Evolving Toward Web Services

Development groups are increasingly focused on delivering Web-based applications as the overall application portfolio shifts from a series of discrete applications to a collaborative portal. This shift will drive organizations to seek solutions for legacy integration and externalization, as well as the continuing transition toward components and packaged software.


META Trend: During 2001/02, application development will continue to use core component APIs (e.g., EJB, COM), but focus will shift to externalization, integration, and Web services using XML and emerging interoperability standards (SOAP, UDDI). By 2002/03, application server vendors will deliver integrated e-business platforms incorporating services (e.g., portals, personalization, e-commerce), integrated develop/deploy functionality, and middleware capabilities. By 2005, integrated modeling and patterns will converge around Java and Microsoft enterprise development platforms.

META Group's research indicates that mainstream IT groups are now determining application platforms and standards for delivering thin-client Internet solutions. These organizations are involved in training development staff in object and component technology and have often been disappointed with the initial performance and scalability of deployed solutions. Although application platforms will improve, the root of most problems is the shortage of design and development skills. This skill shortage will spur the continued growth of component suites and pattern-driven development tools through 2005.

During 2001/02, a major thrust in component suites will be centered on creating integration and externalization capabilities. These suites will include offerings from platform vendors (e.g., Microsoft, Sun, Oracle) as they bring Web service product lines to market (e.g., .Net, Brazil). These products will provide some usable functionality initially, but META Group expects that they - as well as the underlying standards on which they rely (e.g., SOAP, UDDI, ebXML) - will continue to evolve through 2003.

The ongoing need to provide integrated solutions (both internal and external to the organization) will force IT groups to closely evaluate the various Web service offerings and make limited use of them early. Because of the evolving nature of these specifications, allocating resources to tracking the standards efforts and managing software evolution is important. With time, these initiatives will ease some of the barriers to delivering scalable solutions by shifting focus from complex distributed architectures (e.g., DCOM, EJB, CORBA) toward message-oriented collaborations. As integration middleware vendors (e.g., webMethods, Vitria, SeeBeyond, NEON, Extricity, Object Design [eXcelon], IPNet) incorporate these XML-based protocols and process semantics, the barriers to creating cross-enterprise collaborations will be eased, and differentiating their product offerings will be increasingly difficult. Moreover, the onward push of application server platforms to incorporate integration technology will place pressure on these providers, and we expect accelerated consolidation in this market space.

In addition to creating simpler overall application architectures, application platform vendors are continuing to fill out their platforms with extended application services. During 2001/02, META Group expects mergers and acquisitions to increase as vendors with money and solid valuations fill out their portfolios to grow revenue during the overall market slowdown. To create differentiation and add to their skill portfolio, the platform providers will acquire many companies that are now delivering fast-start products and services that reduce the overall time to market and necessary skill set for creating scalable n-tier solutions (e.g., Black Pearl, WebPutty, Bowstreet, Silver Leap, Cape Clear).

By 2002/03, lines will blur between application platforms and application packages. Platforms will grow from the bottom up with facilities for data management, service provisioning, integration, and process control providing the foundation for component suites, including electronic customer relationship management, reporting, logistics, and trading (note Microsoft's recent acquisition of Great Plains). At the same time, the application package providers are striving to offer total solutions and create seamless integration across back/front-office functionality. Oracle illustrates this market trend with offerings in both the software platform space and the packaged software space. Overall, this competition will be positive because it will drive more integrated solutions along with lower prices. However, it will also cause instability for customers as vendors create and abolish relationships while they piece together "complete" solutions.

Development tools and practices will also evolve to provide better support for creating services and an easier transition to both object-oriented and n-tier application development. Currently, application developers start with a blank page and little guidance for building scalable applications. The integration between development environments and application platforms will benefit from the growth in application frameworks. These give developers a point of departure, providing an initial application model that can be tuned and extended rather than built from scratch. Existing development environments provide basic frameworks and wizards, but these quickly become useless beyond simple applications. More complete solutions will be derived from the combination of modeling, coding, and rule-based environments that will evolve during 2002-04.

As development groups work to deliver solutions, investments in developing and maintaining a flexible application skill inventory will be key to ongoing success. Transitioning existing mainframe and client/server developers will require increasingly large investments in training and mentoring as needs outpace the ability of technology and third-party labor to provide solutions. In addition, these skills will be needed long term to support the complex application portfolios of legacy applications that will remain the backbone of new Internet systems for the foreseeable future.

Business Impact: Corporations must invest in developer training to successfully transition from closed applications to the creation of systems that facilitate collaborative business integration.

Bottom Line: Evolving standards will bring increased productivity and enhanced integration capabilities, but they will require careful oversight. Application platform suites and package solutions will increasingly overlap. Although new technology will ease skill requirements somewhat, it will not be enough to compensate for the increasing number and complexity of e-business applications.

Copyright )2001 META Group Inc. GLOBAL NETWORKING STRATEGIES is published by META Group Inc., 208 Harbor Drive, P.O. Box 1200061, Stamford, CT 06912-0061. Web: http://www.metagroup.com. Telephone: (203) 973-6700. Fax: (203) 359-8066. This publication may not be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without prior written permission. All rights reserved. Reprints are available.

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