Making the connection

Platforms, tools, applications, and vendor strategies are coming together to fulfill the promise of Web services

NATURALLY, any technology with the disruptive potential of Web services will have both champions and detractors. Whereas the evangelists tout Web services as the best thing that ever happened to application integration, the critics point to a swirl of unsolidified standards and to the computer industry's crowded history of would-be technology panaceas that failed to pan out.

Criticism isn't entirely unjustified, but CTOs and CIOs should remain more optimistic than jaded. Web services truly is the new model for distributed computing, and 2002 is shaping up as the year business and IT leaders will be comfortable enough to turn to the services strategy for solving, at least in-house, many application integration problems.

How far will Web services go this year toward integrating partners, suppliers, and customers outside the firewall? That depends on how quickly standards fall into place and how interoperable the Web services frameworks of Microsoft, Sun, IBM, BEA, and other major players will be in the meantime. Progress also hinges on factors such as how soon enterprise application vendors will weave Web services into their offerings, and how secure the connections between business partners can be made.

In this issue, the InfoWorld Test Center focuses on some of these top-of-mind issues surrounding emerging Web services. First, Tom Yager examines the benefits and risks of .Net adoption and how Microsoft's strategy and influence might play out against cross-platform industry competitors.

Next you'll find a pair of reviews: a look at Iona Technologies' Orbix E2A XMLBus 5.0, by yours truly; and an evaluation of WebGain Application Composer 2.0, by Maggie Biggs. Whereas Iona's integration platform helps IT shops orchestrate services-based integration with impressive business-process modeling tools, WebGain's tool speeds Java application and Web services development through the assembly of reusable components.

Finally, two analyses round out the package. Mario Apicella examines the impact Web services will have on the integration of enterprise applications, focusing on vendors and best practices for bringing CRM systems into the fold. And Mandy Andress gives us a fix on the state of Web services security: Don't look now, but a number of XML-based standards are in the making that will go beyond traditional Web security methods to provide the strong security necessary to safeguard business relationships beyond the firewall.

Web services won't soothe every integration woe, and much of the kevlar required for bulletproof, real-time engagement remains to be woven. Still, Web services represent a giant leap forward in reducing the costs and time involved in achieving enterprise application interoperability. And, perhaps more important, they accomplish the task without imposing significant risk for adoption.