Almost everyone acknowledges that web services and XML technologies are not yet fully mature. Very often, early deployment need specialist technologies to "fill the gaps" in the standards until they are ready.
That is giving many organisations a dilemma: whether to use bridging technology from specialists, who may have no real track record and potentially no future, or curtail development while mainstream vendors catch up.
Which approach should be use when, and why? Analyst group Forrester Research has just published its advice for organisations that are unsure of which way to go.
"Users should have a tactical approach, demanding a quick payback (for example, 12 to 24 months) from any investments in specialist vendor products," says Forrester analyst Randy Heffner in a recent paper. He advises that organisations should not worry greatly about buying from specialists in the short term, provided they favour specialists with greater breadth and depth in their strategies.
He adds that customers sould also try to avoid making their applications dependent on any particular product, by staying close to standards and avoiding deep use of proprietary interfaces.
In the longer term, these specialists products may not be necessary. Mainstream vendors are all working in the four specific areas where XML specialists have products that fill in technology gaps – application platforms, management platforms, identity management platforms and attack protection platforms.
Heffner points out that by 2007, .Net and J2EE application platforms will have implemented web services standards for security, transactions and other functions; OpenView, Tivoli, Unicenter and other management platforms will soon incorporate web services monitoring and management to their already robust mixture of features; IBM, CA, HP, Novell and others are growing their web single sign-on and authentication platforms into broader identity management platforms that will also support web services, so an additional authentication layer will only add more confusion to the mix; and network firewall vendors such as Cisco, Check Point and Juniper are adding application attack prevention capabilities to their hardware that will safeguard the security of XML traffic.
"With the prospect of high market flux during the next two to five years, any investment in web services infrastructure has the potential to be made obsolete," says Heffner. "IT shops should be tactical when considering web services specialist products, but not be afraid to jump in where there are near-term benefits."
At the same time, he says, organisations should think strategically about where their service-oriented infrastructure is heading, so they can position their current use of specialist products for migration as necessary.