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WSEdge 2002: WebSphere chief says Web services movement just beginning

NEW YORK -- Donald Ferguson doesn't pretend to know exactly where enterprise computing is headed. However, he does know this: Web services are for real. Ferguson, a Ph.D., IBM chief architect, inventor of WebSphere and one of only a handful of IBM fellows, spoke with SearchWebServices at the Web Services Edge 2002 conference about WebSphere's impact on Web services, the future of Lotus Domino and IT's battle against complexity.

Early word is that the upcoming WebSphere 5 platform will allow technologists to avoid the Java/.NET choice more than ever before. Is that true?
It's not hard to avoid it more than ever before because in the past there was no way to avoid it. So even if we can avoid that choice a little bit, that's more than we've been able to do before. There's a major focus (in WebSphere 5) on interoperability. There are things that both .NET and Java can agree on. So, if there's interoperability, then you don't have to pick either choice A or choice B. For instance, Web services applications in WebSphere are accessible in .NET, which C# can then call in WebSphere. With the movement toward Web services now well underway, in two years from now will the Java vs. .NET debate still be relevant?
Yes, I think it will be. Microsoft doesn't buy into the component portability model that everybody else buys into regarding interoperability. So if you're a developer, and you're on the .NET side of things, you will still need to choose. Taking that a step further, what's the next rest area on the Web services journey?
There are big things coming to Web services that will make them even more meaningful. Things like a roadmap for security, specifically the WS-Security standard, and reliable transport for messaging, meaning a transport model. I don't know how the road will end, but the next major point or rest area on the road will be the clustering of reliable messaging.

It's also important to note that development tools are in transition. We're just now nearing the completion of the first move to tools that are really first class Meta model tools. Soon it will actually be easy to produce Web services using tools like WebSphere, and there will be more of that in the second half of this year. When do you think we'll see wide, successful adoption of Web services?
There's an end game for Web services. We've published a Web services roadmap, and clearly it shows that this is a journey. I don't know when the journey is going to end, but each point on the road gets us a step closer to a more decent place to be. People are adopting this technology incrementally, and the first stage of the journey -- pilot programs and proof of concepts -- is coming to a close. So we're pulling into the first rest area on the journey. Some IT professionals in the Lotus Domino community fear that your WebSphere will eventually engulf Domino, causing it to disappear. What's your response to that?
At Lotusphere this year, [Lotus] announced a whole product roadmap for Domino. But the simple answer is no, WebSphere is never going to engulf Domino. WebSphere is an application server. It allows people to build and integrate applications. One of the applications WebSphere is going to interoperate with is Domino.

Lotus does have a plan for reengineering some of Domino so that it is more pegged on J2EE and Java, and any product that powerful does go through reengineering eventually. But there are collaborative application elements that WebSphere is never going to do. It's going to rely on Domino. So no, WebSphere will never get into the collaborative application space. What's the most important issue in IT today?
Complexity. IT systems have reached the point where it's too costly to move them forward technologically, so they get in the way of moving businesses forward. Web services are aimed at making this process simpler. What we're striving to do with Web services and eventually autonomic services is aimed at reducing that complexity. Eventually, the complexity in problem solving will actually be in solving business problems and not in solving systems problems. This will lead to all sorts of things like better resource management, distributed operating systems and scenario-based testing. Finally, what does an IBM fellow such as yourself do, and how does one become an IBM fellow?

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What an IBM fellow does varies tremendously from IBM fellow to IBM fellow. I think there's some stuff we all do together. We're frequently on decision-making bodies and committees that make recommendations to the company. The company's senior technical advice comes from IBM fellows. But that's not a full-time job. Lots of IBM fellows are in the research division. A lot of them have jobs like I do, being technical leads for a major product. Some work on special projects.

The easiest way to get to be an IBM fellow is to win the Nobel Prize. Some get it for major breakthroughs. The person who did fractal geometry was made a fellow. The first fellow was made one for other mathematical work. Others get it for sustained technical innovation in products, which is why I got it. I've been the leader of the WebSphere products from conception to this point.

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