Editor's Note: Ian Bruce contributed this month's column. He is director of Marketing for Systinet, an independent Web services company that is a member of the Integration Consortium.

Web services are ubiquitous. If you've bought a book at Amazon or a Victorian chandelier at eBay, you've used Web services. More importantly, a recent survey by analysts at IDC suggested that more than 45 percent of enterprises have Web services in production and running business systems. And increasingly software vendors such as Interwoven and BMC Software are shipping new releases of their platforms with Web services functionality built in.

Despite this, confusion still exists about the technology, the standards and how Web services can be used effectively to make integration simpler and lower cost.

Bulk Standards

To understand the power of Web services standards, try completing this sentence: Today, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, IBM and Oracle all agreed on ....

We may read about the acrimony, but when it comes to Web services there is an unprecedented and universal consent. Thanks to standards and protocols such as extensible markup language (XML), simple object access protocol (SOAP), Web services description language (WSDL) and universal description, discovery and integration (UDDI), Web services can easily integrate wildly different applications, written in different programming languages and running on different operating systems and hardware. Web services make interoperability easy.

Within the past year, several additional standards have emerged that make Web services an even more powerful integration technology for the financial services community.

For example, the WS-I (Web Services Interoperability) Basic Profile specification has ensured that all Web services work well together, which allows companies to integrate disparate systems effectively. In addition, Web Services Security (WS-Security), another industry standard, has helped promote message-level security of Web services.

As simple as it is to create Web services today, there is widespread interest in supporting more complex integration scenarios that go beyond simple, point-to-point and relatively synchronous applications. To solve more complex, business-critical integration problems, we need extensions to SOAP messages that guarantee message delivery, eliminate message duplication and provide for message ordering. We need Web services that converse in a loosely coupled and asynchronous manner. Some newer standards are helping to address these requirements.

For example, Web Services Reliable Messaging (WS-RM), which provides the essential guarantee that messages sent by an initial sender will actually get delivered to the receiver - and delivered only once. WS-RM goes even further by ensuring that if messages are sent in a critical sequence they will be delivered in the correct order. There are few business processes within financial services organizations that can be deployed without these fundamental guarantees.

Another new standard to watch in 2004 is Web Services Addressing (WS-Addressing), which provides a transport-neutral way to address Web services and messages, and allows message transmission through varying transport protocols and other intermediaries. WS-RM and WS-Addressing are a powerful combination that will allow pure, standards-based Web services to solve a wealth of integration problems that previously required complex, expensive and proprietary middleware or enterprise application integration (EAI) solutions.

The current and future state of standards will continue to drive the value-add and business benefits inherent in Web services technology.

Incremental Gains

There are several key business benefits to Web services that are often overlooked. First, Web services is not just another technology that requires a major strategic investment and an army of consultants. In fact, the reverse is true. By their nature, Web services can be deployed incrementally, project by project and will provide value immediately. Instead of "ripe and replace," it's "wrap and reuse."

Second, Web services can be used to expose business and application logic in a standardized way that makes it easy for any other Web services to consume. Instead of duplication functionality, existing business processes locked in legacy applications can be reused. For example, an order management system could be used by a variety of sales and finance applications. Of course, this assumes there is a mechanism for advertising and discovering Web services - and that is the power of UDDI. The UDDI registry is a standards-based mechanism of registering and then finding and invoking a Web service. At design time, developers can browse UDDI to find what services are available and develop client applications that use them. At runtime, these clients can query UDDI to discover the current location of the service. UDDI provides a level of indirection and abstraction that makes Web services inherently flexible. As Web services begin to proliferate inside the enterprise, UDDI also becomes a critical management tool. Several forward-thinking financial institutions have already created enterprise-wide UDDI registries that contain thousands of Web services.

Finally, Web services are very cost-efficient. Creating Web services is a highly automated process, with many vendors providing plug-ins to popular integrated development environments (IDEs) that generate all the necessary code, provide testing tools, and even interact with a UDDI registry. License fees for Web services servers are modest compared to complex and proprietary alternatives, and the ongoing maintenance costs are negligible. Forrester Research estimates that where a company is able to use Web services, it should be able to get a 90 percent reduction in the cost and time it currently takes to connect applications together.

Although you may not know it, Web services are proliferating inside most organizations already. They're being deployed by project teams to solve tactical integration problems and often arrive with packaged applications, making these products more accessible to other systems and user communities, furthering Web services adoption. Many of your partners and suppliers are finding Web services provide a simple yet secure way of connecting to you, making them more efficient and responsive.

A new class of integration technology is emerging, and it's based entirely on Web services.

In Part II, we'll look at how Web services can be the enabling technology for creating an enterprise service-oriented architecture.

Ian Bruce is director of Marketing for Systinet, an independent Web services company with clients including Amazon.com, T-Mobile, JP Morgan and Motorola. Systinet is also a member of the Integration Consortium.

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