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Defining New-Generation Web Services

Drive additional value to enterprises

We've seen the hype - dynamic applications created by combining remote services that combine both application behavior and data into on-demand business applications that are as easy to change as they are to create. The reality was more evolutionary than revolutionary, but today we are indeed able to build applications using dynamic live data that we neither host nor maintain, information that is delivered through Web services that could be anywhere in the world.

Where Web services once provided fine-grained tactical solutions, the focus going forward is on more solutions-oriented and strategic services that will add even more value to mashups, platform-as-a-service applications, SaaS, and even Internet-connected corporate applications. The question is, what will those services look like?

The temptation is to take existing applications and just "expose" certain behaviors and information flows as services. While that works in theory, the practical reality is that services have different design patterns than simple application interfaces, and useful services are both designed and built as, well, services. Indeed, services should not only provide critical business functionality but support complete heterogeneity.

If design constraints are followed, it's time to consider just what a new-generation Web service will be. I'll first be clear about the parameters:

First, the service needs to provide a solution, not just tactical information or behavior. Meaning that the service should provide higher value functions such as portfolio risk analytics, rather than just stock quotes. Not that a service providing stock quotes won't have a place, but the idea is that more strategic and solutions-oriented services will provide more value within mashups, SaaS applications, PaaS applications, and enterprise applications that need to add that solution as part of their business process.

Second, but still considering the first point, the service should also provide design patterns around key vertical processes. Be it logistics management for the manufacturing vertical, or tax management for the retail vertical, services should address specific solutions, which typically means they are focused on a specific vertical. We're moving into a world where services are more customized for your business processes, which are typically aligned to the industry you're in. Thus, we're creating complete solutions, or augmenting existing applications using a huge pallet of vertical-specific services that are completed more to purpose.

Finally, the ability to alter some behavior of the service for a better fit. In the world of object-oriented design and development we've been able to leverage approaches where objects are customizable using the mechanism of inheritance. While inheritance is not typically a strong point of Web services (not supported, really), there are facilities to alter behavior based on the container that leverages the services. Services typically follow the 80/20 rule when considering function, meaning that while 80 percent of the functionality you're looking for within a service is there, typically, 20 percent of the functionality is not needed or needs to change. While most consider services as an all-or-nothing proposition, that really does not need to be the case. Thus, you increase the value of the service, and the number of times the service will be reused, inter- and intra-company.

As we move up this Web services value chain, a clear opportunity is emerging: the ability to drive critical business processes through the leveraging of services we neither own nor host. To that end, we could see as much as 40 percent of the core services as coming from external Internet-delivered sources. That's up from less than .0000001 percent today. This will provide the agility and speed-to-market assets we are looking for as the next-generation Web continues to drive additional value to enterprises.

More Stories By David Linthicum

Dave Linthicum is Sr. VP at Cloud Technology Partners, and an internationally known cloud computing and SOA expert. He is a sought-after consultant, speaker, and blogger. In his career, Dave has formed or enhanced many of the ideas behind modern distributed computing including EAI, B2B Application Integration, and SOA, approaches and technologies in wide use today. In addition, he is the Editor-in-Chief of SYS-CON's Virtualization Journal.

For the last 10 years, he has focused on the technology and strategies around cloud computing, including working with several cloud computing startups. His industry experience includes tenure as CTO and CEO of several successful software and cloud computing companies, and upper-level management positions in Fortune 500 companies. In addition, he was an associate professor of computer science for eight years, and continues to lecture at major technical colleges and universities, including University of Virginia and Arizona State University. He keynotes at many leading technology conferences, and has several well-read columns and blogs. Linthicum has authored 10 books, including the ground-breaking "Enterprise Application Integration" and "B2B Application Integration." You can reach him at david@bluemountainlabs.com. Or follow him on Twitter. Or view his profile on LinkedIn.

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