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Web services applications are expected to be broad and far-reaching. Early uses include companies utilizing them within their business to integrate multiple applications and systems; to find a common way to link payroll, sales, and CRM applications; and to communicate with each other.

B2B applications will enable business and trading partners to integrate their systems through a shared registry (think intranet) or public registry (think Internet) of information.

Consumer applications will enable computers to search Web sites for information (such as travel dates and fares) as well as open up communications with the desired source and perform transactions. An early model of the same concept was Napster's peer-to-peer connecting of one computer to another to share and exchange information.

The new piece is the actual transaction that will be possible through Web services. Skeptics might predict that this will enable your computer to not only find the wrong book online, but to purchase and have it delivered to your doorstep in record time.

While consumer applications of Web services may be a few steps down the road, companies are understandably excited about the technology's potential to integrate critical functions both in- and outside their organizations.

Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) and Xquery (which queries databases using XML) tap into Universal Description Discovery and Integration (UDDI), a giant repository of Web services. The twofold function of UDDI is to be a global registry of all public Web services and also the technical standard that defines an interface to the registry.

HP, IBM, Microsoft, Sun, and SAP are all running an instance of the global UDDI registry and share the database that replicates on a daily basis. Microsoft's XML Web services platform is called .NET, and Sun has dubbed their version Sun ONE (Open Net Environment), an "open framework Web service using the Java architecture."

An early explorer of Web services technologies is Tony Hong, who (with his brother James Hong) cofounded the Web services site, www.xmethods.net, in August 2000.

"The site started as a developer-focused grass roots project," says Hong, who was director of engineering at a B2B software solutions company called Ventro (now NexPrise) in Mountain View, California.

"I was responsible for internal and external integration projects and helping companies integrate transactions between their trading partners. The Web services stack was built to integrate systems and I saw great potential in the technology," says Hong.

After leaving Ventro, Hong looked into other ways of experimenting with Web services technologies although the concept of the UDDI registry hadn't yet come about. He and his brother James bootstrapped the xmethods.net site as a repository of Web services information that enables developers to experiment.

"On the site, Web services applications are contributed to by the developer community," says Hong. "Some are demos, some are commercial, but all of them are working."

From our perspective on the staffing side of the industry, we're hearing a lot about the demand for Web services technologies from both our senior engineers and hiring manager clients. Hong agrees that this is where a large portion of the high-tech industry is headed.

How does an ambitious engineer get up to speed on the Next Big Thing?

There are a number of books about Web services and SOAP. There's a great book list at www.soaplite.com and a comprehensive view of the industry at www.webservices.org.

From a skills development perspective, at the nuts-and-bolts platform level you should learn XML and how to deal with basic Internet protocols like HTTP. Then you'll have the foundation to tackle the Web services protocols. You should also know the mechanics of Internet access.

"Once the plumbing of Web services is in place, people will wonder what to do with it, and B2B integration will be one of the first uses," says Hong. "The B2B integration space will see a lot of new activity, so an understanding of B2B integration and process mapping will be important."

Who will be hiring engineers with strong Web services skills?

At first, the platform and tools builders like BEA, IBM, and Sun should have a strong need for people with these skills. Eventually, enterprise application vendors like Oracle, SAP, and PeopleSoft will also need engineers with Web ser- vices skills.

Online sources of information about Web services include www.webservices.org, www.uddi.org, www.xmethods.net, and www.microsoft.com/net.

Author Bios
Bill Baloglu is a principal at ObjectFocus (www. ObjectFocus.com), a Java staffing firm in Silicon Valley. Bill has extensive OO experience and has held software development and senior technical management positions at several Silicon Valley firms.

Billy Palmieri is a seasoned staffing industry executive and a principal at ObjectFocus. His prior position was at Renaissance Worldwide, where he held several senior management positions in the firm's Silicon Valley operations. [email protected]

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