The State of Web Services, 2003 A.D.
They're 'a tool for the times,' say the experts
What do you get if you cross an early 21stcentury
visionary CTO with a late 19thcentury
employee of the Edison Electric
Light Company? Answer: a fantastic
keynote address at Web Services Edge
2003 West, held in Santa Clara last month.
The visionary in question was Allan
Vermeulen, coauthor of the codehead's
classic The Elements of Java Style, and
now CTO of the world's largest online
retailer, Amazon.com. The Edison
employee was Sam Unsell, whose contribution
to the development of technology
- Vermeulen explained - was to
develop an economic model for electricity
use in Chicago.
As with electricity then, so with Web
services now. This, in Vermeulen's view,
is the next shoe that needs to drop.
"Somebody has to be the Sam
Unsell of Web services," he proclaimed,
meaning that someone in the Web services
space has to come up with a good
idea for what kind of economic model
is best suited to underpinning the technology.
Commercially available electricity,
he explained, was only able to catch on
and become pervasive because, with
Unsell's help, the Edison Electric Light
Company invented not just the first
commercially practical incandescent
lamp but a complete electrical distribution
system for light and power -
including generators, motors, light
sockets with the Edison base, junction
boxes, safety fuses, underground conductors,
and other devices.
The comparison held the packed
audience at the Santa Clara Convention
Center, quite literally, spellbound. It
was deemed by all who attended to be
one of the most memorable and - pun
intended - illuminating keynotes in the
history of the Web Services Edge series
of Conferences and Expos, which is
saying something since in previous
years keynotes have been given by folks
like the "Father of Java," Sun's James
Gosling; and the "Father of Markup,"
Charles F. Goldfarb.
Vermeulen's ebullient opening
keynote characterized well a conference
that for three days brimmed with
good content and animated
The Complexity Crisis
Keynote discussion panels featured
the likes of John Schmidt, CTO of the
No. 1 specialty retailer in the U.S., Best
Buy, who brought to bear his enormous
real-world experience of Web services:
Best Buy moves about 100 gigabytes of
data a day - inventory data, foundation
data (pricing, etc.) - and top management
throughout industry, Schmidt
reported, is starting to recognize the
issues of complexity in IT.
"We need," he observed, "to help
take layers of complexity out of our IT
environment." Whereas Web services,
in Schmidt's view, may take us in the
Coming from a seasoned expert like
Schmidt, who also chairs the
Methodology Committee of the EAI
Consortium, this was a compelling
message - especially once he had set
the stage with a reference to what he
called "the dark side of systems integration
- the complexity crisis."
Best Buy alone has over 600 technologies
to support 165 technology
capabilities, Schmidt reported. "A couple
of years ago it took about 20-30
days to build a complete interface," he
said. "Nowadays it takes about 4-5
days. Best Buy now adds over 550 interfaces
every month (over the past 3
In other words, and this was
Schmidt's point, "As complex as our
environment is at the moment, Web
services is going to make it even more
A Web service can be built almost at
the push of a button, Schmidt concluded.
"Accordingly, they will proliferate on
a massive scale."
Keynote Panel: Web Services Paradigm Has Evolved
At another keynote discussion panel
the question was "Interoperability: Is
Web Services Delivering?"
When panel moderator Derek
Ferguson, editor-in-chief of .NET
Developer's Journal, asked the panel
members to set the parameters of the
discussion by first defining Web services,
it became clear that the invited
experts on the keynote stage agreed
that, while defined by the interop protocol
known as SOAP 1.1, no longer do
Web services necessarily have to be
XML, or even over HTTP. The paradigm
David Chappell, VP and chief technology
evangelist, Sonic Software,
stressed that in his view, while Web
services interactions do not have to be
across HTTP, "XML is key to defining
what a Web services interaction should
be. It's best suited for the role of serving
as the language for describing the data
that needs to be exchanged between
Gary Brunell, VP of professional
services for Parasoft, pointed out that
"If we're going to use the term 'Web
services,' it does suggest the Web, and
so HTTP and HTTPS. XML is very
important too," he added.
Meantime, David White of Microsoft
said he disagreed with the "Web" part
of the term "Web services." "I'm a big
believer in transport agnosticism,"
White said. "I'm really more concerned
about the data representation and the
invocation, rather than the transport.
The key is to get something back and
forth without great expense."
Chappell agreed: "To me the 'services'
word is the more important, the
service-oriented architecture part.
'Web services' is now a more generic
term, for 'the next thing that's going to
solve the problems we're trying to
Next the panel moved on to pinpoint
whether Web services has yet
become common beyond the firewall,
or is still mostly being used for intracompany
Chappell noted that in his experience
there is about an 80:20 divide in
terms of adoption. "80% is within the
corporation's control, and 20%
involves the public Internet (the Web)
- dealing with other business partners,
for example." Brunell agreed that
mission-critical apps were still "few
and far between," adding, "That's why
we are all coming to these conferences."
Microsoft's White noted that on the
contrary he had seen mission-critical
things happen inside Web services.
"We've only just gotten there," he said,
"but I have absolutely seen missioncritical
Web services in our customer
mass." Not out in the B2B space, he
JBoss Group's CTO, Scott Stark, pinpointed
one crucial piece of the jigsaw
that's still missing: "Single Sign-On is a
joke, I have about 35 accounts; no one
has an agreement yet on a one-stop
solution, and no enterprise technology
can surmount that. J2EE is still basically
a middleware technology," Stark continued,
"it's not out there bridging
The bridging role, then, remains
perfect for Web services. But these
things take time, Stark added.
"Developers are going to have to get
comfortable with Web services first:
J2EE has taken 7 years to become a reasonably
accepted technology." He
pointed out that XML wasn't without its
shortcomings. "XML is a double-edged
sword. My head starts spinning after
I've read the 10 different XML Schemas.
So the usual technology curve also
impedes the adoption of Web services.
But that's just the nature of the beast."
Asked if XML might be replaced,
White explained that one of the problems
is that good tools are often the last
thing to appear after a "technology
burst" such as the one we are seeing
around Web services. "I'm not a seer,"
White said, but the key to widespread
adoption of any new technology is
completion of the specs (we're there),
demos (we're getting there), and then
the tools (they're coming)."
JBoss's Stark agreed. "XML isn't
going anywhere. Before there was IIOP
and it went nowhere. Clearly XML is the
only technology, however complex it
might be, that's tried to address the
problem. Besides, IIOP was even more
complicated, and writing, say, a TCP/IP
stack, is not a productive endeavor."
Stark then minted the phrase of the
conference. "People have more comfort
now with distributed programming; it's
a tool for the times."