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Too few web services to manage

by Phil Wainewright
February 26th, 2003

Startups that specialize in web services management are having to be creative in how they sell to a market that, as yet, perceives little need for their products.

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Low take-up has led web services management vendors to talk up the integration and instrumentation capabilities of their products within a broader SOA context:
  • Few web services implementations are seen as complex enough to require management
  • Infravio is focusing instead on managing web services-based integration
  • Confluent has introduced an instrumentation plug-in for BEA developers
  • The new positioning centers on managing application interactions within an SOA

Glossary terms: systems management, EAI, composite application, SOA, lookup tool

"You typically don't manage things until you realize you have a problem with what you've done," explains Jim Hogan, vice president of business development and strategy at Confluent Software. Although many organizations are building web services applications, they haven't yet reached a stage where the complexity merits investing in management infrastructure, he admits.

"It was very clear to us in the fourth quarter that demand for management products was going to lag the development and appearance of those applications in the marketplace." To tide it over the intervening gap, Confluent is reaching out instead to developers, aiming to persuade them to at least build its instrumentation capabilities into applications from the start, thus reducing the cost of adding this vital foundation component later on when implementing a management infrastructure.

Infravio is another well-known web services management startup, but it too has had to think carefully about its positioning. It will be placing greater emphasis on its integration credentials than its management capabilities following the appointment of a new CEO in January.

Market confusion
The new focus on integration comes in part because of market confusion about what a web services management system actually consists of, says incoming CEO Jeff Tonkel. While Infravio has always been involved in building and deploying web services, it fears that many IT executives view web services management purely as an extension of either operational or systems management. A former vice-president at Tandem Computers and one-time CEO of systems management company Envive, Tonkel took over the helm at Infravio in January.

Web services management is more about managing the interactions between systems rather than the systems themselves, and so positioning Infravio's offerings as an integration play makes sense in terms of where the market is at present. Tonkel says the company will focus on providing capabilities that go beyond the scope of the existing enterprise application integration (EAI) market. He argues that while organizations have deployed EAI technologies to link mission-critical applications, "that left a ton of application integration requirements unfulfilled, where they're too expensive or too difficult. People don't want it to cost as much or be as rigid as core EAI technologies were in the past."

Confluent shares the view that customers are looking for a new approach. Indeed, their dissatisfaction with returns on existing investments in IT have left enterprises wary of embracing web services, says CEO Rajiv Gupta. "Many of them have scars where they had wanted to get something done, and what had stopped them was the IT infrastructure," he says. Line of business managers want to be sure that any new investment in IT does not end up becoming an impediment to business agility. Meanwhile, CIOs have become highly aware of the business repercussions of the decisions they make.

This is the basis of Confluent's emphasis on instrumentation, which embeds the necessary hooks and functions into an application's infrastructure to record data relating to performance, reliability and quality of service. This provides a foundation for visibility into application behaviour at both a systems and a business level, and is thus a prerequisite for effective management control.

"[Customers are saying,] 'We'll play with web services, but we won't deploy them in any commercial sense until we know we can control and manage them'," says Gupta. The company's announcement this week of a plug-in component for BEA's WebLogic Workshop development tool is intended to bridge that gap, by automatically adding instrumentation code to applications as they are built. "We've solved the chicken-and-egg problem by allowing customers to instrument at development time," says Hogan.

Integration projects
Tonkel's view is that enterprises are no longer interested in increasing the number of applications they have in-house — rather, they want to reduce them. The large number of applications they already have in place provides the opportunity to achieve a good return on investment if they can successfully put their integration projects in place, he says.

Confluent's first major contract, closed late last year with one of Wall Street's biggest brokerage firms, bears out that perception. The customer is using its platform to set policy and monitor behaviour over a number of IT assets that feed into a portal, many of them legacy applications that have been wrapped with web services interfaces. "At the back-end they need to aggregate services into the portal, and we are in the middle of that," says Hogan.

He is careful to position Confluent as able to manage services wherever they originate: "I include distributed services and composite applications in that as well as web services." This emphasizes an important point. Web services management isn't just about managing brand new web services applications; it's about managing the interactions that web services enable between many different forms of applications, within a service-oriented architecture (SOA). Web services management vendors are beginning to refine their go-to-market approach so that message rings out more strongly.

Additional reporting by Keith Rodgers

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Web services management is deservedly making headlines ...


Confluent Software Unveils Confluent CORE for BEA
Confluent press release announcing its instrumentation plug-in for BEA Workshop

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