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Defining web services management

by Keith Rodgers
November 10th, 2003

The old joke about economists applies just as well to web services management vendors: ask ten of them for a definition and you'll get at least 11 answers.

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Vendors define web services management to play to their individual strengths and mask the gaps in their product portfolios:
  • Web services management embraces a broad range of concepts
  • Microsoft aims to build management into Windows and Visual Studio
  • CA emphasizes security and hosted options
  • Actional draws the line at business activity monitoring
  • Customers must evaluate vendor strengths and weaknesses

Glossary terms: services management, hosted, WSDM, BAM, BPM, lookup tool

Each vendor takes an approach that emphasizes its own strengths, with the result that web services management has become a very fuzzy concept, taking in anything from security and ID management to performance monitoring and analysis of business metrics. "The term web services management is very broad," agrees Kerry Champion, president of Westbridge Technology, one of the sector's specialist vendors. "I personally prefer the term web services middleware," he says.

Last month, Microsoft sought to put its own stamp on the space, weighing in with a series of announcements at its Professional Developers' Conference in Southern California. Its entry into the market was trumpeted from the very top of the organization through set-piece presentations from Bill Gates and Jim Allchin, emphasizing that XML and web services will be at the heart of future versions of the Windows operating system and the company's Visual Studio development tools.

Since Microsoft's strength is its own Windows operating system, the emphasis was on connecting web services in the Windows environment with web services running on other platforms. Four web services management specialists — Actional, AmberPoint, Service Integrity and CA's recently-acquired Adjoin team — announced plug-in packs for the company's management platform, Microsoft Operations Manager (MOM) 2000. MOM was also fitted out with a "connector framework", which provides for links into third-party management platforms from the likes of CA, IBM, HP and smaller vendors such as Aprisma, MetiLinx and NetIQ.

Microsoft also announced a tie-up to bundle AmberPoint Express with the next release of Visual Studio. The new AmberPoint product offers developers easy access to monitoring, logging and testing of web services as they're created in Visual Studio .NET. The initiative is part of a Microsoft drive to "give ourselves and our customers the tools to design applications that are manageable from the get-go," CEO Steve Ballmer had told Gartner analyst David Smith at a conference the week before.

Microsoft's strategy is to get developers interested enough in web services management to build it into their applications right from the start. If they don't, those applications will be seen as less manageable than applications written on other platforms, losing Microsoft much-needed credibility in web services manageability.

This is something Microsoft particularly needs to work at, since it has no legacy as a heavyweight in the management software arena. It is moving into a space where the incumbents — particularly the likes of IBM, Computer Associates and Hewlett-Packard — have a long pedigree and firmly-established presence, even if they themselves have only just woken up to the need to offer tools that cater specifically to web services management.

Bundling security
CA, for example, last month unveiled plans to extend its Unicenter WSDM application, a new product acquired earlier this summer when it bought little-known web services management specialist Adjoin. One of CA's strengths is security, and it aims to leverage that existing expertise by combining web services management and security in a single product. Dmitri Tcherevik, director of web services, says that merging the two functions makes sense from a practical perspective for customers, and allows both to feed off the other. For example, the Unicenter WSDM product already automatically discovers web services, he said, so a combined product would extend the process to securing them.

The new software, slated for delivery in the second quarter of 2004, will have a common portal-based user interface delivering management policies, access control and so forth. CA's biggest challenge when combining the two technologies is to keep it slick: "It's about packaging and making it easy to deploy, and in a way that does not affect performance," says Tcherevik.

CA has ambitions to leverage another area of expertise that may prove more controversial. The company plans to begin offering management as a hosted service next year, either directly or through third party partners. Using web services as the delivery mechanism, it will offer web services management services for organizations that do not want to deploy a specific management solution in-house. CA or its partners would deliver metrics remotely, with urgent alerts delivered via multiple channels, such as messages to mobile phones.

Tcherevik conceded that the plan was still relatively new and that "many issues need to be resolved, mostly on the business side." He argued that one of the benefits of the service was reach — whereas installing a management software solution is only economic for medium and large companies, "with this kind of solution we can target pretty much anybody."

Contrasting views
Smaller web services specialists, just like the larger vendors, are also emphasizing individual strengths. Actional, which sold its adapter business to iWay in early October to focus on services management, added three new capabilities in a new version of its management suite. It extended its SOAPstation product with an optional XML firewall add-in, and announced a Service Stabilizer, which allows customers to define normal operating conditions and pre-define actions that are automatically triggered when problems occur.

Actional's third new module is a browser-based dashboard, MyServices Portal, for performance monitoring. But the vendor cautiously stresses the importance of maintaining a clear separation between services management and higher-level business activity monitoring and process management. "Some web services management vendors are going around saying they give business insight into what's happening — customers say that's nonsensical," argues the company's senior vice president of products and marketing, James Phillips.

"The best way to empower customers with that knowledge is through dashboards that can be built into an application," he says. For example, when monitoring the business process of accepting and checking an order, the best way to monitor that process is from within a business process management package, rather than in a web services management console.

This is an approach that contrasts markedly with the line taken by HP, for example, which actively positions web services management as an integral part of a broader business management strategy.

Such differences of emphasis only serve to illustrate the lack of established best practise in a field where many standards are still only partially defined and most vendors have not yet completed developing their product portfolios. Until clarity emerges, it's up to customers to pick out vendors based on their respective strengths — and to be wary of their individual areas of weakness.

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