There's a lot of hype going round," he observed, "about Web services as nirvana." Oracle's view, according to Kurian, was more grounded, and based on a solid belief that open standards and interoperability can take e-business to the "next level," as he termed it. By that he meant the next level of operational efficiency, and therefore of profitability.
He explained that, in his view, UDDI, SOAP, and WSDL alone will not be enough, and how the true success of more complex Web services will require ebXML, RosettaNet, and the Java JAX standards.
"Web services is a great way to allow applications to be built. It's a set of technologies to let one app talk to another using open standards." Kurian continued, "Oracle believes in open standards and interoperability, including .NET, which is why our goal is to unify the J2EE and Web services models."
On Wednesday, October 24, the exhibition floor opened and a large show crowd explored the wares of more than 40 vendors, including SilverStream, Borland, and IONA. Several vendors unveiled new products, including Systinet (formerly IDOOX) and Borland.
In Wednesday morning's opening keynote, Steve Benfield, CTO of SilverStream Software, addressed the overall question of Web services and emerging application developer techniques.
Well known in the industry for his view that "Web services will change the world," Benfield nonetheless took care to explain that in many ways "there is nothing magic about Web services." Their impending success is based on changes in the overall business environment as much as on any quantum leap in technology. Benfield asked, "What is all the fuss about?"
The answer, he asserted, is that while developers have been doing XML over HTTP for awhile, Web services is composed of far more than that. A Web service, he said, can best be defined as, "A readily shareable business function," and that is what makes the move toward Web services revolutionary, and constitutes a business opportunity for software vendors and business alike since it will help customers extend their business to the Web.
Flexibility is another advantage. "A few years ago, when you built an application," he told the many developers in the audience, "you knew who the users were going to be and what they'd use, but today you don't. Web services creation allows you to architect for reuse, which can be done without regard to the actual user."
The most important difference between Web services and previous attempts, like CORBA, to ensure interoperability between businesses, is the fact that every major vendor is working to support it: "With Microsoft and IBM both behind it 100%," Benfield said, "Web services is uniquely positioned to succeed - plus, it works using existing Internet and XML standards."
Steve explained that "mere mortals" won't be able to build successful Web services without help, and that a new product set will sweep through the industry, what he termed "Integrated Services Environments" - in other words, an entire framework for building, deploying, and managing Web services.
"If you want to spend your time building applications versus understanding the semantics of Web Services Description Language and Simple Open Access Protocol, then you need an ISE," he said, emphasizing the ease of creation, the flexibility of the interface, and the strong cross-platform implementation of Web services as key to its success. His overall point was that the ease of creation will be driven not so much by the underlying simplicity of the paradigm, but more by the availability of powerful tools and ISEs for abstracting the details to a simple interface for creation.
Wednesday afternoon the West Coast Web Services panel discussion took place, another of SYS-CON's energetic CEO panels, a high-octane formula already much enjoyed at the Web Services Edge East event in New York in September, and now equally successful at Web Services Edge West.
Moderated by Web Services Journal editor-in-chief Sean Rhody, the panel was made up of Barry Morris, CEO of IONA Technologies; Greg O'Connor, president of Sonic Software; Dirk Slama, CEO of Shinka Technologies; Eileen Richardson, CEO of Infravio; Ali Kutay, CEO of AltoWeb; and Annrai O'Toole, executive chairman of Cape Clear Software.
Rhody opened the discussion with the same question that opened the East coast panel: "What is a Web service?" and the panel soon moved on to discuss the role of Web services in the industry.
Discussion was animated from the first, fueled by the panel's collective ability to both enthuse and dispute about the subject at hand: the role of Web services.
"You're going to see the power structures in our industry change," asserted Morris, a viewpoint endorsed by O'Toole, who was also adamant that Web services represents a "fundamentally different architecture" than anything we have seen to date in the world of computing.
The point that created the most controversy was the question of whether Web services represented an evolution or a revolution. Slama's endorsement of the "evolutionary" view was strongly contested by Morris, who time and again stressed to his fellow panelists and to the entire audience of developers and i-technology professionals that there has never been anything like Web services before...it's a complete and utter revolution.
Morris spoke of Web services as a "flattening" of information infrastructures, such that "more people are able to get at your enterprise value" than ever before. Exposing that enterprise value as Web services is going to be the key to the next phase of e-business, he explained. Just as people writing in Word or doing a presentation in PowerPoint are in effect programming, they are empowered by technology to do something previously doable only by programmers. So, continued Morris, Web services is poised to enable a mass adoption of distributed computing techniques previously available only to software engineers.
AltoWeb's Kutay took issue with this point of view. He couldn't see how Web services would ever supersede the need for, say, J2EE since at the enterprise level there were issues of transaction management and security that Web services simply didn't address adequately. In Kutay's view, "Web services are complementary to what J2EE provides," but they don't, he felt, represent the "revolution" that Morris was arguing they do.
At one point it was suggested that a Web service should use UDDI and WSDL over HTTP, but this caused a fairly significant uproar among the panel members. Morris dismissed UDDI and WSDL at one point, insisting that focusing on the "plumbing" of Web services was missing the point of Web services entirely: Web services is a paradigm that enables corporate developers to finally unite their applications.
For me, probably the most interesting aspect of the discussion was the completely divergent opinions on the target audience for Web services. O'Toole and several other members clearly felt that Web services should be ubiquitous and purposefully easy to use for everyone - basically the next HTML. Morris and O'Connor disagreed completely, consigning Web services to the realm of professional developers and programmers.
On Thursday, October 25, O'Toole gave a keynote in which he set out to prove to delegates that Web services "transforms the whole economics and technology of application integration." O'Toole outlined to the software engineers, i-technology professionals, and senior IS managers in the audience how Web services is encouraging a welcome shift in the competitive strategies being used in the computer industry.
"Throughout the past 20 years, the industry has been divided by a series of technological hardware and software platform battles," he explained. "Now, with Web services, the industry has for the first time agreed on ubiquitous interoperability standards, thanks to industry standards such as XML, SOAP, WSDL, and UDDI, offering a solution to the bickering and posturing that has created 20 years of IT incompatibility."
"The arrival of widely accepted standards such as XML and SOAP provides a common base platform," he continued, "that supersedes arguments over operating systems, languages, tools, and applications. It prepares the ground for a new era of cooperation - a third way, if you will."
For O'Toole the joy of Web services is that there's nothing actually new in them, "but they're repackaged so that the mainstream developer is reenfranchised," he explained, "putting power back in the hands of the type of developer who would use, say, Visual Basic rather than J2EE."
Known for two decades in the industry for his forthright views, O'Toole was not afraid to expand on this view of how, with the move toward a Web services paradigm, developers and users are back in charge, instead of vendors.
The business impact of Web services on application integration would follow the 80/20 rule, O'Toole made clear. "Eighty percent of the integration that end users will want to do can be delivered by Web services, while 20% will continue to be high-end integration solutions that can't be supplied by Web services." That 80% figure, he said, means that "many businesses that don't do integration at all today, the small and medium enterprises, are soon going to find that with Web services integration is possible - for under $100,000 rather than the $500,000 associated with high-end integration solutions, which often need an additional $1-2 million of consultancy fees on top of that."
O'Toole closed his keynote address by giving a demo of a simple Web service, including publishing it into UDDI. He successfully created it in seven minutes instead of the week that he claimed would have been necessary before the introduction of the open standards that are at the heart of the new Web services paradigm
Later that day, software engineers and business applications developers enjoyed the benefit of a keynote speaker's 18 years of industry experience in building software tools when they heard Dave Chappell, Sonic Software's VP and chief technology evangelist, deliver the afternoon keynote.
His keynote, "Web Services Meets Reliability," was well received by the audience, whose own industry experience enabled them to easily follow the technical details of Chappell's contention that messaging in general, and asynchronous messaging in particular, is critically important.
Chappell opened with a strong assertion: "In distributed application communications among enterprises and across business entities, the use of SOAP over vanilla HTTP just doesn't cut it. Parties are often unreachable." This gap, Chappell predicted, will be filled in the future by more powerful JAXM messaging providers based on protocols that provide a simple, robust way of addressing those issues - such as Java Message Service (JMS).
After explaining how JAXM - the Java API for XML Messaging - can be used for constructing and deconstructing SOAP messages intended to be sent over the wire, Chappell focused on XML messaging and talked the audience through a generic Web services usage model. He actually gave a live demo showing Apache SOAP, Tomcat, and SonicXQ all working together in a Web services interaction, then demonstrated the reliability of the system by shutting down parts of the system and bringing them back up.
He then discussed Web services from several viewpoints, leveraging the views of industry experts to prove the need for Web services.
By the end of the keynote the audience was left in no doubt that bringing reliability to the Web services infrastructure was an important goal and that messaging will play a key role since, as Chappell put it, "interfaces will always need data transformation and end-to-end guaranteed delivery, along with all the other enterprise needs such as scalability and security." And XML messaging - whether through SOAP or through more rigid sets of rules such as ebXML, JAXM, or JMS - is, within a Web services architecture, the answer.
Jeremy Geelan, editorial director of SYS-CON Media, speaks, writes, and broadcasts about the future of Internet technology and about the business strategies appropriate to the convergence of business, i-tech, and the future.
Sean Rhody is the editor-in-chief of Java Developer's Journal. He is also a principal consultant with Computer Sciences Corporation
where he specilaizes in application architecture - particularly distributed systems.