Web services boost data security, efficiency
- By David Essex
- Feb 20, 2005
Government agencies are turning increasingly to Web services to speed application development, share data and conduct transactions more easily.
The move complements federal and state efforts to standardize IT on open standards, such as the Federal Enterprise Architecture and the object-oriented software repositories states use to share and reuse code.
As a universal, cross-platform, multivendor standard, Web services, at least in theory, help agencies meet the twin goals of data security and IT efficiency by keeping their databases securely in-house, rather than moving them around.
There may be security concerns at the outer layers ? at the Web, that is ? but data is centralized. The software to access it, however, consists of widely distributed, easily programmed Web services, assembled like building blocks to make larger applications.
The Web services paradigm is reflected in the new catchphrase: service-oriented architecture, a theory of how to fabricate an architecture from independent business processes that share messages with each other. Web services are just one component. A key element in a service-oriented architecture is the enterprise service bus, a new kind of messaging middleware for Web services.
The tools in the chart (See page 18) purport to do most of the development work for you, automatically converting your Java or .NET code and objects to Web services.
But the development environments that many programmers use to build Web services aren't especially geared to the new technology. They are somewhat generic integrated-development environments with standard programming languages, such as Microsoft Visual Studio and Borland Software's JBuilder, or more automated, visual, rapid application development products. Both types predate the late-1990s genesis of Web services.
Some, including Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java Studio Creator, can "consume" Web services, but can't write them, according to Sun. Others limit where you can deploy the Web services you've written.
Though vendors of development tools note that adding Web services support was hardly a no-brainer, the technology often gets second billing to more ubiquitous programming platforms such as Java and Visual Basic. Another vendor concern is that Web services, as an open-source technology, create strong demand for free or inexpensive development environments.
"The No. 1 Java development tool on the market today, in terms of developers, is Eclipse, and it's free," said Mark Driver, research vice president at Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., referring to a Java development environment that also supports Web services.
Web services programs, with their ability to standardize the interfaces between brands of software, long have held the promise of making enterprise application integration (EAI) software obsolete. So it's not surprising that webMethods Inc. of Fairfax, Va., and SeeBeyond Technology Corp. of Monrovia, Calif., vendors of established EAI tools, have added significant Web services support to their tools.
A newer class of tools, such as those from Cape Clear Software Inc., emphasizes integration of existing applications rather than new development. Such tools are marketed to help agencies use Web services to implement enterprise services buses to standardize data sharing and workflow.
This year will see major upgrades from key vendors. Macromedia Inc. has released the Blackstone version of its ColdFusion application server, which, along with its Dreamweaver Web site tool, is used widely in government.
Dubbed ColdFusion MX7, the upgrade largely automates the long-standing challenge of processing forms on the Web and bolsters Java support to improve the links between mobile devices and Web content. In beta since June 2004, ColdFusion MX7 has "had a huge participation from government organizations," said Dave Gruber, a Macromedia senior product manager.
Later this year, Microsoft will release Visual Studio 2005, which will support the new SOAP 1.2 standard with its newly added security features. BEA Systems Inc.'s next major upgrade, WebLogic Server 9.0, codenamed Diablo and in beta since December, will enable development of service-oriented architecture with enterprise-class messaging.
The bottom line is that while Web services development tools are now available widely, the technology has yet to take off.
"We haven't seen a whole lot of adoption and desire among our user base in authoring Web services," said Jim Guerard, a Macromedia vice president.David Essex is a freelance technology writer in Antrim, N.H.