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In the Age of Smart Infrastructure, page 2

During the past 30 years, we have seen the Internet change from a basic set of transport protocols to an expansive application platform that supports complicated transactions and large-scale data transport. But during the past two years we have seen the rise of a completely new type of Internet service. This is the concept of the "Web Service," a structured set of data that can be discovered, authenticated, bundled and used without any particular client interface and without direct human interaction.

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Focus on Core Competencies

Web Services provide a common interface and structure to pass data and provide services. This is forcing companies to rethink their core competencies and how they can best leverage the ability of someone else to deliver a portion of their total product. A classic example of this is authentication. Currently every vendor and subscription service on the Web has a different method of establishing a user's identity. As a practical matter every user must re-establish their identity and password with every vendor each time they use a resource.

If you think of identity as a Web Service, you can imagine a new paradigm. With Web Services, instead of building their own authentication mechanism, vendors simply use an outsourced service that provides the authentication function. The end user is freed from having to maintain another new identity and the vendor doesn't have to perform identification and authentication management. Another example is that of a security service. Data could be checked for malicious code or viruses by a Web Service that provides this type of checking delivered via the Internet.

This is going to create new opportunities for companies to provide new types of Web Services as well as for other companies that take advantage of partnering with these new Web Service providers. Companies can now focus on the technical advantages or value proposition they can provide to the marketplace.

Once you've crossed the threshold of deploying a Web Service, then the availability of that service becomes a critical consideration. Any site wanting to consume authentication or security services then becomes dependent on the Web Service to maintain its business. Anyone in the position of consuming a Web Service has to be concerned with the end user experience, availability and the response of the vendor to traffic "spikes" in demand. At we experience this demand spike every time a new computer virus is unleashed on the Internet. A Web Services provider must have the technical underpinnings to provide, measure and control provision of Web Services to their customer-no matter where they happen to be on the Internet.

Importance of Service Level Agreements

As a consumer of Web Services a business needs to evaluate its partners' technical infrastructure as well as put into place Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that define everyone's expectations. Service Level Agreements need to detail what a business or end user can expect, how that expectation is measured and the consequence of not meeting the agreement. Using SLAs allows us to forge strong partnerships with no surprises since these partnerships form an integral part of our business. The security of the transaction and the partner also becomes a critical factor in using Web Services. Security on the Internet is a Web of Trust that requires everyone be on the same page-one vulnerable element can lead to the compromise of all the other elements. Security means maintaining current configurations and patches and, more importantly, good practices and policies. These are then measured by periodic audits that ensure that security is a forethought and built into the business. Much like infrastructure, security can become a differentiator for a business.

An End User View of the Internet

Today, the Internet is a partner driven infrastructure. We all use various partners for activities such as taking payments, conducting chats, even hosting the basic Internet server itself. Web Services takes this concept and extends it dramatically by allowing for ad-hoc relationships. Now you can actually program the Internet through XML and build complex applications based on Web Services that exist on the network rather than locally on any one particular server. These services can be assembled on the server or can be assembled on the client, such as a PC or PDA. The concept of being able to coordinate services on the client allows for an improved user experience.

The other view of a connected Internet is that we can't deliver our services without the basic connectivity or help of our partners. Since we now must focus on the user experience we have to understand and monitor the entire supply chain all the way to the end user. Companies ignore this at their own peril. We now have the technology and the services available to provide a high quality of service to our end users.

Web Services provide a loosely coupled means of building more complex services across the Internet. Since we now have more building blocks to work with we can build complex solutions more quickly. As a result, we can deliver innovative applications that focus on the "value add," rather than on just putting the basics of security or authentication into place. In the model of a smarter infrastructure, you can take something as basic as some bit of intellectual property and wrap around that authentication, digital rights management, security and payment that are assembled on the client's computing device in real time without the direct support of the originator.

Something as simple as a low-end text editor can be used to assemble a Web Service that can be used on a wide variety of devices. Even less sophisticated end users can assemble Web Services to build very sophisticated applications, much as they build macros or scripts today in closed office systems. Another major unheralded benefit is that we are now closer to the potential of "reuseable" software modules. It doesn't matter what language you program in or what platform you are using; you can now use common applications such as security, authentication, calendaring or thousands of other potential Web Services.

One of the major challenges that you face when providing any type of content or service across the Internet is measuring the experience you deliver to your end users. In the past few years two significant trends have emerged to give us a better handle on this issue. The first is the growth of extensive monitoring networks that can measure Internet availability and response time from a number of geographically disperse locations. These services can alert when problems arise but can also provide long term quantitative measures of how well a Web site or a Web Service performs down to the transaction level. Another major accomplishment has been the rise of Content Delivery Networks. These consist of large networks of geographically dispersed servers that actively take content from Web sites and cache that content to be then served on the end users machine. Again this allows us to not only fix last mile issues to the end user, but also provides a broad platform to measure Internet availability and latency given the reach and nature of these services.

The concept of end user measurement is an important element of building SLA's that actually relate to deliverables to the actual end user and not based on some construct that doesn't relate to that user's experience. We now have objective measures from independent third parties that provide a baseline service metric.

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Copyright 2001, Reprinted by permission.


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