Beyond the Hype: What to Do with Web Services Today

Beyond the Hype: What to Do with Web Services Today

The hype around Web services has been deafening. Equally, there have been plenty of critics awaiting Web services' march behind other over-hyped technologies into the graveyard of "The Next Big Thing That Wasn't." However, when you look at the number of enterprises that have rolled out successful Web services projects to solve real business problems in a relatively short period of time, it is increasingly hard to sound Web services' death knell. From Ford Credit using Web services to give car buyers and dealers real-time access to payment systems and loan application processing to Moody's KMV using Web services to extract and share bond ratings information with its top-tier financial services clients, industry leaders are enjoying tangible business benefits from Web services today.

At Foundation Capital, we believe the time for Web services is now, and we've noticed some key themes common to all successful Web services projects.

The basic building blocks for Web services are stable and mature today. There are accepted standards for description, discovery, and transport. Security and business process management standards are far along the maturation path and currently meet the requirements of the vast majority of the projects being contemplated. With this stable foundation, companies that are moving forward rapidly, like Eastman Chemical and GE Power, are picking projects that match this stage of Web services' evolution. These projects do not have a requirement for reliable messaging, transactions, and complex workflow, whose standards are still at a nascent stage.

What do these projects look like? Generally speaking, Web services projects are most relevant when they involve sharing information that is dynamic, needs to be accessed by a wide variety of constituents, and gains value from being real time rather than static. One project that fits these criteria can be described as B2Bi-lite, in which enterprises streamline interactions with customers and clients outside the firewall based on Web services technology. Examples include exposing inventory levels, credit ratings, and price quotes.

In another successful project, companies are using Web services for cost-effective internal integration between disparate applications and users in a more EAI-lite fashion. Examples include sharing customer information across internal divisions, maintaining integration of packaged applications on varying release schedules, and integrating systems after an acquisition spree.

The most critical aspect of companies' Web services strategies is their post-deployment plan - defined as Web services management and evolution. Even companies rolling out a small number of Web services understand they must have software to help them change and evolve the services environment without disruption. Following are several key features companies need to have in their Web services management solution.

Say a company exposes shipping status as a Web service to its distributors. It must have the ability to monitor and control that service while it is in production. It needs to be able to see the historical and real-time performance of the service, know if the service has gone down, and be able to bring it back online again, all from a centralized view. In addition, it must be able to control and monitor access to the service by its distributors. A good Web services management solution does this.

Managing QoS is probably the most critical aspect of a Web services environment. Consider a leading financial institution that provides integrated reporting to institutional clients by using Web services to collect data, integrate it, and expose it to customers. For this company, the ability to guarantee performance levels is an absolute requirement and, therefore, the service must be able to load balance and failover at the service level, and more importantly, intelligently route requests based on the real-time performance of its services network.

Change is inevitable. Whether from extending application functionality, evolving standards, or changing technologies, the only certainty is that change will occur. Take the financial institution. Say the company wants to roll out a newer version of its credit report Web service and it has 1,000 clients consuming the current service. How will it do so without disrupting these consumers? With a comprehensive Web services management solution, the company will seamlessly upgrade the service without its customers ever knowing a change took place. Additionally, it would have the flexibility to differentiate service and charge more for the newer version. With management software, it can migrate higher paying customers to the new service, while maintaining the older version side-by-side.

The good news is that there are real business cases best suited to be solved by Web services. And there are software solutions in production today for post-deployment Web services management. Foundation Capital's first bet in Web services is Talking Blocks, which has a suite of products to manage Web services. We invested because we believe that Web services management is the critical piece of a full solution set for Web services. Addressing these management imperatives will allow you to leverage Web services to deliver real business benefits and ROI. Today.

More Stories By Paul Holland

Paul Holland is a general partner of Foundation Capital, a leading venture capital firm that focuses on Internet infrastructure, enterprise software and telecommunications and networking. Paul brings over 18 years of high technology operating experience to Foundation and to the companies with which he works.

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