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Testing Tools Are Key To Web Services' Success

Early adopters are finding value in the new breed of products
Online retailer 1-800-Flowers.com Inc. is implementing XML as a standard interface for its systems and recently built Soap-based middleware for accessing information from its various data sources. That's particularly important, considering the company's acquisitions in the past few years, including Hearthsong, Magic Cabin Dolls, Plow & Hearth, and the Popcorn Factory. The company has standardized on Mercury Interactive's products for functional and performance testing, and uses Bean Tester from Empirix for testing the JavaBeans themselves.

The online retailer's Soap middle layer will let it decouple front-end user interfaces from transactions, with the result being that developers will be able to write less code, and the customer experience will be improved. This month, 1-800-Flowers plans to roll out a new Popcorn Factory Web site that has the same code base as 1-800-Flowers. "Right now, if you look at the Popcorn Factory site, the navigation, look, and feel are very different, but it'll become the same as the 1-800-Flowers site," says Enzo Micali, the company's senior VP and chief technology officer.

Mercury Interactive's tools play an important role in measuring the performance and functionality of that Soap middle tier, Micali says. "The challenge is that it doesn't become a bottleneck. It becomes a critical business component, so it has to be highly available."

Development-tool vendor Rational Software is creating application function-testing capabilities for its Web-services development tool. But Sam Guckenheimer, senior technology director for Rational's automated software group, wouldn't disclose a time frame for its availability. Those capabilities will let developers test under-construction applications for their response time and throughput. Last month, Rational debuted MQTester, a Rational Suite TestStudio plug-in for performance-testing Web services developed for IBM's WebSphere MQ messaging system.

Large-scale, distributed Web-services applications present testing challenges for companies such as Covarity Inc., which develops applications for financial-services companies, including .Net Web services used to connect borrowers and loan providers. "You don't control the configurations," CTO Jeff Fedor says. "You don't control the environment as much as you do in an enterprise. We're surprised every day by user configurations."

Covarity uses Rational's XDE Web-services development tool and the vendor's Purify tool to check new Web-services applications for memory leaks, Quantify to test newly developed code for performance bottlenecks, and Robot for load-testing.

Since it isn't possible to test a Web-services application in conjunction with all the other applications it might ultimately work with, that makes it all the more important to get a Web-service application right during development, Fedor says. "It pushes testing earlier into the process. It's really part of your development process," he says. Web services are also updated and deployed more frequently than conventional enterprise applications, and that creates another challenge for testers.

Peter Varhol, a product manager for Compuware's DevPartner Studio development toolset, agrees. Performance-testing Web-services applications before they're deployed is particularly important, he says. Testing how a Web-services application will work with other applications is often impossible, given that Web services aren't tightly coupled. This means that tuning individual Web-services components and eliminating bugs early in the software's life cycle becomes all the more critical.

Compuware recently began shipping a release of its DevPartner Studio development toolset for building and testing Web-services applications based on Microsoft's .Net framework. Built-in integration and performance testing locate errors in source code.

Questra Corp., which makes software for remote management of medical instruments and other devices, is building Web-services capabilities into its offerings. The company is using Empirix's FirstAct 2.0, which was designed to simulate real-world demands on Web services, to give customers the ability, for example, to link a medical device to any billing system, so a customer's bill could be automatically produced based on use of the device.

Illustration by Federico Jordan

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