Watch Web services

31 May, 2004 By: Sara Ferris

They may not cure every interoperability problem, but they promise to facilitate data exchange across platforms and applications.

THOUGH THE LATEST VERSION OF MICROSTATION-V8 2004-is barely out the door, Bentley Systems previewed its future development directions at its annual user group meeting in May. We'll review V8 2004 next month, but Bentley's roadmap is worth discussing now because it's based on today's hot technology-Web services.

Bentley plans nothing short of a full overhaul of its 20-year-old flagship CAD application. On the surface, the interface will be brought up to current standards, and underneath, the program will incorporate Web services and Microsoft's .NET platform. This development effort will span at least two releases as Bentley waits for Microsoft to provide needed software tools. The first release, code-named Mozart, is expected to ship in the middle of 2005. It will feature a new display engine and the interface makeover. Monet, due in 2006, will be built on the Microsoft .NET platform.

And just what are Web services? No, they're not what goes on at the Cyber Church. A Web service is essentially a programming method that lets applications communicate via the Internet using XML-based messages. Microsoft's .NET is a set of technologies that supports development of Web services. It encompasses a core set of services as well as smart clients that respond to Web services, server software, and programming tools.

The initial Web services provided access to information such as stock quotes, current prices, and sports scores. Their potential extends beyond that, however. They may not cure every interoperability problem, but they promise to facilitate data exchange across different platforms and applications.

CAD vendor CoCreate already uses Web services to power its OneSpace.Net design collaboration tool. Web services provide controlled access to design data, but prevent it from being copied. Web services can connect a OneSpace.Net project to external data sources such as a resource planning or document management system. CAD data, assembly information, and other information from multiple sources is presented through a single interface. The Web services retrieve data as it's requested, ensuring that the information provided is always current.

Ultimately, companies can provide their business applications such as e-commerce, order management, inventory, and billing to suppliers and customers. UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration) is a directory of Web services exposed by various companies. Your applications will be able to access UDDI via a Web service, also, so they can automatically seek out partners with whom they can communicate.

A big benefit of Web services is that they use the existing Internet structure and formats. The protocols used are also simpler than past methods. Security may emerge as a concern. There's also a question about how well Web services can handle complex data types. Finding a part number and retrieving the associated price is a fairly straightforward task, but think of the issues that bedevil CAD interoperability today. One CAD modeler, for example, may use a particular entity that is not supported in another program. What happens when your Web service retrieves something it doesn't recognize? We should find out soon enough, as more and more vendors look at how they can take advantage of Web services.

About the Author: Sara Ferris

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