Standards are good because they define specifications to which companies can develop products which are inter-operable. The phenomenal growth of the Web was due to two standards: HTML for publishing documents, and HTTP for sending and receiving documents across different machines connected to the Internet. The result was that anyone could write a document in HTML and be sure that it could be accessed and displayed by anyone else as long as the server hosting the document supported HTTP. A similar process is underway in the worlds of enterprise software and business processes. Whether the impact will be as far-reaching only time will tell.
Email (and now instant messaging) connects persons to other persons. The Web through HTML and HTTP helps connect people to applications (which serve out information). This is the Web we have experienced in the past 7 years. Now, the next challenge is to connect applications to applications. This is what Web Services are about. Think of Web Services as the equivalent of Software Lego. They enable the development of software components which can be re-used across the Internet. They provide a standard for application-to-application integration.
The alphabet soup of XML, SOAP, UDDI and WSDL is being seen the next big thing in software. Writes Nuala Moran in the Financial Times (May 1, 2002):
By providing a common language for applications to speak to each other, the arrival of these standards will make it much cheaper and easier to integrate systems internally. Them it will do the same for external links with business partners.
Initially, these will be fixed links with existing partners, but as the standards (particularly those relating to security and authentication) and supporting networks evolve, web services will enable dynamic interactions with any number of partners, known or unknown.
Web services will transform IT from a technology and product-driven industry to a services industry where computing power is a utility.
While there is a lot of hype around web services, much of it is justified even though we are only now seeing some of the early applications. An example is the Google API which allows programs to search its document database through a SOAP interface. Think back to the early days of client-server computing in the early 1990s. Once the frameworks and development tools arrived making it easy to build applications, the enterprise software industry really took off. Web Services are at a similar stage. We are now seeing the early development environments from companies like Microsoft, IBM and BEA. As programming becomes easier, Web Services will make a huge impact on software development in the next two years.
Next Week: Rethinking Enterprise Software (continued)