Web services management software begins to emerge

At this week’s Web Services Edge West 2002 conference in San Jose, Web services management will gain some attention when Actional Corp. launches a product that aims to address a need that’s expected to emerge.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company, as well as a collection of small competitors including AmberPoint Inc. and Talking Blocks Inc., is running ahead of user demand at the moment, according to analysts who cover the space.

But they predict that a need will emerge as firms move beyond the experimentation stage to more complex Web services. They also expect the Big Four systems management vendors – BMC Software Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Computer Associates International Inc. and IBM Corp.’s Tivoli Software division – to start making a bigger play in the Web services management market.

“This category is definitely critical to the success of Web services across the enterprise and between companies,” said Jason Bloomberg, an analyst at ZapThink LLC in Waltham, Mass. “But it’s true that Web services management is facing a bit of a catch-22. You need to have a lot of Web services to justify a Web services management platform.”

In many ways, the experiences of Chris Casgar, a senior technical architect at NerveWire Inc. in Newton, Mass., reflect the degree of Web services activity that many observers have witnessed in corporate IT departments. Casgar said he has worked on about a half-dozen Web services projects where XML-based messages are being transported via Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), remote procedure calls or ebXML protocols to deliver information from one application to another.

“For most clients, it’s an interesting thing to experiment with, but it’s not something they want to go whole hog on,” Casgar said, noting that all the projects involved applications behind corporate firewalls.

But once those Web services involve transactions that extend beyond the firewall, Casgar says he can foresee a need for management software to enable a company to get basic technical information, such as how long a service has been up and who’s connecting to it.

The Actional SOAPstation product being introduced today essentially brokers the connection between a Web service provider and the systems that use the service, helping to match data formats and security models, company officials said. SOAPstation also serves as a central point for controlling access to Web services and ensuring that systems don’t break when a service is changed. It also has monitoring, auditing, alerting and reporting features.

“It sort of bridges the gap between integration and systems management,” said Daryl Plummer, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc.

Actional also makes a product called SOAPswitch, which helps companies turn existing applications into collections of Web services via adapters so they don’t have to program changes to existing systems.

“The thing that distinguishes Actional is they have a way to engage with customers today,” said John Rymer, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group Inc. But he added that the company is early with its SOAPstation Web services management product.

“Until we get more actual applications in place, management is something you need later, not now,” he said.