XML stutters at info transfer

XML was touted as a way for computers across the internet to share information, but an IBM evangelist says it has found most success in cutting internal IT costs.

Doug Tidwell says the argument over XML “is won” and organisations who don’t use XML in their internal systems may find that their competitors have.

In Auckland for an seminar earlier this month the IBM senior software engineer talked about how companies could introduce XML into their existing IT environment.

“The main thing is to start looking at your infrastructure and start figuring out ‘How do I break my existing architecture up into pieces?’,” he says.

By adopting XML with existing applications companies gain a “very, very flexible” infrastructure, Tidwell says.

“We want to give people a sense of urgency. If I’m not doing it, my competition probably is.”

XML technology is now “much more mature”, vendors’ implementations of XML standards such as SOAP tend to work well together and better development tools are emerging. Security is “getting there”, Tidwell says. He’s optimistic that WS-I (an effort to promote web services interoperability) will result in XML implementations that work reliably across platforms.

“Pretty much the whole industry is on board with that,” he says. “If I make my digital signature really difficult to work with, then there’s no advantage for me to do that.”

Industry groups are also pushing hard for XML implementations that work together. They’re interested in vendor interoperability, but they also need XML protocols suited to a particular vertical market. SOAP -— simple object access protocol, an XML protocol designed for broad use —- has worked well but it has its limitations for some uses, Tidwell says.

“People are still wrestling with binary data: how do you do attachments, how do you get stuff in there. I think there’s going to be a lot more industry groups getting involved in defining these things.”

Although web services are widely used within organisations, the myriad sources of online content that web services were expected to deliver never really materialised. Tidwell says the business model remains difficult.

“People are starting to realise that if I’m going to build my business around XML and web services, there’s a lot of things to consider,” he says.

There are valid models -— for example, including advertisements with sports results delivered via web services -— but they haven’t really caught on, Tidwell says.

“Business models for web services at this point have been exclusively ‘How can this save me money or integration or business costs’.”

Tidwell is among those paying attention in what Microsoft is planning for XML in its enterprise operating systems.

He says many users of the markup language are watching the development of the next major version of Windows with interest. Codenamed Longhorn, the forthcoming OS relies heavily on XML.

Tidwell and his IBM colleagues are among those watching.

“I think there’s a lot of powerful things in there,” he says. “I think there’s enormous potential at being able to access so much data as XML.”

Microsoft has long had a “lustful eye” on the enterprise market, and XML will allow Longhorn clients to easily access enterprise data, he says. Knowing that their customers will want to take advantage of those capabilities, IBM executives are thinking about how to leverage Longhorn XML.

“I don’t think any executive ignores anything that Microsoft is doing,” Tidwell says. “We have gotten over OS/2. From an OS point of view Microsoft is very strategic. We can’t ignore that.”

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