In-Depth

Introduction: 5 ways to better Web services

Web services to date have largely been something of a theoretical matter for standards bodies. But real-world development is beginning to proceed in Web services. While not every thread of standards is perfectly in place, teams have moved ahead on this new technology.

According to Gartner Inc. analyst Ray Valdes, developers currently wrestling with Web services are faced with a tradeoff between scaling back their requirements to meet the present-day capabilities of platforms and toolkits, and maintaining the scope of their requirements with the understanding that there are gaps that will require custom-built code that will need to be ripped out when that capability is embedded into platforms down the road.

“You can go with basic Web services enablement,” Valdes explained, “where you sprinkle some compiler directives, configuration parameters and key words into an existing, monolithic application and then turn it into a distributed Web services app. I call that ‘Web services magic dust.’ Unfortunately, the result is not magic, and will likely not perform as you want. Or you can stick with what is proven, what works -- the basic SOAP messaging, XML and WSDL -- and write your code to that low-level foundation. That means you either scale back your application requirements to fit within that envelope, or you maintain your more ambitious app requirements but fill in the gaps with your own customer code that implements security and reliability, which tends to be a universally prevalent requirement for non-trivial applications.”

But Valdes sees the details of Web services protocols and standards as low-level milestones along the path toward Service-Oriented Architectures (SOAs). That is the hard part, he said, and it goes beyond what vendors can provide and what standards are in place. It is a large-scale move and it is happening slowly; it will also require some real learning and growth on the part of developers.

So what is the status of Web services development several years into technology adoption? In the following pages, ADT profiles five organizations and the ways in which they utilized development tools that support Web services standards, as well as the standards themselves to build new apps, and integrate or extend existing ones.


 

1. Lydian Trust: It’s the application framework, stupid
“What we’re doing is building an app framework,” said John Stoddard, CIO at Lydian Trust. “We include all of the basic functionalities, security, auditing, Web-based schema validation, self-documenting interfaces and even subscription capabilities where you can make a Web service so that if a request comes in, it sets up a virtual tollbooth for every request that comes in.”

Lydian Trust is a mid-sized financial services company based in Palm Beach, Fla. Although it was only founded in 1999, its services, including private banking and wealth management, had expanded by mid-2002 to the point where it had outgrown its original IT systems built on Microsoft Windows .COM. Stoddard’s job was to move to the .NET platform with a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) that would allow development teams to build Web services applications without having to worry about the basic XML-based standards or architecture. Read complete story .

2. .NET in the ER
Keith Brophy, CTO at Robertson Research Institute, Saginaw, Mich., has been working on a Web services application whose objective has special relevance -- saving lives.

Two years ago, Brophy began working on NxOpinion, which the firm envisions as a real-time diagnostic tool for ERs throughout the world.

The project was originated by Institute founder and president Dr. Joel Robertson. When the son of a close friend died due to a lack of relevant diagnostic information in an emergency room, Robertson dedicated some of the Institute’s resources to solving the misdiagnosis of non-chronic illnesses. Read complete story.

3. SOAP forms global integration
With offices in 35 countries, Future Electronics, the third largest electronic distributor in the world, has developed its own enterprise apps to run its operations. But the firm needed a way to integrate all of its global systems.

Most of the Montreal-based organization’s mission-critical applications reside on a Compaq Himalaya/Tandem environment, but the firm wanted to be able to add new Unix elements and Windows environments to the mix. They turned to Web services-based integration to create a loosely coupled integration infrastructure. Read complete story.

4. Web services cure integration problems in health care enterprise
“A couple of years ago, we began breaking down application suites into XML-based service methods,” said Steve Flammini, CTO at Partners Healthcare, headquartered in Boston. This began to move the IT infrastructure for the multibillion dollar integrated health care delivery system into the Web services world.

Flammini cites a number of benefits achieved as IT enhanced one of the largest integrated client/server networks in the country, which includes hundreds of servers and an estimated 35,000-plus PC clients.

To begin with, medical applications that were once difficult to integrate now could interoperate thanks to XML and SOAP. Read complete story.

5. A modern face for a Progress engine
Web services and related Service-Oriented Architectures (SOAs) are changing the face of corporate computing. They are also rocking the world of ISVs. The stories of enterprise users and ISVs are remarkably similar, and the successes of ISVs -- whose software is so often part of the corporate mix -- have meaning for enterprise developers. Their embrace of Web services integration will come to simplify part of the IT department’s integration tasks over time.

At NxTrend Technology Inc., Web services allowed the company to continue to use its established transaction engine while putting on a most “modern” face for other systems, indicated Ross Elliott, vice president and chief strategy officer at the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based supply distribution software house. Read complete story.

About the Authors

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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