Web services use standard technologies such as Soap (simple object access protocol) and XML (Extensible Markup Language) to link different types of enterprise applications together, with the goal of automating business processes in a way that is more affordable and flexible than using proprietary integration technologies.
Almost 20% of businesses have started to deploy web services, according to BT representatives who cited research from analyst group IDC. One of the biggest headaches for them is monitoring and managing those services after they are deployed, said Simon Walker, a manager with BT's global services division.
"The problems you run into are how to implement common standards and policies across the infrastructure," he said. "How do you provide and revoke web services in a common way, how do you provide security, how do you report and log events, and so on?"
The software BT licensed from AmberPoint allows businesses to apply policies to their web services, such as authentication and message logging, and is also intended to make it easier for customers to update applications already deployed without "breaking" their web service capabilities.
AmberPoint's software can also set priorities on transactions, so if performance of an important application lags, resources can be transferred from other applications.
BT will deploy the software on proxy servers at customer premises, and its service staff will track and manage the web services from its central office.
The service is supposed to complement an offering rolled out earlier in the year through a licensing deal with Flamenco Networks, extending what BT calls its Web Services Management Layer.
While the Flamenco service helps customers manage web services that reach outside their corporate firewall, the AmberPoint service is for managing internal web services, Walker said.
However, Rob Hailstone, research director with IDC, said, "It is a bit surprising that BT has had to go to a different vendor to get all the functionality they need,"
"I think the reason Flamenco was chosen is that it's a good architecture to deploy as a hosted service, and in the original model, BT wasn't running the management software themselves, they were having it hosted by Flamenco. It seems that, probably in light of earlier experiences, they've decided to rethink that."
BT's Walker said the company would mix and match the Flamenco and AmberPoint offerings depending on the needs of its customers.
"We selected them based on what we consider to be their respective areas of expertise," he said.
Walker acknowledged that BT faces competition from more established IT services providers such as IBM and Hewlett-Packard. But he argued that the telecommunication company is successfully repositioning itself as a trusted IT service provider.
"We're trying to move up the value chain - aren't we all? But rather than go in as a software play, we're playing on our core competence and going in as a managed services play. Management [of web services] sits logically close to the network," he argued.
BT approaches web services management from a different angle to its competitors in that it owns some of the network over which the services are delivered, IDC's Hailstone agreed.
Web services take away a lot of the interoperability problems, he added. "The downside is it that it raises a new load of management concerns, and that's the problem this service is out to solve."
BT is still ironing out details of how it will price and package the AmberPoint service. It hopes to start rolling it out for customers in Europe in three months' time. It is likely be offered at no extra charge for customers with broader IT service agreements with BT, and also be sold on a standalone basis for other businesses.
BT claimed to have secured some customers already for its Flamenco-based service, although it was not ready yet to discuss them publicly.James Niccolai writes for IDG News Service