Microsoft plans foray into Web services management

Microsoft Corp.’s effort to become a bigger player in the systems management market will extend to Web services as early as next year, but more likely around 2006 with the next Windows server release, company executives disclosed.

Eric Rudder, senior vice-president of servers and tools at Microsoft, told Computerworld that the company plans to have “compelling offerings” to help users both manage Web services and use them to manage their other systems.

Start-ups have gotten the early jump in the fledgling Web services management market, but new offerings are expected by year’s end from Computer Associates International Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

Microsoft plans to enter the Web services management field by using technology in a future version of the Windows server operating system and by developing valued-added products that will fall under the System Center banner.

System Center will combine Microsoft’s two main management offerings, Systems Management Server and Microsoft Operations Manager. A suite that bundles them is due next year, and the fully integrated product is targeted for 2006 or later, said David Hamilton, director of Microsoft’s enterprise management division.

But Microsoft has kept its Web services management plans under wraps. Hamilton said Microsoft has been meeting with customers to try to get an understanding of their needs in that area and assess how those needs may differ from traditional client/server management issues.

“Our desire is really to try and find the customer pain point before we jump into the middle of Web services management,” Hamilton said. He said short-term issues may be addressed next year in the System Center suite, and long-term user needs will be tackled later in the integrated product.

Until now, small vendors that focus on varying aspects of Web services management have done much of the customer courting. But by year’s end, CA’s Unicenter Web Services Distributed Management and HP’s OpenView Web Services Management Engine should be ready. IBM’s Tivoli division and BMC Software Inc. also have been adding Web services capabilities to existing offerings.

It’s unclear how much those vendors’ head starts will hurt Microsoft. An IT architect at a manufacturing company that has been building Web services using Microsoft tools said his team had to move ahead with products that are working now. He said he will have to carefully evaluate Microsoft’s offerings.

“The real question will be the maturity. The start-ups out there are really galloping away,” said the IT architect, who asked not to be identified. “But everybody is at least going to have to pay attention to what Microsoft offers. When that elephant steps in the room, it doesn’t matter how many mice have stepped in the room before (it).”

Few companies have built so many Web services that they have begun seeking tools to manage them. Analysts said demand is just starting to emerge, and they don’t expect it to become widespread for another year or two.

Christopher Casgar, a senior architect at Wipro Ltd., said the firm’s Newton, Mass.-based NerveWire division has been building Web services for companies in the financial, manufacturing and retail industries. But clients are just “kicking the tires” when it comes to Web services management, he said.

William Norman, assistant vice-president of research and presentation services at OppenheimerFunds Inc. in New York, said his company has found the management capabilities of its application server from BEA Systems Inc. to be sufficient to manage its dozen internal Web services.

Likewise, John Morrison, CIO at Motor Coach Industries Inc. in Schaumberg, Ill., said his company uses its IBM WebSphere application server and homegrown tools to manage its Web services and has HP’s OpenView and Tivoli products for overall systems management. He said he doesn’t see the management of Web services as separate from other management needs.

“The ideal world is that they include it all in one big package and keep it all at the same price,” Morrison said. “But (offering) separate products is not bad, depending on how they’re going to license and price it.”

Carroll Pleasant, an associate analyst in the emerging technologies group at Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, Tenn., said there’s no consensus about what a Web services management tool should do. So far, his company has seen a need to manage the security model, the orchestration between Web services, the debugging and monitoring of services, fail-over capabilities, caching and data transformation. But Pleasant said he found a set of confusing choices from small start-ups when he looked for a vendor.

Corey Ferengul, an analyst at Meta Group Inc., said the major vendors are investing in Web services management standards before they make a more serious foray into the space. CA, HP and IBM are all involved in work with the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards.

“We haven’t done a very good job of managing traditional client/server applications,” said Cameron Haight, an analyst at Gartner Inc. “Now Web services applications take that to yet another layer of complexity.”