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Flamenco Supports Web Services

Startup provides security, authentication, and performance monitoring for new services
Web services, a new school of software that lets applications talk to each other seamlessly over the Web, have barely registered as a glimmer in the eyes of most IT managers. But already, startups are launching products that make these services easier to set up and use.

Flamenco Networks, founded last year by former Bell Labs veteran David Spicer, last week introduced a service to provide security, authentication, performance monitoring, and other housekeeping tasks involved in deploying Web services. While emerging standards such as XML and the Simple Object Access Protocol have made it possible to create Web services, establishing actual connections between applications, encrypting the messages they exchange, and ensuring delivery all add to the cost and time of implementing these services.

Flamenco says it can reduce costs and development time with a small piece of software installed at the customer site that intercepts messages a customer's Web-service application sends, compresses and encrypts them, attaches a digital certificate, and routes them to the intended recipients via Flamenco's peer-to-peer network, where they're decompressed and decrypted. Information about each transaction is sent to Flamenco's central network-management system, which provides performance monitoring, alerts users to errors, verifies message delivery, and tracks which Web services are connected to each other. Setup fees start at $10,000; monthly fees start at $500 per connection.

For now, most companies are interested in creating Web services to integrate applications within their own organizations, rather than with outside parties, Flamenco says. Gartner analyst Daryl Plummer doesn't expect to see broad adoption of Web services until 2003 or later because the standard protocols that underlie them are still being worked out. The question is whether startups such as Flamenco can survive that long.

"It's a new company in a new market," Plummer says. "In these hard economic times, it's going to be difficult."