Web Services Show Promise, but How Much?

Gartner’s Dataquest unveiled its own study, “Systems Integrators and Users Advance Web Services Use in 2002,” on the white-hot topic this week. But unlike IDC’s broad financial possibilities, the research firm focused on what vendor platforms are most popular, based on a survey of 44 consulting and system integration vendors in North America.

What did the outfit find? Only that Microsoft .Net, IBM WebSphere and Oracle are the three leading Web services products they plan to support.

Michele Cantara, principal analyst for Gartner Dataquest’s IT Services group, said .Net was targeted by 58 percent of system integrators as one of the top three Web services products to ramp up delivery capability, with 40 percent tabbing WebSphere and 31 percent citing Oracle as one of their top three Web services products.

Moreover, Gartner Dataquest surveyed 138 enterprises that were using or planning to use a system integrator to design or use Web services. Thirty three percent of end users are leaning toward Microsoft .Net, while 39 percent plan to use Java/J2EE. Interestingly, smaller companies favored Microsoft .Net, while larger companies favored Java 2 Enterprise Edition architectures and products. Research firm Evan Data Corp. published results to a similar study in October, predicting .NET and Java would be neck and neck a year from now.

“While larger companies tended to have established a Web services platform of choice, smaller companies were still undecided. This shows that the systems integrator does not always dictate the choice of Web services platforms, and that Web services software vendors that are not among the chosen few should look at the smaller, undecided companies where they are more likely to find opportunity for their product,” said Joanne Correia, vice president for Gartner Dataquest’s Software Industry Research group.

Redmonk’s O’Grady said Gartner’s vendor choices makes sense, albeit with a caveat.

“Gartner’s vendor choices are as good as any, although it does ignore some of the smaller vendors with some great technology like Cape Clear, who have won real customers such as BT,” O’Grady said. Other companies who adhere to similar Web services management goals as Cape Clear include upstarts Confluent, WestGlobal, Blue Titan, AmberPoint and Talking Blocks.

“We’ve actually contended for some time that despite Microsoft’s surprising admission that they bungled the marketing and communications effort for .NET, it’s actually got some great mindshare in the Web services arena — this confirms that. IBM and Oracle, likewise, have parleyed their strengths in installed base and standards work to some success as well.”

Again, O’Grady pointed to emerging standards.

“One last major factor to consider is that there is more to the world than the Web services stack — Gartner may only be counting Web services in those terms, but there is real work being done around ebXML,” O’Grady said. “The OASIS ebMS messaging transport is gaining some traction, industry verticals and more pertinently government purchasing departments are also beginning to mandate ebXML.”

XML is the primary language used to write Web services applications. Electronic Business XML, or ebXML, takes XML a step further by letting companies communicate over the Web. It is designed to enable a global electronic marketplace in which enterprises of any size, and in any location, could safely and securely transact business through the exchange of XML-based messages.

Schmelzer said declaring leadership positions in this nascent space is premature.

“Trying to call the leaders of the Web services market at this stage is like trying to judge the Tour de France at the first stage, or a marathon in the first mile. Best practices for Web Services and services-oriented architecture (SOA) adoption have yet to be determined, and it is not entirely clear who the leaders will be come 5 years from now. While the app server vendors clearly are the 800-pound gorillas in this space, saying that app server vendors are the “Web Services leaders” would be like saying that the Web server and browser vendors were the “Web leaders” in 1995. Clearly, expenditure on Web technologies far exceeds that of just the simple Web server vendors.”

But even before one can gauge financial windfalls, there are critical barriers and trends ahead, O’Grady said, which may lead to even greater market opportunities for those willing to join the race.

“We’re of the opinion that the real impediments to Web services adoption are two things: security, and interoperability,” O’Grady said. “The latter is being addressed via work that the WS-I (Web Services Interoperability Forum) is doing, and its recent inclusion into the J2EE spec indicates the weight it carries there. Security is a little more problematical, and until it’s addressed, widespread inter-enterprise adoption is unlikely. Even given that, however, IDC’s forecast looks a little conservative, as enterprises increasingly adopt it as a more effective integration mechanism. And if security and interoperability are addressed in the next year, their numbers will be way off.

To be sure, ZapThink said the market for XML and Web Services security is expected to grow from $40 million in 2001 to $4.4 billion by 2006. Factor that chunk into IDC’s figures, and it adds quite a bit to the estimates.

But one thing most analysts and research firms are in agreement on, is that once Web services evolve and are assimilated into the enterprise, new challenges will emerge for the IT industry to address. This places a premium on cooperation among vendors to make interoperability happen, so that the software-as-a-service revolution doesn’t bog down in a swamp of inertia.

If the firms leap those hurdles, it will likely lead to more product innovation. As for a market estimate, it’s in the hands of the vendors leading it, including Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, as well as the smaller firms and a little influence from the economy thrown in for good measure.