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Augment Content Delivery

by Patrick Meader

The hype machine is roaring full blast on Web Services, and it has been for some time. But a few questions remain largely unanswered. Little things, such as what are they good for, and how can developers take advantage of them in the real world? Visual Studio Magazine spoke recently to a handful of analysts and other industry experts while doing some preliminary research on the potential market for Web Services and the form they will most likely take.

Patrick Meader
Editor in Chief
Do you see yourself using Web Services in the near future? If so, where and how? If not, why not? E-mail me at ednote@fawcette.com.

The analysts were unanimous on one point: You'll see Web Services used to facilitate and lower the cost of application integration within the enterprise and possibly between enterprise-level businesses. You'll also see Web Services used to augment existing business services, providing companies with a business advantage. The commercial market for Web Services gets most of the press, but it isn't well-developed at the moment and the business models aren't well-defined.

Web Services aren't about providing standalone applications or even plug-in functionality over the Internet. Rather, Web Services are about providing customizable content delivery, whether it's price lists, inventories, financial data, crop reports, news feeds, real-time weather information, or any other kind of contextual information businesses or people might need. In short, Web Services provide a new mechanism for delivering and formatting information. In many cases, Web Services replace or extend an existing mechanism for delivering such information, especially in the realm of business services. Some companies will undoubtedly market the information they deliver as commercial Web Services in their own right. But it's more likely that Web Services will be used initially to augment existing business services. Likely leaders in the Web Services area include those businesses that can deliver critical, highly dynamic data people will pay to have. For example, financial services, health services, and power generators figure to be among the earliest adopters and consumers of Web Services.

This new method of delivering and formatting information has inherent advantages and disadvantages. Adhering to standards such as XML and SOAP makes it possible to share information in extraordinary and unprecedented ways. At the same time, a key metric for consumers of Web Services will be reliability and security. Businesses want a guarantee that key services will be available when needed, and service providers will have to bake in adequate redundancy and/or pricing models that account for possible interruptions in service.

Adds Yasser Shohoud, a regular VSM contributor who also publishes the .NET Web Services Newsletter: "Web Services make sense when you have data that you want to reuse. The component market was all about code functionality that other people wanted to reuse. I don't see a reason why I would use a charting Web Service as opposed to a charting component. But when delivering content, such as stock ticker prices, Web Services really shine. Web Services let you add value to the information. You can take info, add your part to it, and deliver it to someone else. For example, companies might tap into various government data feeds, then take this data, wrap it, and expose it as a Web Service for a fee. That's an enormous opportunity for developers."

You might not necessarily be called upon to write a commercial Web Service—you probably won't be—but there is a good chance you'll be called upon to provide or consume Web Services, whether it's wrapping information for others to use, augmenting an existing application with a Web Service, or customizing such data so others can take it and apply it to their own ends.

The good news: Using Visual Studio .NET puts you in a strong position to implement this sort of functionality. The consensus of the analysts we spoke to—not exactly the most pro-Microsoft camp—was that Microsoft has done some good work in making Web Services easier to create and that VS.NET in particular provides a good starting point for creating Web Services. VSM will make the process even easier, providing a regular, monthly column (titled Web Services, coincidentally enough) that covers everything you need to know to create and use Web Services effectively—from the barest basics to more complex issues such as optimizing them for particular environments.

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