Web services here to stay: IDC software head

The head of software research at analyst IDC expects web services to be pervasive within five years.

Anthony Picardi, who is based in Framingham, Massachusetts, says since first identifying the web services trend in 1998 its uptake has followed IDC's expectations. He says an end-user survey in North America shows enthusiasm for the standards-based nature of web services, which can interlink previously incompatible applications using internet standards that are currently in development.

"Standards compliance is the number one thing people want in web services," Picardi says. That's a message that both Microsoft and IBM, the web services market mindshare leaders, have absorbed, he says.

"There's an unprecedented level of standards cooperation between web services vendors."

Picardi says both Microsoft and IBM are being very attentive to the activities of standards bodies, Microsoft anxious to avoid the label of "lock-in vendor" and IBM trying to pitch itself as the saviour of organisations that have suffered vendor lock-in in the past.

Early web services implementations are being driven by system complexity, according to Picardi, who was in Auckland last week. Projects are being undertaken as a vastly cheaper way of integrating applications, at 10% of the cost of conventional middleware.

And the story gets better. According to his research, which uses survey data in conjunction with a computer model, the cost of subsequent web services projects is about 40% of an initial project. An initial project, including hardware and software, will typically cost about $1 million.

The North American market leads Europe and the Asia-Pacific region in web services projects, IDC says. Of 900 surveyed North American organisations, 10% of those with over 5000 employees have embarked on a web services project. The number falls to 3% for organisations with 500 to 5000 employees and 1.3% for those with 100 to 500 staff.

"I can't say there's any one application dominating early implementations," Picardi says.

Three-quarters of survey respondents report implementing customer-facing projects - CRM and sales, for example; 75% are doing back-end integration; 60% are working with productivity applications; and 60% are e-commerce projects. (The numbers add up to more than 100 because large organisations tend to be working on multiple projects.)IDC is claiming to have spotted the web services trend even before the term was coined. According to Picardi, it labelled the trend "cybersmart computing", and the characteristics ascribed to it match those of web services. Both run anywhere, have smart content and are accessible from a range of devices.

That's somewhat at odds with the Microsoft interpretation of web services, Picardi says.

"Microsoft would like you to believe that if you run anything with .Net on the package, you're doing web services.

"But when you shine a light on them, they admit there's code you have to turn on to get web services."

While Microsoft and IBM are equal in the web services perception stakes, Java is two-and-a-half times more popular than .Net as a web services platform, Picardi says.

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