IBM and Computer Associates teamed up at a key web services standards meeting yesterday in a surprise rebuff to a submission by Hewlett-Packard.
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|Standards efforts on web services management may ultimately bring interoperability across the full spectrum of systems management software:|
- IBM, CA and HP have made opposing web services management proposals to OASIS
- The end game is to manage all IT assets using web services standards
- The first step is to agree standards for managing web services
- The larger vendors are also keen to win credibility in web services
- Customers of smaller vendors should track standards progress
Glossary terms: WSDM, OASIS, systems management, services management, W3C, lookup tool
At stake is the future development path of IT management software. Although the initial purpose of the rival proposals is merely to establish standards that govern web services manageability, the ultimate aim is to roll out the same standards as a foundation for the entire IT management spectrum not just management of web services, but management of other IT assets through web services.
The established systems management giants are also hoping that, by shifting the emphasis back to the wider management framework, they can recapture the market advantage they've currently ceded in web services management to smaller specialist vendors.
HP had grabbed headlines on July 21st, when it formally announced it would submit its Web Services Management Framework to the web services distributed management (WSDM) committee of e-business standards body OASIS. The HP submission had the backing of eight other developers on the committee, including Sun, Oracle, BEA, Iona, Tibco and webMethods.
Two companies that were missing from that consortium, however, were HP's systems management rivals IBM and CA. Apparently caught on the hop by the timing of HP's public announcement, they joined forces with web services management specialist Talking Blocks to present their own vision, dubbed WS-Manageability, to the OASIS meeting. But whereas HP released a detailed specification and supporting white papers, its rivals who have refused to comment publicly on the move were only able to make a presentation outlining their position, with the promise of a more detailed submission in the near future.
Speaking to Loosely Coupled
after the meeting, the committee's co-chair, Winston Bumpus of Novell, was quick to deny the split meant another standards war is about to break out. The stakes are too high, he argues while admitting there might be some "challenges" ahead once the details of the second submission are known.
"The definition of management and manageability of web services is the goal of both submissions, and the use of WSDL is also a common thread," says Bumpus. "From what I can see, it looks like they're very similar and not competitive approaches." Al Smith, CTO of HP's web services management organization, adds that HP's first impression is that there's very little technical gap between the submissions.
The WS-Manageability proposal stems from work that IBM, Computer Associates and Talking Blocks have done for another standards group, the W3C Web Services Architecture Working Group. A primary concern is to make full use of other emerging "WS-*" web services standards, such as WS-Policy, that form part of the generic web services platform. Any proposed management standard should not stray from its core management mission, they warn, either into defining elements of the generic infrastructure, or into specifying aspects of management applications.
For the moment, the implications for users of yesterday's events at OASIS remain largely academic. But the ultimate outcome of these seemingly esoteric discussions will have enormous significance down the road. Standardization is essential to allow for true interoperability between management software suites from different vendors, something that's hitherto never been achieved in the systems management field, which is dominated by proprietary interfaces and protocols.
Agreement on standards will mean that manageability can be built into web services at design stage, without being tied to a specific vendor's management platform. Users will then be able to link web services into their management infrastructure, even if the services in question originate from a separate environment that uses different management software.
Once this has been proven for web services, the next step will be to extend the same web services management standards to other IT assets, bringing them into the same interoperable management architecture, and paving the way toward full interoperability between the major vendors' management suites.
That second step remains well in the future, but the first step is not so far away, if all goes according to plan. A final web services management specification is due to be released by the OASIS committee in January 2004 comparatively fast for the standards world and all eyes will now be on the technical details of the next submissions and the willingness of the protagonists to establish common ground. The IT industry's track record in agreeing standards is pretty poor, and the risk is that web services will go the way of the Unix operating system, for example, which mutated into numerous different versions as suppliers tried to optimize it for their own environments.
The irony of this particular standards battle is that none of the big three systems management vendors IBM, HP and CA can claim to be leading the field in web services management. It is specialists such as Actional, Amberpoint, Talking Blocks and Infravio who have been making all the running in terms of delivering production software into user deployments, with each of them able to point to several reference customers.
HP, in contrast, is still preparing to announce its first OpenView web services reference customer in August. In addition, HP's Joe McGonnell said the company expects to have a lighthouse customer ready to demonstrate its impact analysis capability in November. This co-development with Tibco adds a business dimension to service management, allowing customers to use HP's OpenView console to monitor an event within the Tibco environment and if the business processes have been mapped to the underlying infrastructure send messages to explain the impact it will have on a specific step of any process.
But despite the lack of user reference sites, all three of the big vendors more than make up for it in market presence and marketing muscle, and the latest moves to seize the standards high ground are clear attempts by each player to be seen to be grabbing the initiative. By emphasizing management through web services, the established systems management giants can gain recognition in the web services arena while broadening the issue out to play to their own strengths.
This poses a threat to the fledgling market superiority of the smaller web services management specialists, who've remained focused on grappling with the practical challenges in management of
web services. Some had little advance knowledge of the latest standards moves.
But the developments also represent an opportunity for them to demonstrate, by adhering to the standards as they evolve, that customers can safely choose to stay with them without fear of getting locked into proprietary solutions.
"Web services are a new resource type in the world of today's application development and integration," says Mark Potts, CTO of Talking Blocks. "As such they require management capabilities, many of which are new, exposed in a model specific to web services." He advises users to keep a watchful eye on the WSDM committee process (in which Talking Blocks is itself a participant).
"I think anyone who is deploying web services should be watching the work going on in this group and ensuring that they understand the new and difficult requirements they will face when managing their web service deployments," he says. "Management is key to a successful outcome to these deployments obviously by picking a web service management solution from one of the vendors driving the standards work will mean utilizing solutions that more closely track the standards and needs in the arena."
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