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IT getting savvy about Web services

Experts and users divulge some of their pressing Web services concerns and predictions for 2005.

Enterprise IT managers and developers are still grappling with many of the same questions and concerns about Web services they had at the start of 2004. But clearly they've been doing their homework.

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Sure they want to know about the security of Web services and how they're going to manage the multitude of services their companies are exposing internally and externally to partners, suppliers and customers. But they're also starting to look deeper into the quandary that is service-oriented architecture (SOA) and Web services.

They're starting to talk about versioning of services, key standards that need to be moved forward, skills developers and managers need and how to make services interoperable. That kind of depth to their questions indicates a certain sophistication not present 12 months ago.

"Developers are going to have a nasty time dealing with versioning and the evolution of services," said Alex Krapf, CEO and co-founder of CodeMesh Inc., an integration software vendor in Carlisle, Mass. "Keeping loosely coupled systems current and correct is going to become a huge challenge."

Peter Underwood, managing partner with system integrator Jensyn Inc. and former vice president of software development at New York brokerage Wall Street Access, said the overall prevalence of Web services requires heavy attention on interoperability. He said the decision-making process behind whether to build an SOA and Web services will be as crucial as the end result.

This is where the skills issue comes into play, said ZapThink LLC senior analyst and co-founder Ronald Schmelzer.

Developers are going to have a nasty time dealing with versioning and the evolution of services.
Alex Krapf
Co-founderCodeMesh Inc.

"The biggest issue that developers will have to grapple with is their lack of understanding of architecture. Just as the movement to object-orientation was problematic for most developers simply because of the change of mindset it required, more so than the new technology and tools, so too will the movement to service-orientation be a significant change in mindset for most developers," Schmelzer said. "Not only do they have to make their services implementation independent, but they have to build them for broad reuse and composability -- things developers haven't yet really mastered. So, the big skills gap will be in understanding architecture and SOA specifically."

This will create opportunities in 2005, however, not only in the enterprise, but for consultants and other system integrators.

"As SOA initiatives ramp up across enterprises in every vertical industry, the demand for enterprise architects, business analysts and other professionals with real-world SOA knowledge and experience will explode," said Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst at ZapThink. "Keep in mind that midsized and large consulting firms and system integrators are simultaneously building their SOA practices as well, so the demand for seasoned SOA professionals is set to vastly outstrip the supply. An economic imbalance like this one will both raise the cost of SOA expertise while lowering the average quality, as less trained and experienced people chase the new money."

Schmelzer concurred that the services market is set to boom.

"We have seen a number of firms go from literally zero dollars in revenue to a few million in a few short months," he said. "As such, more so than any technology segment, professional services will grow at an explosive rate."

Under the hood, the maturation of several specifications will influence the direction Web services take and impact the rate of adoption.

"Web services security is the most pressing issue for 2005, especially in securely enabling new connections to business partners with full federated identity management and service virtualization," said Eugene Kuznetsov, founder and chief technology officer of DataPower Technology Inc., a vendor of XML network devices.

Kuznetsov said the Security Assertion Markup Language is the specification he'll keep close tabs on in 2005 for its ability to guarantee federated identity management and secure partner connections. Krapf, meanwhile, said Jini could gain a great deal of momentum, while Underwood picked Java API for XML-RPC, which ensures interoperability between services written by different languages.

Schmelzer and Bloomberg, meanwhile, emphasized reliability and process specifications like WS-Reliability/WS-ReliableMessaging and Business Process Execution Language, respectively.

The two reliability specs merit particular attention since they come from competing vendor groups and overlap significantly.

"The market can only afford one good specification for process and reliability to become widespread -- if we have more than one, then vendor lock-in or interoperability problems might become pervasive," Schmelzer said. "This is especially the case with reliability and process specs that by nature involve cross-organization interactions. While it's not clear how these specs will emerge and mature in 2005, it is clear that we should keep an eye out on them."

FEEDBACK: What is your company's biggest Web services-related issue for 2005?
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