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In Person: .Net and Web Service
'Web services first on corporate networks'

Microsoft says .Net is a framework for distributing Web services. But what exactly is .Net and how will consumers or businesses benefit from Web services? We caught up with Michael W. Platt to find out. Platt is presently working on the Microsoft .Net Enterprise Architecture Strategy as part of the .Net Platform Strategy Architecture Group. He is directly responsible for .Net technical architecture. by Brian Pereira

There has been much confusion about what .Net is all about. What's the long and short definition?
.Net is a number of different things. At one end, it's used as a brand and at the other end it's a specific piece of technology. As a brand and in terms of functionality, it's all about connectivity, how you connect applications together.

It's not just a framework for distributing services (via the Web), but also for using the services.

I believe people will first start using .Net technologies inside a firewall (within a corporate network), then use it outside (on the Internet).

From a usage point of view, .Net is all about the use of services, both inside and outside the corporate network. It is all about connecting pieces of functionality.

As an architecture, it has a number of elements and products.

When you look at Web services, these are actually using a message parsing paradigm. Architecting a services-based system is similar; it's a message parsing system—technology that has been around for quite a while.
You connect the service using messaging. Of course this is underpinned by standards like XML, SOAP, HTTPs, WSDL, and UDDI.

So .Net is all about building functional Web services, and anyone can use Web services. It's all about connectivity to functional services.

What kind of useful Web services are available today?
We see a lot of Web services happening inside an organization. People are building Web services for their customer systems.

At Microsoft for instance, we use Siebel CRM for our customer database and we built a front-end for it. And we package this as Web services. Now we can also integrate it with our SAP systems. This is an example of Web services.

So a Web service allows you to integrate systems and aggregate content.

Another possible application is integration of an individual's banking services. Like aggregating all credit card billing information.

A customer may want to integrate information for all his products selected from different divisions—Web services makes this possible.

The first application of Web services will be within organizations—for integrating their information.

What is Microsoft's roadmap for developing .Net and getting the world to use Web services? What kind of .Net products and services exist today?
All our products will soon be based on .Net and XML Web services. It will be some time before all our products will be written in C#. That doesn't mean existing products that are not written in C# can't be used for Web services today. We are committed to moving all our products to .Net and it will take some time. But most of them support .Net today, in some form or the other.

Similarly .Net server, i.e. Windows will have support for XML as part of the operating system. Moving forward we will provide more .Net functionality in each product.

.Net and Web services are being used today in many prominent organizations. For instance the Australian government uses it. They take big pieces of government functionality (business licenses for instance), and they provide those as Web services, so other government firms can connect to those.

More companies will leverage on Web services to integrate information from different services and provide it as a value add. In banking, Citibank is presenting some services through Web services. There are companies like Reuters which are using this to provide financial services. It can also be used for tying up trading systems in the stock exchange.

In India we have quite a few companies who worked on Web services. The first one is CoOptions Technologies Limited, a company which is trying to empower the rural women of Andhra Pradesh. CoOptions developed 'Mahila Spurthi.' for the women's self help groups in rural areas. The project aims to facilitate bank transactions and lending records, communication with different agencies, like government offices (PHC, Police Station, etc); dissemination of information to users via IDACs(Information Dissemination and Acquisition Centers) and performance reviews of all the groups that transact business at IDACs.

The second example is Financial Technologies. They are using Web services for a foreign exchange trading platform. This is a complete end-to-end platform built on Microsoft technologies. Their FXDirect service extensively uses and relies on the .Net Framework, such as Visual Studio.NET, .NET Remoting, COM+ components, Windows 2000 Server to deliver mission-critical performance.

There are other Web services platforms. What would you like to see common among these different
initiatives?
There are actually three things here. IBM WebSphere is a product—they have a product and a set of services. They are thinking of using Services Oriented Architecture (SOA); Sun has Services on Demand (SOD), and we've got .Net XML Web services. They all work towards the same vision.

One thing I would like to see at the architecture level, is all of them using the same terminology. We are all providing the same functionality, so why not have the same terminology? There are no standards for terminology so customers get very confused.

But how will the various services and systems talk to each other?
We believe that XML Web services is a standard for integration of services. But XML Web services doesn't tell you how to do messaging between those systems. It doesn't tell you how to do security between those systems. We have come to a point where we see that there are a whole lot of other things that are needed for a big company to deploy these services.

That's where WS-I (Web Services Interoperability) comes in. It encompasses all of this—security, transactions, process support, integration support etc. And WS-I has specs for each aspect, for instance a WS-Security spec, WS-Transactional spec, WS-Messaging spec, a discovery specification etc.

(Ed: The WS-I or Web Services Interoperability organization is an open, industry organization chartered to promote Web services interoperability across platforms, operating systems, and programming languages. For more information log on to www.ws-i.org).

XML Web services is going to be the way of connecting, in terms of functionality. WS-I is a mechanism to support all these additional things like processes, security, transactions etc.

We believe in open standards for protocols so that we can connect other systems using XML Web services, to provide a complete end-to-end solution. We are going to provide the ability for Active Directory to connect to the WS security spec. So Active Directory security becomes part of a much larger security system.

We don't believe there's going to be one security system for everyone to use. Everyone should have the ability to devise their own security system, but these should all work together. We believe we should have federated systems where possible.

Whatever happened to .Net My services? What about Hailstorm?
My Services talked about our vision in the consumer space. But we didn't differentiate between vision and what was possible and practical today. We are still working on the plumbing (the technology) for My Services.
We used it as a vision, but the market place wasn't ready for this. It's still some time away from the product stage. Hailstorm is the code name for My Services.

Brian Pereira can be reached at brianp@networkmagazineindia.com

 
     
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