The Web Services Value Chain

The Web Services Value Chain


August 30, 2001

By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research

A Web service has five basic components:

  • Application server infrastructure (e.g., J2EE, MS.NET, or OSS)
  • Standards (e.g., XML, SOAP, and WSL)
  • Web services servers (e.g., for security, authentication, and session)
  • Web services developers (those who develop the Web services)
  • Web services marketers (those who sell the Web services)

In this tutorial, we will explain each of these components and touch on some of the key players in each space.

By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research

The software vendors have all done their homework on Web services though, and have, at a minimum, announced a strategy.

For example:

In the coming months, support for Web services will become a key feature for enterprises choosing an application server. The four critical criteria for evaluating Web services support is already established.

  1. Use or reuse of components and business objects
  2. Productivity of the tools for Web services enablement
  3. Performance and reliability (load balancing and failover)
  4. Compliance with standards
By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research

These four technologies are closely linked, although on closer inspection we can highlight the two basic standards that have led to the Internet's success: HTTP and XML.

Of the four standards, the least interesting is UDDI. Although it aspires to be the absolute, universal distributed repository for finding and using Web services, UDDI has little chance of actually becoming part of the game. Its ambitions are too broad, and certainly not appropriate for what enterprises are likely to need.

This does not mean there is no need for Web service repositories, but enterprises may need private and custom repositories to truly manage their relationship with partners.

A Web service is in fact just a resource, and hence it can be easily referenced, controlled, and secured using existing technologies such as LDAP directories. So UDDI is definitely not the key element here.

One technical initiative involving Web services that is worth keeping an eye on is XAML (http://www.xaml.org/). XAML is self-described as: "Transaction Authority Markup Language (XAML), a vendor-neutral standard that enables the coordination and processing of online transactions in the rapidly emerging world of XML Web services."

Besides these technical standards, various industry-related initiatives such as ebXML, RosettaNet, and Biztalk.org are out there. Each one is different, but all share a common goal: to automate e-business transactions through a set of standard technologies (mainly XML). For now though, SOAP and WSDL are actual specifications that do the job, and numerous products already include implementations of these standards, creating a new category of products that we have labeled Web services servers.

By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research

Several solutions already dedicated to Web services development include CapeClear's CapeConnect Web Services Platform, Lucin's SAL Server, SQLData System's SOAP Server, The Mind Electric's Glue Platform, and Bowstreet's Business Web Factory.

As we have noted previously, application server vendors are doing their homework, but at this time most of them are "patching" their products with SOAP libraries and basic listeners. This leaves some room for new players with cutting-edge solutions.

Tbere are, however, benefits of going with either option.

Advantages of "Classical" App Servers Advantages of "New" Web Services Servers
Use/re-use of existing components and business objects Productivity of the tools for Web services enablement
Performance and reliability (e.g., load balancing and failover) Compliance with standards
By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research

Web services marketers and Web services developers can be the same or different companies. We have separated them simply to highlight their different jobs. We can also break them down further with the identification of two categories: end-user enterprises and Web services providers.

End-user enterprises are those that use IT to run their business but do not sell IT products or services. In every industry, every company has the possibility of becoming a Web services developer and marketer in order to improve its B2B processes and develop new channels.

Web services providers are enterprises that provide vertical or horizontal Web services.

End-user enterprises looking to go the Web services provider route should first determine the most appropriate services to enable. Then, once the technical tasks (primarily, SOAP-enabling services) are completed, adding new partners and developing new channels will be faster and require fewer custom-coding costs. It will also be easier to strengthen links and processes with existing partners.

It's not too much of a stretch to see Web services providers as the next generation of application service providers (ASPs). Remember the ASP hype in late 1999? The reality check came in 2000, when enterprises realized that they couldn't rent out traditional applications (e.g., SAP) that hadn't been designed to be delivered that way.

So what's next for ASP providers? Bankruptcy? Maybe for some, but others may well become Web services providers. Beyond the name change, it's not a big change for current ASPs, as ultimately both host applications. The real value will come from creating genuine hubs of Web services, delivering standard access methods, and providing top-notch service-level agreements.

By Jean-Christophe Cimetiere of TechMetrix Research

Microsoft is the one exception to this. In addition to providing solutions based on standards (SOAP), Microsoft has been very evangelical about Web services. But the company doesn't just stop at being a technology provider. It goes further, with plans to release HailStorm (http://www.microsoft.com/net/hailstorm.asp), a user-centric collection of Web services, described by the vendor as designed to put "users in control of their own data and information, protecting personal information and providing a new level of ease of use and personalization."

The HailStorm hub of Web services is expected to be in Beta by the end of 2001. Microsoft's investment on Web services is huge, at all levels.