A Slippery Slope with SOAP

By Ivy Schmerken
August 15, 2001

""It's an opportunity to make technology agnostic,"" says Jan Jones, vice president of information technology at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (DrKW), commenting on a proof of concept project for foreign exchange trading he built with the Microsoft .NET framework in Microsoft's booth at the SIA Technology Management Show this past June. The application was comprised of four XML Web Services: FX rates Web, FX pricing, FX trading and FX positions which in turn are consumed by a .NET Web-based front-end. Three of the Web Services were built with .NET and one with Java. ""Using SOAP and XML to share data among applications, breaks down all barriers to the technology,"" says Jones, a former Java turned Microsoft programmer who runs a group of developers for the London-based investment bank and coordinates the .NET Joint Development Program (JDP) for the bank.

Microsoft's Marketing Machine
By pumping billions into promoting .NET and fundamentally changing its architecture and its operating systems, Microsoft is wooing its 5 million Microsoft developers over to .NET. Under the .NET development environment, Microsoft has created a language called C# which developers in the financial industry say is similar to Java. The Redmond, Wash. software giant has even created a JUMP to .NET program for Java developers who use Visual Java J++--Microsoft's modified version of Java. Microsoft has automated the tools that can convert J++ code over to C#.

""There's no doubt that Microsoft is putting a lot of effort to promoting .NET. With $30 billion in cash that Microsoft has, whether it can get it to fly or not, is only a matter of when,"" says Hagay Shefi, CEO and founder of GoldTier Technologies, whose software company is focusing on solutions for straight-through processing.

However, Shefi believes that .NET is likely to take off more on the retail side of Wall Street as well as the front-office trading arena and less in the classic STP which is more the middle and back office where enterprise Java dominates. Noting that Microsoft's Hailstorm--a notification service which flows into e-mail and contact management is built with .NET and will release with Windows XP--ties in with Passport, an identification and registration service that holds payment information, Shefi contends that "".NET is more likely to appeal to the retail and e-commerce sides of Wall Street or perhaps to the front-office trading side where information is needed.""

Major financial institutions around the world use the Sun architecture of their mission critical architecture, contends Integral's Sandhu. ""We haven't found a single institution that has told us they're going to adopt Microsoft's .NET infrastructure, says Sandhu whose Integral Financial Server, version 5.0, will create Java Web services on top of the BEA J2EE application server. IFS will handle the finance-oriented aspects such as modeling and executing transactions for foreign exchange, bonds, and derivatives, and infrastructure issues such as security, authorization and giving users permission to access, for instance, my Citibank's Web Service, he says. ""What they're saying is, of course, we're going to build .NET stuff and you won't even know what's on the back-end server. But we're going to use what we think scales and what's mission critical which is Java Web services which is going to be running on Solaris or big Sun boxes.""

Architectural Bet
As brokerage and investment firms evaluate the competing architectures their strategic considerations will be flexibility, usability, development cost versus maintenance. Will there be more interoperability by choosing one? Will there be more opportunity to buy solutions rather than build them?

The promise of .NET is that financial service companies will be able to leverage existing code--even functionality developed in Java--because applications can be exposed through XML and SOAP interfaces or be consumed by Web Services developed under the .NET framework or any other vendor.

Prudential Securities utilizes Microsoft technologies for PruFN, it's consumer investment Web site, in addition to IBM's WebSphere, an application server based on Java and IBM MQ Series. ""IBM is apparently embracing the same technology SOAP, which is attractive to us,"" says Bella Loykhter, chief information officer at Prudential Securities who adds, ""we're using WebSphere, Java and MQ Series--IBM's middleware program and DB2, IBM's relational database, and IBM is promising to make all of these available as services,"" she says. If Prudential decides to develop Web Services with the .NET framework once it's released for production environments, it would be looking for those to interact with WebSphere, DB2 and MQ Series. ""Absolutely. If it can't then it doesn't do anything for us,"" she asserts.