Then came 9/11, a down economy and the .dot-gone ramifications that led to unrest in the IT world not seen since the rise of the PC. Web services became a back-burner technology left to simmer, as the promise and hype were taken over by more practical concerns of how to do more with less.
"The hype was this was going to happen tomorrow," says Dwight Davis, vice president and practice director at Summit Strategies in Boston. "We'll have this dynamic world of services: you'll be able to tap in public UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) repositories and use those services as building blocks to create custom solutions of your own."
What's happening today is Web services are being quietly (to those outside of the IT world, anyway) deployed, not as an e-commerce tool designed to end the purchasing of software as we know it, but as a dependable, platform-agnostic integration tool behind the firewall.
This is a good thing, says Davis. Without all the initial hype, people wouldn't have been aware of Web services' potential and without the down economy, people may have jumped on the Web services bandwagon too early.
The lag has allowed standards bodies like OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) and the Liberty Alliance to at least begin the work of establishing standards. Had this not happened, Web services probably wouldn't have lived up to its billing and been just another technological car crash.
Extracting Business Value
"There's still the work towards tools and standardization and a way to orchestrate and find a B2B play for this stuff," says Dana Gardner, a senior analyst at the Yankee Group in Boston. "And that's where I'm seeing a bit more excitement and bit more change and a bit more fulfillment of some of the hype.
"But now we're in a phase where there's actual value and business benefit people are extracting from Web services," Gardner says. "That's not getting a lot of attention, but it is having technological benefits."
The benefits Gardner refers to are behind-the-firewall, cross-platform integration projects made much easier and cheaper using Web services.
Most big companies have such projects in the works, says Laura DiDio, a senior software industry analyst at the Yankee Group, yet most of these efforts are in the fits-and-starts stage. Few enterprise-wide Web services projects designed to link the company to the outside world are underway, but they are coming.
Most analysts agree it's a matter of inertia; if it ain't broke why fix it (at least not right now) is king in IT departments nationwide.
"You don't get fired for keeping the network up and running even if its running with crazy glue and spit," says DiDio.
In two to five years (depending who you talk to), however, most analysts agree the early hype will begin to be realized.
"We are going to get there in the next two years because corporations are really at the precipice of what their legacy networks and infrastructure and software and applications can do," says DiDio. "So, they know they're going to be building tools to use Web services architecture. The vision has been delayed by necessity because of the economy and because of the technology; all the components haven't been there."
When all of those components, namely standards, are in place, this will be a "watershed" event, agreed Eric Austvold, research director at AMR Research in Boston, propelling Web services once again into the limelight and opening the door on its promise.
"We will eventually get there, but it's going to take longer than we would all like," says Austvold. "The true realization of benefits of this thing are three to five years out."