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Slow progress on web services management

by Keith Rodgers
June 16th, 2003

Leading systems management vendors are keen to reassure customers their products will manage web services. But early adopters face a frustrating wait for those promises to become reality.

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HP, IBM and CA have ambitious plans for adding web services capabilities to their IT management offerings, but progress will be slow:
  • Many products from the leading vendors are at an early development stage
  • Standards for linking separate management platforms won't be agreed till next year
  • Vendors are keen to add a business perspective to technology management
  • Specialist vendors offer proven services management tools
  • But big vendor support for specialist tools is uncertain

Glossary terms: systems management, WSDM, services management, BAM, OASIS, lookup tool

Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Computer Associates have all committed significant resources to extending their systems management capability into web services. It's not just that they're keen to bring this fast-growing new aspect of IT infrastructure into the systems management fold. They see many opportunities to offer new capabilities, ranging from measuring the business impact of technology failures to introducing sophisticated ways of controlling services outside the corporate firewall.

Such moves are in various stages of development, however, and the established giants are not the only players in the field. As they work to plug the gaps in their offerings, they will have to partner with, compete against and perhaps acquire several of the pureplay specialists who focus on this sector.

The result for users is likely to be an uncomfortable mix of incomprehension and frustration over the next twelve months. Only a small number of early adopters are at the stage where they need to implement web services management, although a growing number recognize they will need to confront the issue as the volume of deployed services increases. For these companies, concepts such as business impact analysis are still way off the radar. Delays to product releases and standards agreements could prove bigger impediments to their projects, particularly in the introduction of inter-company services.

The management vendors share a growing sense of urgency, but they aren't panicking yet. Al Smith, CTO of HP's web services management organization, points out that several of the drivers to adoption are in place today, but he says he doesn't expect significant revenues from web services management until the latter part of next year or even 2005. Which is probably just as well. As Smith tells it, when customers started to adopt web services last summer, HP asked itself whether it was able to manage them:

"The answer was clearly no," he says. "And what did we know about what it means to manage a web services environment? The answer was, 'Not much'."

Different execution
From a management perspective, the key tasks that customers need to carry out in a web services environment are very similar to traditional IT management. They include:
  • Making services available to the right users, which requires authentication and authorization.
  • Capturing information about usage, so that it can be allocated or ultimately billed to the right user (whether a department or another application).
  • Measuring the quality of service (such as response time) against service level contracts.

But while the requirements are similar, execution is very different. One problem is that many aspects of management in traditional environments are carried out in a proprietary manner — which is clearly unsuitable for a standards-based web services environment, where multiple types of applications need to communicate with one another. More importantly, traditional infrastructure management takes place behind a corporate firewall, where every component is under the IT department's control. As Dmitri Tcherevik, VP in the office of the CTO and technology strategist at Computer Associates, points out, the big challenge in web services is managing an environment that's outside your control.

That view is reinforced by Heather Kreger, web services lead architect at IBM. She says it all boils down to "manageability": how difficult it is to get the necessary information about the different web services resources. Such challenges are most visible in a multiple enterprise environment, and include:

  • Identifying applications that cross boundaries;
  • Gaining visibility between corporations;
  • Managing service agreements;
  • Determining the causes of IT problems.

These issues are now in the hands of standards groups such as OASIS, where both the traditional systems management specialists and leading pureplay vendors like Actional, AmberPoint and Talking Blocks are attempting to hammer out agreement in the Web Services Distributed Management (WSDM) committee, of which Kreger is co-chair. A first draft of a standard, covering issues such as metrics and the way that information is accessed, is not expected until next January.

Business over technology
In addition to these technical hurdles, CA's Tcherevik suggests that organizations will also be battling with business challenges. By its very nature, the use of web services opens up an organization's business operations to the outside world, making risk management a significant concern. In addition, organizations themselves have to be responsive to change if they are to take advantage of the flexibility of web services, so users are going to need tools that will help them make their own business processes more agile.

Systems management software can help overcome these challenges, provided the technology management is tied back to business need. Tcherevik, for example, talks about extracting the business information contained within a SOAP message — such as the size of an order — and packaging it for real-time business activity monitoring (BAM).

HP is similarly looking to contextualise its technology management. Rather than merely reporting a problem with a network, for example, its application impact analysis will warn that the outage will affect a specific application. Going one stage further, it seeks to alert business users that the application is part of a particular business process and may impact the completion of a critical task. As such, Smith says, web services management moves beyond the people who manage IT resources and addresses the people who manage the business.

But to leverage this kind of capability, customers need to have total control over their resources and service levels, and be able to map a couple of dozen steps that make up each relevant business flow. Adoption of this kind of advanced service is clearly some way off down the line, given that HP's half-dozen "lighthouse" web services customers — on parade along with new versions of its OpenView management suite at the vendor's software conference in Chicago this week — are not due to go into production with their first projects until later this summer.

Who to choose?
As the mainstream management players expand into the web services arena, users will need to weigh up whether to sign up with one of the pureplay specialists, who lead the way in services management today, or wait until their incumbent management vendor has fleshed out its product suite with the promised web services capabilities.

The key argument levied by the major suppliers is that web services management should be seen as a part of an overall management and security strategy, and that management of the underlying infrastructure stack, from systems and network to databases and applications, is as relevant to the web services it supports as it is to the traditional IT environment. End-to-end management, they claim, is critical. The specialists, by contrast, point to the fact that their web services-specific architectures and product sets are already being proven in the field.

Ironically, in the long run the distinction may be academic — the mainstream vendors will likely pursue a build and buy strategy, in which they'll partner with and acquire specialists where necessary. In the meantime, early adopters who turn to a specialist today to plug gaps in a larger vendor's systems management infratructure will have to gamble that those future deals won't leave them with an unsupported product combination.

More on this topic


Managing the unexpected
Managing web services requires tools and techniques that organizations have not yet acquired ...


hp OpenView
Home page for HP's systems management suite.

Enterprise management solutions from Computer Associates
Home page for CA's management solutions.

Tivoli Software from IBM
Home page for IBM's systems management suite.


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