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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

IBM Corp has released two brand new alpha products together with version 3.0 of its tried and tested Web Services Toolkit, in a bid to capture the hearts and minds of service providers as well as developers.

Web Services Hosting Technology comprises a set of management tools for setting up and running revenue-generating web services. The Web Services Gateway is a configurable hub where web service invocations can be redirected, translated to other formats, or transparently processed in arbitrary ways. At a lower level, Web Services Toolkit (WSTK) 3.0 provides utility services, automatic documentation analogous to javadoc, and support for LotusScript, Apache Axis and UDDI version 2.0.

All three products are available for free download from IBM's AlphaWorks web site. As the name suggests, they are currently in alpha, the earliest stage of field-testing, and are not suitable for building any kind of production software. IBM uses AlphaWorks, which currently showcases 200 fledgling products, to get promising new tools out to developers and gauge their reactions.

"By the time the standards harden, we have something that has been used by a lot of people," said Bob Sutor, IBM's director of e-Business strategy. Thus, while IBM also offers "general availability" web services tools as part of WebSphere application Server 4.0, AlphaWorks is competing for developer mindshare with Microsoft Corp's Visual Studio.Net beta.

Web Services Hosting Technology, the most business-oriented of the three products, allows an organization to host online web services; publish them to a public or private Universal Discovery, Description and Integration (UDDI) registry; and set up accounts, track usage and bill accordingly. This is done by defining a bundle of web services as a subscription package called an offer, with an associated tariff. The idea is that, at a stroke, a set of web services becomes a source of income - and the owner can easily tell which services are earning the most money.

The Web Services Gateway acts as a bridge between service requestors and service providers, and a single point of control. "You can hand off requests to different servers," said Sutor, "distribute for load balancing, define interceptors for logging or other types of intermediate processing, or even set up a notification system." He conceded that, in this initial release, the Gateway is only partially defined: IBM is confident that the developers who download and experiment with it will suggest plenty of new applications.

Web Services Toolkit 3.0 introduces a raft of new and enhanced features, including a preview of UDDI4J 2.0 (which supports the new UDDI version 2 registries from HP, IBM, Microsoft and SAP) and support for Axis, the Apache Group's open source Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) toolkit. SoapConnect for LotusScript is a partial implementation of SOAP 1.1 for LotusScript, allowing Domino and Notes to consume web services, while WSDLdoc parses a Web Services Definition Language (WSDL) document and automatically generates a corresponding HTML description. Example utility services include accounting, contract, identity, metering and notification; Web Services Hosting Technology relies on these.

Web Services Toolkit runs on top of WebSphere 4.0 (a cut-down version of which comes in the kit) or Apache Tomcat, theoretically on any platform that supports Java 1.3 or above. IBM has tested it on Windows 2000 (with Service Pack 2) and Red Hat Linux 7.0 and 7.2. The Web Services Gateway has similar requirements, but Web Services Hosting Technology is available on Windows 2000 only.

Predictably, Sutor said that IBM is out in front of the pack because its web services tools work with Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) and can thus be used to build scaleable enterprise software on multiple platforms (though, as just mentioned, the AlphaWorks tools are not quite multi-platform just yet). He said he sees IBM and Microsoft as "the big two" with Sun and BEA following at a respectful distance. Oracle, he admitted, has an offering of sorts, and Borland is a player "in the tools space." Promising as these IBM products may be, it looks as if web services still have a long way to go before they are ready for prime time.

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