Major enterprise application software vendors are racing to embrace Web services, but for many of them the next generation of application integration technologies may prove to be a double-edged sword.
Oracle in the first quarter will detail its plans to leverage Web services technologies such as XML, SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol), and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration) to better integrate business logic across the applications that make up Oracle11i, said Jeremy Burton, senior vice president of product and services marketing at Oracle.
According to Burton, Web services will be an important set of tools for integrating applications, but the primary challenges facing IT organisations are the hurdles associated with integrating business logic across diverse applications.
"Our e-business suite will start to expose key functionality as Web services," Burton said. "But people still will spend 95 per cent of their time writing business logic, and then they'll spend 5 per cent of their time exposing certain parts of that business logic as Web services."
SAP AG and PeopleSoft are also pursuing Web services to help facilitate application integration.
PeopleSoft will add more Web services support next year by enhancing its toolkits so they understand how to interrogate SOAP and UDDI message definitions, said Jim Littlefield, director of marketing for Internet architecture at PeopleSoft.
The company's supply-chain and marketplace teams are now building Web services functionality into their applications, Littlefield said.
"[Web services] is just another method of integrating that fits into a spectrum of technologies," Littlefield said.
For example, Littlefield said that although Web services would be helpful in supporting integration for a price look-up or catalog search in a supply-chain application, Java or C++ would be more suitable for real-time integration.
"Web services initially will meet the need for more granularly or distinct types of communications, but as you get into more complex integration, you're probably going to need Java or C++," Littlefield said.
Meanwhile, SAP's Web services push will begin in earnest after it puts Java on par with its own ABAP programming language.
Key components of this new strategy will come with version upgrades to SAP's Web Application Server, which will allow "application components to be provided as Web services," said Patricia Day, director of technology solutions at SAP America.
"We understand our customers' integration needs are more than having application A interface [with] and pass data to application B. Their needs incorporate their entire infrastructure," Day said.
By the end of next year, there will be direct ties between SAP's proprietary realm and the world of Java programming in Version 6.3 of SAP's Application Server, Day said. "Both virtual engines will run in the same kernel environment," she said. This coexistence will allow users to switch easily between Java-and SAP-centric applications and Web services.
There will also be "business solutions that take advantage of UDDI" next year and application adapters "within our Exchange Infrastructure to talk to a lot of other off-the-shelf applications," Day said.
The first target audiences for these new solutions will be users needing help with supply-chain management and participation in private exchanges, Day said.
Whereas Oracle, SAP, and PeopleSoft see Web services as a foundation for better integrating applications within their own suites, others see Web services as an industry-standard infrastructure that will facilitate business-logic integration across diverse best-of-breed applications.
Officials at AltoWeb a business-process integration vendor, said that the real value of Web services lies in tying together applications at the business logic layer.
Toward that end, AltoWeb is planning to unveil a new horizontal framework next week, according to company CEO Ali Kutay.
Although he did not name the framework, Kutay said AltoWeb will work more closely with modeling tools vendors such as Rational Software and IDE (integrated development environment) vendors such as Borland Software to help enterprises leverage the distributed business logic that resides in different applications.
"Business-process integration enabled by Web services will be the next big thing," Kutay said.
But if Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has his way, all companies in the integration space will be made obsolete. Ellison last week signaled his desire to capture a significant slice of the middleware category by tying it to the application server.
Ellison said he would do to vendors "who have pitched their tent in our backyard" what Microsoft Corp. did to Lotus and WordPerfect when it rolled out Microsoft Office on the desktop. "BEA [and others] who are living on the installed Oracle database are living on borrowed time," Ellison said.
But other rivals are more pragmatic. IBM, which recently acquired EAI (enterprise application integration) vendor CrossWorlds Software Inc., plans to implement CrossWorlds EAI software and Web services on top of its WebSphere application server.
In fact, some CrossWorlds customers such as Dow Chemical Co. are already using Web services internally and hope to employ Web services as a hook into outside partners.
"We do expect to push the envelope of Web services because of the low-cost connectivity, particularly within the enterprise," said Brian Bell, lead architect specialist for integration at Dow in Midland, Mich.
Dow is using SOAP and XML to connect its mobile sales force to back-end data in enterprise applications, Bell said, adding that there is potential to use Web services with a variety of back-end systems at Dow, including SAP R/2, Siebel Systems, and PeopleSoft.
If the vendors can meld all the pieces, another major benefit of this marriage between enterprise applications and Web services is that users will be able to better leverage their application investment, said Erin Kinikin, an analyst at Giga Information Group.
According to Kinikin, users can add new features and interoperate with new applications without expensive retrofitting. But she also said that the ERP players' moves to support Web services will not gain immediate traction because very few existing applications support Web services.
"There's a growing difference between companies with monolithic applications with interfaces around the edges and true component-based applications," Kinikin said.
For application vendors such as Oracle, Web services may also lead to a loss of account control as customers look more favorably at best-of-breed solutions. But Oracle officials counter that the seamless integration that Web services promises might not be the panacea users hope for, and they said resolutely that they will not break apart 11i apps to tie them to other apps and database platforms. They contend that business logic is so unique among products that even Web services standards will not remove a prohibitive integration hurdle.
"Fundamentally, Web services don't solve the problem. Don't fall into the trap that Web services are a panacea for integration," Burton said. "They don't deal with the shape of the data. Right now, the platform is the database and the application server. But who's to say in two or three years' time there won't be an enterprise application platform that automates all the business processes inside your company."
With additional reporting by Heather Harreld, Ephraim Schwartz, and Tom Sullivan.
CA anticipates security exposure
The proliferation of Web services throughout enterprise applications is set to expose senior IT executives to a number of systems and security management challenges. It is a trend already anticipated by enterprise software companies such as Computer Associates International Inc. in Islandia, N.Y.
"We are actually working to change all of our products so they can manage Web services," CA's CTO Yogesh Gupta said in an interview with InfoWorld.
Although Gupta declined to specify a time frame for the deployment of these Web services enhancements, they are expected to be delivered next year.
"So, for example, UniCenter not only manages the regular infrastructure ... but also manages the Web services component to it for availability and performance," Gupta explained.
Many of the company's major offerings support XML already, according to Gupta.
"Our portal server today is completely XML-based, and that's why we are excited about what we can do in the area of Web services with it,"Gupta said.
CA's UniCenter 3.0 has XML interfaces to a variety of UniCenter services, Gupta said.
New features will include performance, security, and the visualization of Web services that can all be delivered wirelessly, Gupta said.
CA will have to expand its security portfolio to offer Web services protection and control access.
"We have an [X.500]-compatible directory; ... so, it can become a high-performance, highly scalable directory for keeping track of who the users are," Gupta said.
Users should also expect that the company's partnerships with smart card and biometric vendors will come into play, Gupta said.