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Actional offers self-healing in new Web services lineup

Actional has released a revamped version of its Web services management platform that one analyst says helps developers and IT systems staff get along better.

Actional Corp. today released a revamped version of its Web services management platform that includes a combined XML firewall/Web services broker product and a platform-wide tool to self-heal performance problems on networks that deliver Web services.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Actional is targeting large enterprises with version 5.0 of its suite of products.

James Phillips, Actional's chief strategist and senior vice president of products and marketing, said the company's self-healing technology, called Actional Service Stabilizer, is a two-part system.

The first is a "mitigation switch" that can help an organization define and set a policy for terms such as "overloaded." For example, a financial services company could create a policy for what it considers "overloaded" when a Web services transaction takes longer than a set amount of time.

"Mitigation actions" follow this and are triggered automatically when these thresholds are exceeded for a Web service. A corrective action might be to provision new server space or update a load balancer.

This can be done automatically, but for those administrators who don't feel comfortable giving the system that kind of control, they can opt to be notified of a change in conditions and "throw the switch" themselves on a set of recommended actions. When the Web service's conditions return to what is defined as "normal," the system can automatically revert to previous settings.

Helping developers and operations get along

Jasmine Noel, principal analyst with JNoel Associates, a Boston-based IT research and consulting firm, said the self-healing capabilities should have appeal for both the developer and IT operations communities because they bring "dynamic infrastructure" closer to reality.

"One reason why dynamic infrastructure doesn't exist today is that developers and operations haven't worked well together," she said. "Developers create something that works in the lab; only later when it is deployed does operations discover its performance limitations. The goal is to eliminate this negative feedback loop by architecting the application to change when performance tanks."

Built-in XML firewall

Actional has also released two new products within its management suite.

One is SOAPStationEdge, which is sold as an add-on to its SOAPStation Web services broker. The broker sits between the requester and the provider of a Web service to intercept messages, analyze them and enforce security policies. SOAPStationEdge takes that functionality and adds an XML firewall, which customers normally have to buy separately and integrate with their Web services broker.

"We're not mandating, by any stretch, that customers have to do this," Phillips said. "We're just giving customers an option, a different architectural approach that we think brings a lot of cost benefit to the customer."

He said that having a combined broker and XML firewall is not only cheaper than buying them separately, but it also provides better performance because it eliminates duplicating steps such as unpacking an XML message, parsing it and then repacking it.

"The document has a heck of a lot less overhead as it moves through the organization," Phillips said.

Web services monitoring

The other new product in the platform is the Looking Glass MyServicesPortal, a browser-based dashboard that Phillips said allows a customer to identify the components of the Web services that they want to monitor -- "and to do it in a way that's easy to digest."

Phillips said Actional's new offerings are "100% compliant" with the Web Services Interoperability (WS-I) Organization's Basic Profile 1.0, and supports a range of Web services standards.

The components within Actional's platform are normally sold separately. SOAPStation 5.0, the Web services broker, costs $50,000 for a two-CPU deployment. To add SOAPStation Edge costs an extra $10,000 for the same CPU deployment.

Noel said Actional's main competitors in this space are AmberPoint Inc., Confluent Software Inc. and Blue Titan Software Inc.

General release of the updated Actional platform is scheduled for November. The products are currently in beta.


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