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IBM squashes talk of Web services royalties

These days, just about any technology discussion can meander toward Web services. That was the case when spoke recently with one of IBM's WebSphere executives.

SOMERS, N.Y. -- These days, just about any technology discussion can meander toward Web services. That's because...

the nascent technology brushes up against many other technologies -- and so it comes up when organizations think about better ways to provide services to employees or sell and deliver services to their customers.

At a recent media conference, IBM Corp. spelled out its plans to more closely integrate its content management products with the WebSphere platform. One WebSphere executive who spoke about those plans later talked to about Big Blue's efforts and the current state of Web services.

Tim Thatcher, IBM WebSphere

Tim Thatcher, program director for e-portals marketing in IBM's WebSphere group, discussed a range of Web services issues, including royalties for standards, making a business case for the new technology, and the way portals and Web services fit together.

You're a portal guy. Tell me briefly what portals have to do with Web services. Can an organization have one without the other?

Tim Thatcher: The fact that we're seeing an architecture where people are going to create applications using Web services architectures is something that integrates very well into the concept of a portal. In fact, it will help quite a bit -- if you think of the portal as being the single point of access to the things that a user may need to perform their job.

Are there so many Web services specifications that the standards process is bogging down enterprise deployment of Web services?

Thatcher: I don't see that. There's two things you're always concerned about with standards: speed of creation and delivery of specifications. One of the good things that has been happening in our industry over the last 10 years is that we have much more efficient standards bodies in terms of defining a need, defining a specification, getting agreement among interested parties, getting it defined and getting it rolled out. In the past, it was just a bureaucratic nightmare to get these things out.

Certainly, the industry may debate that certain [Web services] standards aren't all that useful. There'll be that sorting-out period.

What's IBM's involvement with Web services standards?

Thatcher: One of the things that we're actively working on is standards for how Web services interoperate within a portal context. So that's a piece of the work that we're working through the OASIS organization, and [we] expect a first release of a specification to be finalized about mid-year this year.

It's called WSRP -- Web Services as Remote Portlets. How I publish a portlet and then how a portal can consume a portlet that's been published as a Web service -- that's what the WSRP group at OASIS is defining. We're the chair [of the technical committee]. It's got the participation of the major portal vendors in the marketplace.

There's been talk that IBM or Microsoft might charge royalties on Web services standards like Sun does with Java. Any truth to that?

Thatcher: I don't know. That's not something I have any visibility into, so I couldn't answer that.

Editor's note: An IBM spokesman later said that IBM has no plans to charge royalties for any Web services standards it helps create.

Anecdotally, you hear that organizations are only rolling out Web services internally. Why is that? What will entice companies to expand such services beyond the firewall?

Thatcher: Emerging technologies are going to get adopted inside the firewall before they go outside the firewall. Web services are not unique in that regard. We saw that with some intranet-based technologies. It's a more controlled environment. It's much easier to do it when you are facing your own employees than facing partners and facing customers. There's less risk involved.

The thing that's a little bit unique with Web services is [that,] as you begin to go outside the firewall, you start to get into this notion of the whole business aspect. If I'm going to build a Web service and make it available on the Internet, what's the business model? How do I charge for that? It's now not just technology adoption, but there are also business-model implications in terms of how I buy and sell these services.

If I were the CIO of a company, how could I make a compelling business case to my CEO for providing Web services to our employees and customers?

Thatcher: You don't start with a Web services technology bent, because then that gets into a technology-for-technology discussion. So the first thing is to understand what problem does that CIO have? What business objective are they going after?

You start [by] talking about the ability to deliver better services to your end customers at a lower cost of implementation. Less system cost. Less people cost.

If you had to put an age on Web services, what would it be: a newborn, a toddler, a teen or an adult?

Thatcher: [Laughs.] I would say it's in the toddler stage.


The base, underlying technology has reached some level of maturity, but it hasn't found its place in the world completely yet. We're still finding ways this technology can be used to solve real business problems.

I would say the technology is up and walking around but it doesn't know exactly what it's going to do when it grows up.


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