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Will David or Goliath manage your Web services?

Before evaluating product features, companies looking at vendors to help manage and secure their Web services need to ask themselves a fundamental question.

With Web services nudging closer to a position as mainstream enterprise technology, organizations need to ask themselves a fundamental question: Should my services be managed through software offered by one of the many startups promising end-to-end management, or is it safer to rely on an established systems management platform that also does Web services management?

Industry analysts say there is no right answer. The choice comes down to what a company is trying to accomplish with its services and what its individual requirements are.

Ted Schadler, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, Cambridge, Mass., said that establishing a service-oriented architecture (SOA) -- the application architecture that many Web services are built upon -- is a complicated process and that, in general, each vendor can "only do a piece of it very well."

But there is no shortage of software makers that are giving it a try. The list of young companies whose technologies purport to monitor, manage and secure enterprise Web services includes Actional Corp., AmberPoint Inc., Blue Titan Software Inc., Confluent Software Inc., Digital Evolution Inc., Flamenco Networks Inc., Infravio Inc., Service Integrity Inc. and Westbridge Technology Inc.

Distinguishing features

Most of these companies spent 2003 actively trying to separate themselves from the pack. For example, the newest version of Westbridge's XML Message Server leverages Microsoft's Excel application to bring Web services data to the desktop. AmberPoint recently forged a partnership with Microsoft to get a slimmed-down version of its software shipped with Microsoft's Visual Studio developer tools. And both Blue Titan and Confluent have crafted their products to natively support BEA Systems Inc.'s popular WebLogic application server.

Jasmine Noel, an analyst with Ptak, Noel & Associates, in Amherst, N.H., said that the Web services management space is no different from any other market: "From the many young companies that start, a few will be acquired, a few will carve out a niche for themselves and the rest will wither away."

Jason Bloomberg heartily agrees. "There are still too many vendors in this space," said the senior analyst from Waltham, Mass.-based ZapThink LLC. "There aren't enough customers to go around."

Bloomberg said that the customer leader among the companies in this area is, by far, AmberPoint, which boasts 30 clients. "If the leader has 30, then you know the market can't support eight vendors," he said. "Come on."

Giant competition

The other, more daunting task for these pure-play Web services management vendors is to stave off competition from Computer Associates International Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., both of which recently entered this space. CA struck first in July with its acquisition of Adjoin Solutions Inc., whose technology now forms the basis for Unicenter WSDM, the Web services component to CA's bread-and-butter Unicenter systems management platform.

Bloomberg said that Unicenter WSDM is an attractive product for large organizations deploying multiple Web services, which is the target audience for most of the companies in this market. "It's really a soup-to-nuts product," he said. "It's going to be the product to beat."

HP, the other major vendor seeking a share of the Web services management pie, has been active as well. In September, the software and hardware giant acquired Talking Blocks Inc. to fold that startup's Web services technology into HP's OpenView systems management product line. It also submitted its Web Services Management Framework to the OASIS standards body for review as a proposed open specification.

What makes the Web services startups attractive acquisition targets is their quality, Schadler said.

"They all have high-quality leadership -- very seasoned leadership," he said. "They all have good funding, sometimes very good funding. And they all have technology feature lists that look and feel about the same."

In it for the long haul

Kerry Champion, president and co-founder of Westbridge Technology, said recently that his company is focused on products, not on positioning itself as a property to be acquired. Westbridge "wasn't built to flip," he said, using a term for a company created for the sole purpose of selling itself to the highest bidder.

An executive from another Web services startup, speaking to a reporter on background, said that his company has been exploring the possibility of being acquired, but for obvious reasons, he couldn't talk about it publicly.

Bloomberg said that if he had to speculate about who might be next, one candidate comes to mind. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if the next acquisition is BEA buying Blue Titan," he said. He said that the two already have a strong partnership and that Blue Titan would be a strong addition to BEA's WebLogic product line.

Other large vendors are likely to get into the buying act in this space, Noel said. She cited BMC Software Inc., IBM, Microsoft, Mercury Interactive Corp. and Veritas Software Corp.

In a recent research report, James Kobielus, a senior analyst with the Burton Group, of Midvale, Utah, said that pure-play Web services management vendors will be "squeezed out" by bigger IT management vendors using the same strategies being employed right now by HP and Computer Associates.

"Over the next several years, traditional IT management vendors will come to dominate the [Web services management] market as they leverage their established customer bases and product families," Kobielus said.

Look at the life cycle

So how should customers winnow the field when choosing software to track the performance and management of their Web services?

"Primarily, I would look for someone who can support you for the entire software life cycle -- development, deployment, management, operations," Noel said. "If the vendor has done their job correctly, the development tools will embed some management stuff -- so that as you move through the life cycle, the software best practices are embedded in there."

And if an organization chooses a startup that later gets acquired, that can actually work in the customer's favor, she said.

"Remember that Web services technology breaks application management as we know it," Noel said. "It is no longer a simple matter of sticking an application agent on a server and, presto, you have a management solution.

"The big vendors all have to deal with that shift, and the small vendors have been taking the risks to determine what type of application-management architectures can really work in this new environment."

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

Article: Standards stalemate shouldn't delay SOA, Gartner says

Best Web Links: Web services specifications

The Web Services Advisor: Web services management

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