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Will Enterprise Architects Get Any REST in 2008?

By David F. Carr  |  Posted 2007-12-20 Print this article Print

Will this be the year that the Web development architecture known as REST invades the enterprise, derailing or fundamentally altering the orthodox approach to web services and service oriented architecture (SOA) that's been built up over the past several

Will this be the year that the Web development architecture known as REST invades the enterprise, derailing or fundamentally altering the orthodox approach to web services and service oriented architecture (SOA) that's been built up over the past several years?

There are plenty of REST enthusiasts who think it ought to happen – and many who would say it's inevitable – but even if there won't be an overnight revolution, the time may be ripe for enterprise folks to evaluate REST as an alternative or at least to considering how they might apply some of the principles behind it to streamlining their ongoing SOA efforts.

Representational State Transfer (REST) is a style of application architecture derived from the way the web works, and REST advocates argue that mimicking web-like patterns of interaction is a way of simplifying the development of network applications. Although it's not really a distributed computing protocol akin to SOAP, the XML-based message format at the heart of most enterprise web services architectures, REST is often positioned as an alternative to SOAP – and the and the whole sprawling family of XML standards that have grown up around it.

"For simple applications, you don't need all that SOAP baggage," says Joe Morrison, a senior consultant at Lab49, which works primarily with financial services firms. "The REST approach is about modeling service oriented architectures the way the web is built, and trying to make distributed applications look as much as possible like large-scale web sites."

The financial services industry is investing heavily in SOA, Morrison says, and at least in the short run those efforts are not likely to shift from SOAP to REST. "In my mind, it's a little like the Mac versus PC debate, where SOAP is like the PC – maybe not the most elegant, but practically it meets a lot of enterprise requirements."

Still, Morrison expects more enterprises to start experimenting with REST and embracing some of the thinking behind it in how they implement web services, regardless of technology.

Gartner analyst Nick Gall agrees, saying that REST is attracting attention from "a select group of enterprise architects." In other words, it's really only on the radar for a relatively small group of enterprise technologists, he says, but they tend to be leading-edge thinkers.

So far, REST has been most influential among the new businesses that have grown up with the Web and who do most of their business over the Internet and among developers who have embraced REST-friendly frameworks such as Ruby on Rails.

When Roy T. Fielding described REST in a doctoral thesis published in 2000, he wasn't so much inventing something as formalizing principles derived from years of work on web standards. Fielding was the principal author of the HTTP 1.1 specification and a prime contributor to other web standards, including the Uniform Resource Identifier (URI) addressing scheme, and one of the founders of the Apache web server open source project. He now serves as Chief Scientist at Day Software, a content management system vendor.

Next page: Part two

David F. Carr David F. Carr is the Technology Editor for Baseline Magazine, a Ziff Davis publication focused on information technology and its management, with an emphasis on measurable, bottom-line results. He wrote two of Baseline's cover stories focused on the role of technology in disaster recovery, one focused on the response to the tsunami in Indonesia and another on the City of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.David has been the author or co-author of many Baseline Case Dissections on corporate technology successes and failures (such as the role of Kmart's inept supply chain implementation in its decline versus Wal-Mart or the successful use of technology to create new market opportunities for office furniture maker Herman Miller). He has also written about the FAA's halting attempts to modernize air traffic control, and in 2003 he traveled to Sierra Leone and Liberia to report on the role of technology in United Nations peacekeeping.David joined Baseline prior to the launch of the magazine in 2001 and helped define popular elements of the magazine such as Gotcha!, which offers cautionary tales about technology pitfalls and how to avoid them.
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