Software

HailStorm brewing over Web services

In this second article in his two-part series on Microsoft's HailStorm, Tim Landgrave examines the types of information that are managed by HailStorm and how the application functions in a business context.


In last week’s column, I discussed Microsoft’s HailStorm initiative and the fact that it represents a radical departure from the current Web-centric method of managing personal data to a more user-centric method. In this article, we’ll review the types of user information HailStorm can manage and how HailStorm’s capabilities might figure into your enterprise’s IT strategy.

What services does HailStorm offer?
HailStorm enables users to define in advance which devices and applications they wish to connect to particular services. Since the user’s devices and applications all connect through a common point, HailStorm can facilitate secure information sharing between the various connections and makes it easy to add other people and services to the user’s connection profile.

At its core, HailStorm is a set of industry-standard XML Web services. Applications and devices access HailStorm using specific XML Message Interfaces (XMI), which are a set of basic XML Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) messages. The first set of services that HailStorm will provide includes the following:
  • myAddress will store and serve both electronic and geographic addresses for an identity defined by Passport, HailStorm’s core authentication service.
  • myProfile maintains common information about an individual’s identity, including name, nickname, special dates, pictures, or other information commonly shared with others.
  • myContacts allows a user to access a universal database of contacts from any device. (Microsoft will likely build seamless integration between this service and the Contacts function of its Outlook client.)
  • myLocation stores location information, whether that data represents an electronic location (for example, presence information stored by Instant Messenger) or a physical location, which HailStorm determines by using a GPS beacon built into a cell phone or PDA. This service can also store “availability” location information (i.e., “I’ll be available online at 4 P.M. EST.”)
  • myNotifications allows the user to define when and how he or she would like to be notified about any event. By providing routing and priority information, a user can enable a service (online auction like eBay, e*Trade account with stock information, or a business client wishing to set up an appointment) to contact the user through the optimal method at any given time. The service merely asks to make contact and the system will use the appropriate routing to get the message to the user. It’s like call-forwarding on steroids, except myNotifications encompasses all the user’s communication devices, as well as user-defined access/priority settings.
  • myInbox enables a user to manage a universally accessible inbox, including e-mail, voice mail, faxes, and other document types. By interfacing with existing e-mail systems, myInbox allows users to access their corporate e-mail using a limited-function device like a cell phone.
  • myCalendar provides universal time and task management by providing a common repository for the user’s scheduling data. If the user so chooses, he or she can provide outside parties (like friends, family, or business associates) with access to the scheduling data so that others may schedule events or view potential availability. The myCalendar service can also integrate with corporate calendaring systems using standard SOAP messages (HTTP:80) in order to reconcile all of an individual’s calendar information.
  • myDocuments allows users to move documents to a common area where they or their designees can access the documents easily. (I expect Microsoft to eventually integrate its IntelliMirror technology with the myDocuments service, thus enabling a user to specify desktop folders that will automatically synchronize with myDocuments. It also makes sense for Microsoft to ultimately provide the document revision and check-in/check-out capabilities provided by its SharePoint portal services product as part of this service.)
  • myWallet is a universal electronic payment service. In theory, the myWallet service could be used not only for online purchases but also for brick-and-mortar transactions. For example, a grocery store cash register could send a SOAP message to myWallet requesting payment, and the user could authorize the payment by accessing myWallet through a local Web access device, such as a PDA. (This has some interesting integration possibilities with products like the American Express Blue card, which has an electronic chip embedded in the card. By adding a card reader to your PC—which AMEX is now giving away—you could use the myWallet service to read and update your Blue card at the time of purchase, adding an additional layer of online security.)

The remaining services are geared toward configuring the HailStorm experience and include myApplicationSettings, myFavoriteWebSites, myDevices, myServices, and myUsage.

How do I share my HailStorm information?
Once users have configured their HailStorm accounts, another user, application, or device must request access before information can be shared. The HailStorm user can then allow the requester read-only or update privileges, either for onetime use or continual access. For example, users could choose to give family members update access to myCalendar and give friends read-only access to myCalendar on a continual basis. Business associates, however, might only have access to free/busy data on request.

Business applications for HailStorm
As the CIO or technology strategist for your organization, it’s likely that you face problems with collecting data from customers, notifying them about their orders, scheduling meetings or deliveries, or collecting fees. HailStorm integration will make it easier to manage all of these activities without having to build the infrastructure yourself.

You may also want to use HailStorm’s Web services to promote your company’s products and services, or you can opt to create Web services such as myOpenInvoices or myScheduledAppointments that can integrate with the base HailStorm services to improve your ability to communicate with your customers or vendors.
Do you see HailStorm as a way to extend your Internet presence, or do you see it as another way for Microsoft to encroach on your business? Would you allow Microsoft to store and manage your personal data? Will you ultimately be willing to pay for these services? Send me an e-mail or start a discussion below.

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