Web services: The universal glue

Truly effective interoperability is the big promise held out by web services, but that will only be delivered through a holistic...

Truly effective interoperability is the big promise held out by web services, but that will only be delivered through a holistic management approach.

Web services technology is, above all, an interoperability mechanism. What makes it so compelling is that it promises to address a multitude of integration challenges facing organisations and become a "universal glue".

Securing the interactions between web service providers and consumers is, or should be, a key concern. Whether embarking on your first project or about to move into the production or deployment phase, you should also be concerned about managing web services.

The most important point to recognise is that web services management is complex, even though it shares a common set of requirements with traditional systems management. The characteristics that make web services so compelling also make them difficult to manage, requiring a new architectural approach and a different set of capabilities.

But there are viable alternatives. A large number of new entrants have recognised the opportunity presented by web services management. A smaller, but still significant number of them have experienced management teams and proven experience in distributed systems and, in some cases, web services. This experience has been exploited to obtain funding and to design a set of comprehensive web services management products that can be used on current web services projects.

Users must avoid creating an island of web services management. Effective management of your web services project depends on a holistic management view of your web services and the components and underlying infrastructure on which they depend.

The value of your web services management system must not be diminished by inadequate integration with your existing management products, especially as the supplier landscape - although starting to consolidate - is still fragmented.

Enterprise systems management suppliers have credible roadmaps for extending their products to provide web services management. A number of them have employed specialists to accelerate the evolutionary process. Consolidation will continue as a result of acquisitions and failure of some new entrants, in what is a highly competitive but small market.

Software infrastructure suppliers are partnering with specialists and enterprise systems management suppliers to meet their users' needs, while waiting to assess the impact of web services management standards. Then there is Microsoft. Tactically, the company is extending its Operations Manager in the short term but its strategic vision rests with Longhorn and the Dynamic Systems Initiative.

When planning a web services implementation and your web services management requirements, think first about your usage scenario. You must address web services management alongside other project demands, and adopt a rigorous approach to assessing management needs in the light of your project requirements.

Remember there are no standards for web services management. A single standards body, Oasis, with broad supplier support is addressing the issue. However, it will be a long time before a comprehensive set of requirements materialises.

You could outsource web services management to a third party, but this is not feasible in the short term. The lack of common use cases and of a comprehensive standards framework means that a viable one-to-many business model is still a long way off. Maintain a watching brief and pay particular attention to the strategies of Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

Neil Macehiter is research director at analyst group Ovum

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