Winning In Web Services - Embedded.com

Winning In Web Services

During research for a net-centric computing report in EE Times (June 11, 2001), I had a chance to see how major companies such as IBM, Microsoft and Sun are managing the transition to a new paradigm called “web services.”

If these companies and other major and minor players have anything to do with it, the new environment within which all designs will operate will be based on web services.

Web services are applications or services that can be accessed over the Web using standard Web protocols by a variety of clients: computing devices embedded in a system, Internet-enabled set-top boxes, personal computers, wireless phones, or information appliances. Web services communicate using platform-independent and language-neutral Web protocols, which makes it much easier to integrate heterogeneous systems.

The Web Services environment into which we are moving is much more complex than the one we are accustomed to on the Internet and World Wide Web. It is no longer just a matter of simple general-purpose servers talking to similarly general-purpose desktops using general-purpose TCP/IP, HTTP, HTML protocols over a relatively homogenous backbone of similar servers using similar physical transmission methods. It is much more complicated than that.

While there seems to be some common agreement on Java and the Extensible Markup Language as the main vehicles for interchange in this new environment, companies targeting this area have proliferated at least five or six different variations of Java and at least a dozen or so dialects of XML, all targeted at different applications. While XML is the common wrapper around applications that may be resident on servers or on the client device, inside those applications there still remain a plethora of language choices to be made. And in each environment the various languages act differently and have different limitations and capabilities.

In this confusing new computing environment, I believe IBM is the one who will emerge the winner. For one thing, it hasn't rushed in willy-nilly, but developed a well-thought, well-researched analysis of this new environment. It has a pragmatic, engineering-based view that, of all the major players, is the least affected by pre-existing conceptions of the market and what IBM wants it to be. Rather than try to find a way to protect its turf and its existing products and investments, IBM has used its Application Framework for e-business to analyze the problem space that the new net-centric computing market represents.

Based on this analysis IBM has redefined itself, moving away from being just a mainframe company, a PC hardware and software company, or a server manufacturer. Instead, it now views itself as an Internet and Web middleware company. It still builds hardware and software for all segments of the computing market, but only as it supports IBM's new view of itself. It has stuck to a standards-based strategy rather than develop proprietary software as the secret sauce by which to attract customers and end users to its banner. IBM has created an environment that clearly delineates how servers, desktops, wireless devices, Internet appliances and embedded systems interoperate.

With its pervasive computing framework, IBM has leveraged many industry or de facto standards, including enterprise Java technologies. As a member of the Java Community Process, IBM joined with nearly 50 other companies to help create the Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE), which integrates a multitude of enterprise Java technologies. J2EE simplifies the development and deployment of multi-tier e-business applications. Although Afeb and J2EE share this common goal, the scope of AFeb is much broader. It includes a more comprehensive system model, a more extensive application programming model, and a robust platform implementation populated with services and the tools required to design, build, run, and manage complete e-business solutions.

And while IBM seems just as focused on making Java and XML work as a Web services paradigm, I do not think the company would be all that upset if it did not work out that way. My feeling is that just like any engineer or developer who came up with an idea and found it didn't work, all it would do is shrug, go back and take another look at the problem and come up with a solution that did work.

How to explain the differences between IBM on the one hand, and the approaches by some of the other major adherents to the new concept of Web Services? I think it has to do with maturity and life experience. Unlike virtually every other major electronics and computer company, with the exceptions of ATT, Motorola and Texas Instruments, IBM truly has grown up with modern computing, from its beginnings in the '50s with mainframes, through minicomputers, desktop computing, and now net-centric computing, which IBM calls “Pervasive Computing.”

IBM has been through it all, and has not only survived, but thrived. Interestingly, during the recent dot-com crash and the crisis of corporate confidence, IBM was one of the few computer companies to not only continue to make a profit but exceed the market analysts' expectations.

By comparison, most other computer and electronics companies are still going through their adolescence, and their approach to the market reflects that: enthusiastic, certain in their beliefs and in their ability to make the market and the technology move in the directions in which they want them to go.

IBM has learned that it is not companies that drive technology and the market, but the other way around. It understands that “winning” depends on understanding the environment within which you operate and taking advantage of what you have learned, rather than trying to make it change to fit a particular set of needs or wants.

Unlike some of the adolescent companies with which it competes, it has learned that believing in stories you tell yourself and refusing to deal with realities doesn't work in the long run. What it takes is a hard-nosed analytical view of the world around you and making decisions based on facts.

If life were fair, this hard-nosed engineering approach would mean that IBM would end up being the winner in the net-centric market place. But even if it is not, it will still come out of the fray as one of the few survivors that will thrive. If there is anything at which IBM has some experience, it is rolling with the punches, getting up and coming back for the next round.

What are your views about Web Services and how they may affect your designs? And whom do you think will end up being the winner in this new computing space? I'd like to hear your opinions.

Bernard Cole is the managing editor for embedded design and net-centric computing at EE Times. He welcomes contact. You can reach him at or 520-525-9087.

Reader Response

IBM has learned that it is not companies that drive technology and the market, but the other way around. It understands that “winning” depends on understanding the environment within which you operate and taking advantage of what you have learned, rather than trying to make it change to fit a particular set of needs or wants.

I think a company can't be a winner in finance if it can't drive technology and the market.

Jun Xiao

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