James Kobielus: Shakeout looms in Web services management

Web services management (WSM) is one of the most innovative sectors in today’s IT industry. Despite the general economic slump, dozens of startups have ventured into the WSM market over the past few years. Consequently, enterprise customers can choose from many sophisticated tools for managing their complex Web services middleware environments.

WSM is no passing fad. WSM tools address a growing need in today’s Web-oriented e-business environment. They help companies ensure that the performance, reliability, availability and security of Web services environments continue to comply with service-level agreements and quality-of-service requirements.

By contrast, traditional IT management tools can’t monitor the end-to-end performance, availability, reliability and security of Web services environments. Typically, organizations deploy management tools associated with particular application, server and network environments. This explains why companies turn to WSM for a holistic view of service performance, as well as invest in enterprise management frameworks from Computer Associates International Inc. (CA), Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), IBM Tivoli Corp. and other strategic vendors.

But today’s WSM market is overcrowded and due for a serious shakeout. Startups are having a tough time establishing WSM as a separate market from IT management tools. WSM tools don’t eliminate the need for traditional management tools that focus on particular applications, systems and network environments. You can’t optimize Web services if you don’t have the tools for viewing and fixing problems that originate in the underlying infrastructure.

Sensing an opportunity to strengthen their competitive positions, management vendors are adding WSM features to their offerings. Others are bootstrapping themselves into the WSM market through strategic acquisitions. We see evidence for the latter trend in CA’s recent acquisition of Adjoin and HP’s announcement of its intention to buy Talking Blocks.

Over the next several years, traditional IT management vendors will dominate the WSM market as they leverage their established customer bases and product families. Likewise, vendors of application servers, integration brokers, operating environments and other Web services platforms will embed WSM features in their offerings.

As we can see with Adjoin and Talking Blocks, some WSM startups are merging or partnering with established tool and platform vendors. They realize that most users would prefer that this functionality be integrated into enterprise management environments. It could be only a matter of time before many of the other WSM pioneers find their respective suitors.

Today’s WSM startups will need to aggressively partner, specialize and diversify if they want to survive the coming industry consolidation. Specialization will lead to profitability for some, and the WSM market will continue to splinter. Some WSM startups are positioning their products as special-purpose solutions, such as Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) firewalls, content-aware SOAP routers and XML accelerators.

Many of these special-purpose WSM tools will blur into the established product segments with which they have the greatest affinities. For example, companies are beginning to consider SOAP firewalls from WSM vendors such as Forum Systems Inc., Reactivity Inc., Vordel Ltd. and WestBridge Technology Inc. as complementary to traditional IP firewalls, Web access management products and intrusion-detection systems.

Likewise, organizations are beginning to consider how best to deploy the Layer 7 routing features of some WSM tools from vendors such as Actional Corp., AmberPoint Inc. and Blue Titan Software in conjunction with traditional Layer 3 devices such as IP routers, network load balancers and application switches.

WSM is an exciting, dynamic market. But it’s also a battlefield in which many pioneers will perish, and established tool and platform vendors will consolidate. Enterprise customers will find many tactical WSM tools for monitoring, security, performance optimization and other functions. But they should think twice about making strategic commitments to WSM vendors until the market has matured and the ultimate victors are clear.

Kobielus is a senior analyst with Burton Group, an IT advisory service that provides technology analysis for network planners. He can be reached at (703) 924-6224 or [email protected].

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