Are Web services really new?

[XML Web Services One Daily, August 28, 2002] -- Are Web services really new? Is this heralded technology old wine in new bottles? When long-time industry hands meet, they sometimes debate this point, and it quite naturally became a topic at a panel kicking off the XML Web Services One Conference and Expo held this week in Boston.

There, panelists joked that Web services might be viewed as ‘RPCs surrounded by pointy brackets’ -- pointy brackets representing the lingua of XML, and RPCs representing the somewhat complex remote procedure calls that first appeared in pioneering distributed computing systems.

The goal of Web services -- easily interconnected apps that may even connect across separate organizations -- has predecessors, admitted panel moderator Tony Baer, president of Demand Strategies. “What will make things different this time?” he asked members of a panel entitled “XML Web Services: Breakthrough or Myth?”.

The technology is both old and new, suggested panelist Ed Cobb, vice president, architecture and standards, BEA Systems. “Service architectures are at least as old as transaction processing monitors such as Tuxedo,” he said.

What is new is the idea of loosely coupled services, he continued. “Loosely coupled systems have been extremely hard to program,” said Cobb. For the loosely coupled promise to be met in days to come, “a lot depends on tooling,” he noted.

To make it possible for applications to be integrated across different companies, a new mind set will be required, Cobb added. “Between businesses, you can’t make the same operational assumptions as within a company,” he said.

Effective Web services may bring new life to legacy apps, said IBM’s Chris Ferris, a former chair of Web services architecture work at the W3C. “Systems are laying around that are unknown,” he said. Industry can use Web services’ ability to expose information about a resource to make those services more widely available, he indicated.

To all this panelist Richard Soley, president and CEO of the OMG, offered a few cautionary notes.

“Web services is another new infrastructure that is going to change your life because you are going to have to write more code,” joked Soley.

“We’re going to have to rebuild a lot of stuff. We’ll get there. Again. We’ll paint the [interface] pipes a new color this year,” he added.

Panelists discussed what types of skills would be needed to create worthwhile Web services, and some suggested a return to earlier notions of best software engineering practices may again begin to hold sway.

Said OMG’s Soley: “We should understand what we want, and generate what we should understand.” Soley promotes the notion of modeling combined with automatic code generation to reduce the complexity involved in supporting new computer architectures.

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