Web Services: Hope In The Hype

“Web services have been hyped in many quarters as the answer to all the shortcomings of today's information technology. If you subscribe to this belief then, as the song goes, 'I have some oceanfront property in Arizona that I'd like to sell you,’” quipped Gartner Research Director Cameron Haight in the ebizQ webinar Web Services Management: Making the Enterprise Ready.

But during the presentation, which was part of the Candle-sponsored Infrastructure Management: Strategies and Best Practices series, Haight pointed to the potential benefits of Web services. He outlined how enterprises can work around Web services’ immature standards to realize current and future competitive advantage.

“What is new about Web services (versus earlier “Next Big Things”) is their scope, i.e. inter-enterprise, as well as the fact that applications developed with this technology are based upon truly open standards,” especially SOAP, WSDL and UDDI, Haight noted.

Gartner keeps its definition of Web services simple, he noted: any applications that make use of one of more of those standards.

Haight explained that, in order to obtain the benefits of Web services (such as reuse and interoperability), you need to plan the tools and platforms, including the management platform, as well as the business processes that cross applications.

He defined four platforms for building and operating Web services:

1. The provider platform implements or delivers Web services through an application server or integration broker that can provide SOAP, WSDL or XML translators, workflow and process management functionality, and technology adapters or connectors for integration.

2. The consumer platform is software that connects to, and delivers the value of the service -- with or without an interface and within and beyond an enterprise – via functionality ranging from portals to PDAs.

3. The producer platform uses rules, scripting languages, XML models and unified modifying languages (UMLs) to execute underlying components such as .Net or Enterprise Java Bean components. When matched with rules engines, process management, workflow and scenario profile management tools it will also “enable lesser-skilled developers to work rapidly and professional developers to modify the underlying code when necessary to increase the return on investment.”

4. Finally, the management platform is a set of software services that is designed to help coordinate the activities of services while they are being used. It provides both a challenge to end- users and a management opportunity for vendors.

It was that management platform that Haight focused on, pointing to various Web services management challenges faced by vendors.

“The first is that the architectures of Web services are themselves dynamic. Application partners are often discovered through direct look-up at run-time, thus causing potential problems in knowing exactly what objects are to be managed.”

Other issues come into play when Web services cross application boundaries,

What’s more, “It's key to remember that Web services-based applications obviously do not exist in isolation: They rely on other parts of the infrastructure, for example, application servers, databases, and other middleware. Management at the Web services layer is critical, but it needs to be tied to the context of the underlying application support ecosystem.”

Haight detailed developments on the Web services standards front, saying Gartner doesn’t “anticipate widespread adoption of Web services management standards before 2006, and this is only after interoperability specifications are completed and commercially tested.”

And in a call to action, Haight said there are “no, as in zero or nada, end-user enterprises involved in this standardization effort,” and urged webinar attendees to get their companies involved in the standards process “if Web services are going to be a big part of your future.”

Some advice on delving into the Web services management arena? “Enterprises should first establish the scope that they are most interested in managing: Web services on one platform, Web services in play between multiple platforms, or B2B (business-to-business) Web services. If there's more than one scope of management required, the next step is to realistically assess whether one solution can address all of the desired management requirements. In many cases it will not and thus two or more management solutions will be necessary to address different scopes of Web services management.

According to Haight, Gartner expects gradual investment by the network and systems management market share leaders in this Web services operations management category. New providers will “target specific Web services problems hoping to become best of breed. Established niche and challenge vendors in the NSM market will extend their products to incorporate Web services as yet another element to be managed.”

Gartner also sees a continued blurring between Enterprise Service Management and Enterprise Application Integration as more vendors offer “doer-style” products that go beyond traditional event management and service level monitoring toward what Gartner calls "Real-Time Infrastructure" or “RTI computing.” For instance, explains Haight, Web services vendors have announced solutions that provide “active” capabilities,” offerings designed to be “N-band” that “not only monitor the infrastructure but control, i.e. access control and provision Web services sessions. In addition to these management-type abilities, they enable routing, transformation and other functions that have traditionally been associated with middleware products.”

“However, enterprises and vendors are still in the early stages of the hype cycle with regard to Web services capabilities” and companies should be careful when “setting expectations for future reliability and security.”

“Because of continued vendor churn, the lack of mature standards, as well as multiple vendor approaches, Gartner urges caution when working with Web services management vendors. Recognize that we are very early in the cycle for these technologies and be prepared to transition to other vendor solutions as they mature and emerge.”

Haight and Candle Corp. Solutions Architect Peter Rhys Jenkins told how early adopters -- especially banks and financial institutions -- are building Web services solutions on their own in order to, in Haight’s words, “seek potential competitive advantage by being able to reuse and reposition existing applications and to provide a better customer experience.”

In an aside, Rhys Jenkins remarked, “We don't even find the lunatic fringe wanting to do UDDI at this stage, although the concept is great. What we find is that people will hand craft the SOAP envelope they need, they will do a little bit of WSDL, and they get it working and they leave it working.

To find out many more ways to plan a route between the potential and potential pitfalls of Web services, watch a replay of Web Services Management: Making the Enterprise.

About the Author

Gian Trotta is ebizQ's managing editor. Before joining ebizQ, he developed a wide variety of virtual news and community features for Newsday, Prodigy, Time Inc., Excite, About.com and MSNBC.

More by Gian Trotta

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