Putting Web Services Standards to Work

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Does all the Working Group activity add up to usable Web Services standards that can be implemented today? "The core Web Services protocols, WSDL and SOAP, do work," says Tuecke. "But they are also works-in-progress, with active W3C groups still working on revisions. And these are the furthest along. Other open areas include security specifications--which will be critical to Web Services--as well as workflow, reliable messaging, and transactions."

Conner says that while Web Services technology is still maturing, the key standards--XML, XML Schema, SOAP, and WSDL--are already sufficiently well-defined and adopted to allow their use in many situations. "WS-Security is also finding broad early acceptance. Furthermore, the technology is simple enough that early adopters have been quite successful at working around problems that arise," he says. "I expect Web Services technology to be broadly deployed within enterprises during 2003, becoming pervasive by 2004."

So what should companies be doing to get ready for broader implementation? "Web Services is a paradigm shift that is going to result in a huge increase in the role of business-to-business process automation," Conner says. "Enterprises need to begin planning for the business changes as well as modernizing the structure of their applications. It makes sense to begin working now on standard XML-type libraries. If your industry already has XML standards for representing information, those standards should be used in your Web Services deployments, both inside and outside your enterprise."

Le H├ęgaret agrees that organizations should already be thinking about ensuring that their services to the outside world can be easily converted to use Web Services. That means preparing data to be mapped into XML, using existing Schema languages such as W3C XML Schema, and also listing the properties of existing services and looking for XML technologies such as security that might be reused or extended. He also suggests participating in the efforts of standards bodies to define the way forward. "It's an excellent way," he says, "to prepare your company for these challenges in the long term."

"Start becoming versed in the protocols and the tooling," Tuecke agrees. "Start rolling out a test bed. And even start rolling out production uses of Web Services in some limited environments. But choose your tooling carefully, from a vendor that you think will be around and will give you a smooth evolution path, because it is likely to be a wild ride over the next year or two."

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