Web Services Are Becoming Manageable

And just in time, too, as interest in the emerging technology picks up

Charles Babcock, Editor at Large, Cloud

July 3, 2003

3 Min Read

Michael Smith, chief technology officer of Forbes.com, is responsible for making sure that updated stock quotes and other data from the magazine's Web site get to Internet service provider EarthLink Inc., which delivers that information to its subscribers' personal financial pages. This Web service must be delivered continuously, except for certain narrowly defined periods of downtime--and if it's not, Forbes.com could find itself in violation of its service-level agreement.

Not too long ago, that almost happened. But Smith had installed a tool, called Network Director 2.0, from Blue Titan Software Inc. to manage Web services. The software reported that a switch behind the applications and servers that made up the service was failing, and Smith was able to replace it before traffic could be affected. "This tool helps us predict potential failure. It helps us do capacity planning" to ensure that choke points, such as application or database servers, can handle future Web-services growth, Smith says. "For us, it's very important."

Blue Titan is just one of a group of startup vendors charging into the Web-services management space. Companies such as Actional, which last week added capacity planning with its introduction of Looking Glass SOA Planner, as well as AmberPoint, Confluent Software, Digital Evolution, Flamenco Networks, and Service Integrity promise to help businesses monitor Web-services traffic, log service events, and apply log-on and authentication routines across a broad range of services. Typically, these products start at $25,000.

Web services are still in their infancy, and related standards such as the Simple Object Access Protocol have yet to be widely deployed. But demand is starting to pick up. As companies add more Web services to their arsenals, the management challenges will only grow. A recent survey of 45 large companies by Nemertes Research found that 70% of respondents said managing Web services is important or critical.

New tools can help companies lower costs, too, by eliminating repetitious coding of processes such as security rules and privileges that must be built into Web services. "You develop it once, then use it for multiple services," says Jason Miller, who is employed by IT services vendor Science Applications International Corp. as head of the Web-solutions development team at energy generator and trader Entergy Corp. Entergy has outsourced IT operations to SAIC. Miller's group is using Actional's Web-services management tool in some pilot projects, which he declined to specify.

Blue Titan helped Forbes.com avoid trouble, CTO Smith says.

The software also is proving valuable for monitoring the ins and outs of XML traffic, Miller says. That gives Entergy a handle on how well applications are responding to produce a Web service.

Yet every time Web-services traffic is rerouted through monitoring and measurement software like these management tools, "you add a little bit of overhead," and adding overhead is anathema to speedy service delivery, says David Akers, Web-service manageability program manager at Hewlett-Packard. "Don't think you can plug it in, and life will be great. Like any instrument, you need to calibrate it" to optimize results, he says.

HP doesn't yet offer a product in this area, but all the big systems- and network-management players say they're headed in that direction. While IBM already has a deal with AmberPoint, neither HP nor competitors such as BMC Software and Computer Associates have partnerships with the startup vendors. It isn't inconceivable that they, too, might pair up. On their own, says Tom Rhinelander, an analyst with technology research firm the New Rowley Group, "it will take awhile for the big players to enhance their offerings."

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About the Author(s)

Charles Babcock

Editor at Large, Cloud

Charles Babcock is an editor-at-large for InformationWeek and author of Management Strategies for the Cloud Revolution, a McGraw-Hill book. He is the former editor-in-chief of Digital News, former software editor of Computerworld and former technology editor of Interactive Week. He is a graduate of Syracuse University where he obtained a bachelor's degree in journalism. He joined the publication in 2003.

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