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Ambiguity surrounds Web services management

Ambiguity surrounds Web services management

The number of startups offering Web services management tools seems to increase daily, but today's need for those tools seems unclear as most companies are only beginning to experiment with Web services.

A number of companies, such as Grand Central Communications Inc., Flamenco Networks Inc., Blue Titan Software Inc., Talking Blocks Inc. and Infravio Inc., are working on or have released software products as of late to help companies monitor, fix or improve their Web services.

Oakland, Calif.-based AmberPoint Inc. is the latest company to enter the market with its Management Foundation software. It is designed to add access control, performance monitoring and manageability requirements to a Web service, which can be challenging to do because of the technology's newness and rapid evolution.

"When you're building a Web service, you realize there's a whole set of service-oriented issues that you have to address," said John Hubinger, AmberPoint's president and chief executive.

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Hubinger said any one of the many variables in a Web service transaction, such as a rich message payload, a message transformation error or an authentication failure, can easily cause a Web service to fail. Management tools such as AmberPoint's can, among other things, alert a company when its Web service fails to meet one or more established criteria.

"To be production ready, you'll have to build his type of infrastructure yourself, or get it from a vendor," Hubinger said.

However, widespread Web services adoption may still be years away. According to Meta Group analyst Daniel Sholler, there isn't a clear need for Web services management software today.

"There's no question [Web services management] is going to become a much bigger issue," Sholler said. "Right now people are dealing with building Web services, but the ability to manage them is going to become far more important as these things become commoditized."

Ravi Panja, chief technology officer for systems integrator InSync Information Systems Inc. in Fremont, Calif., uses AmberPoint's software to help manage Web services. He said having management software allows him to customize Web services without writing a lot of custom code.

"If we wanted to create a summary sheet of all the purchase orders that arrived today or this week, with AmberPoint I can quickly go and write a screen to summarize all the data," Panja said.

Without additional management software, he said his and other large companies would be forced to embark on costly, labor-intensive custom development projects each time a Web service needed to be changed.

Panja said soon more companies will use Web services management tools as a way to reign in the technology, and as a way to ensure Web services investments realize their potential.

"This is still fairly early on and people are experimenting, but people are starting to build and leverage this technology," said Panja, but he added that the Web services management market "is going to be pretty tremendous."

Sholler said that most organizations that are trying out Web services have not yet attempted to scale their infrastructures, so they are not yet experiencing the problems that Web services management vendors are attempting to address.

While demand may increase, it seems certain that the segment will face consolidation at some point. Hubinger said in 12-18 months there will not be upward of 15 Web services management companies as there are today, but this is the time when the market share battle will be won and lost.

"While it's an early adopter market, there are significant systems out there. So as an early vendor, we have to capture some of those first customers," said Hubinger. "As we do that and we see this market mature, we want to make sure people are aware of us on their roadmaps."

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"Given the immaturity of the market, those who can hold off on making technology acquisitions should hold off doing so," said Sholler, but that doesn't mean companies can safely look the other way.

"Companies need to be cognizant of what goes into Web services management functions," Sholler added. "Quite a few Web services projects are going to be focused on creating what may already be in these management packages."

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