Web Services Management: For Shared Apps, a Private Eye

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 2006-10-06

Something's wrong with your Web services—and you probably don't know it yet. That's what can happen when businesses expose applications without deploying tools to manage and monitor their performance.

Commonly mentioned in the same breath as service-oriented architecture, Web services, simply put, are interoperable software applications extended over a network. Whether they're using Web services to link accounting systems or create new customer service capabilities, users agree that the architecture—and aligning information technology with business processes—can deliver benefits like reduced development times and personnel hours.

After an 18-month state electrical energy crisis ended in September 2001, the California Independent System Operator, or ISO, a non-governmental public entity that manages electrical flow along the Golden State's power grid, faced a crisis of its own.

A new tariff changed the way energy was bid for and provided, meaning the ISO had to revamp three-quarters of its business rules and market applications, such as programs that created auctions for power provision and set prices for electrical service, according to senior application architect Doug Walker.

Walker and Walt Johnson, the ISO's principal for technology strategies, agreed that the regulator needed full visibility into the market at all times. They built a service-oriented architecture in 2003 to set up for Web services that would be used for messages small (like those that tell a generator to ramp up production) or large (like one that updates the flow on the entire grid).

They chose Actional's SOAPstation, a software tool that controls message flows across Web services and governs their security and performance, to test and monitor activity across their services. Even though the ISO is still testing some of its 150 services, Walker says his team can set up four monitoring end-points on each service in a matter of minutes with SOAPstation.

Those are powerful results, according to Walker—before going with Actional, setting up similar testing and governance capabilities, in Walker's words, went something like this: "Take our 150 services, multiply by four [end-points], and then each one of those might take an hour to set up and test."

Expanding Market

Actional, purchased this year by Progress Software, was one of a handful of pure-play software providers focused solely on Web services management. For years, early entrants like Actional, AmberPoint and SOA Software battled head-to-head for early adopter customers. According to IDC, the worldwide Web services systems infrastructure software market—which includes Web services management—was $1.02 billion in 2005.

As Web services gained traction, giants like IBM and Oracle unveiled their own offerings, giving the pure-plays a run for their money. Consolidation followed, continuing through today; last month, integration software maker webMethods bought Infravio, an SOA governance vendor, for $38 million. IDC expects the market to swell to $3.91 billion by 2009.

Despite some big-name vendors in the space, some companies have opted to build their own Web services management and monitoring tools. NBC Universal's reason for going solo started with a unique demand: The broadcaster needed a video approval workflow tool that would allow outside parties—like lawyers—to hook into its video editing cycle to check for any malfeasance.

"There wasn't anything out there that suited our need," says David Pugh, vice president of software engineering, referring to available offerings. "Building it from scratch was what was required."

So, his team designed the tool as a Web service in the Java 2 Enterprise Edition framework for application development. As they continued to build services, they built in-house programs to monitor traffic and performance. "I'm sure there were opportunities where we could have looked at packaged solutions," Pugh says. "But I feel like we did it in the only way that made sense for us."

Buyer Beware

Jose Machado, software engineering director for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, is leading a companywide push toward a service-oriented architecture, which should go full throttle in 2007.

In the meantime, the cruise company has adopted more enterprisewide platforms, such as IBM WebSphere, and applications, like Interwoven for content management. It has also moved to a Java 2 Enterprise Edition framework to facilitate application development.

Machado says Royal Caribbean has tinkered with some Web services, but plans to roll more out once the architecture is built. And when it does, he says, management tools will be a necessity. "If you're gonna do Web services seriously, you need to manage them," he says. "Otherwise you'll spend a lot of time, and you may get some technical achievements, but without management, it's not going to be that simple."

Users cite the linkage between information technology and business processes as the key to pursuing an architecture that supports Web services. But before diving in, technology managers warn that deploying this type of environment requires thorough preparation—and ample governance.

Telecommunications giant Verizon began building a service-oriented architecture in-house in 2003 and today uses SOA Software to manage some Web services. Shadman Zafar, senior vice president of information technology, says that on top of the infrastructure and framework, technology managers need to consider capacity, availability and service-level management implications. "Up front, you need to look at the operational part of it," he points out.

When the founders of Edgility Software—which would become AmberPoint—began focusing on their Web services efforts in late 2001, they expected that companies would first adopt the service architectures before buying management tools, much like what happened with server and mainframe management programs years before, according to Ed Horst, AmberPoint's vice president of marketing.

Horst says that's exactly what happened: the rate of Web services adoption picked up faster than the adoption of management tools. But Martin Fisher, vice president of information technology with MedicAlert, which provides identification bracelets and electronic medical histories, believes companies should add monitoring and management tools when they begin using their service architecture, not after.

"Everyone is under pressure to keep the [return on investment] high and the implementation costs low," he says. "And you can basically lose sight of the fact that if you need management tools to do things day to day, you'll need them to do Web services."

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Web Services Management: Performance Check

What It Is: Software tools that monitor and manage run-time performance and security of Web services—Web applications based on eXtensible Markup Language (XML) or Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) that allow companies to exchange data with customers and partners.

Key Players*: Actional (owned by Progress Software), AmberPoint, BEA Systems, CA, IBM, Mercury Interactive (owned by Hewlett-Packard), Oracle, SOA Software, Tibco, webMethods

What's Happening: While the open-environment concepts of Web services and service-oriented architecture have gained popularity in recent years, companies have been slower to adopt third-party tools to manage their performance. A market formerly dominated by pure-play providers like Actional and AmberPoint has been crowded with big-name software players like CA, IBM and Oracle.

Market Size: $1.02 billion in Web services systems infrastructure software market, which includes Web services management, in 2005 (IDC).

Expertise Online: Check out "5 Web Services Lessons Learned" at go.baselinemag.com/Oct06.