XML exposes rich network data

Web services management is coming of age

Web services management is coming of age. Until recently, the enterprise was primarily concerned about Web services development and deployment scenarios. Now, networking and systems management vendors are paving the way for companies to discover and manage web services at run time.

Hewlett-Packard and IBM are among the vendors looking to speed the adoption of web services architectures by building additional capabilities into existing systems management platforms.

Meanwhile, at the network layer, F5 Networks and Datapower Technology are altering network management platforms to gather richer information on the health and performance of various network elements via new XML and SOAP interfaces.

The moves suggest vendors are addressing gaps in web services management at deeper infrastructure layers.

Accelerating the effort is an emerging standard called WSDM (Web Services Distributed Management), pronounced "wisdom". Proposed to the OASIS standards body in July, WSDM is a model for managing a web services-oriented architecture.

Born of HP's work on the Web Services Management Framework, the WSDM specification is expected to be complete by January 2004. It will define a standard way to use and manage web services.

Enterprise customers will benefit from the ability to define and manage the performance and availability attributes of web services architectures, according to Hewlett-Packard.

"Why not use web services to manage a web services architecture?" asked Al Smith, CTO of HP's web services management organisation. "It is dynamic, discoverable, and highly distributable."

With WSDM, the industry is attempting to define a common set of information about any web service that can be fed to a management platform such as HP's OpenView, IBM's Tivoli, or CA's Unicenter.

The information would describe the performance and characteristics of transactions that happen in a distributed application. This metadata would accompany each transaction of information being passed between two applications.

"Web services [and standards such as WSDM] are playing a key role in enabling us to manage web services [architectures]," said David Hochhauser, vice president of Computer Associate's Unicentre product.

CA, IBM, and HP are all racing to release management modules that will help enterprises manage existing and future web services.

Packard is working on HP OpenView Web Service Management Engine, which was developed in March and is the foundation for the proposed WSDM standard. Due out in late fall, the management engine is described by Smith as a collection of tools that manage web services environments.

Specifically, the tool allows an enterprise to provision a web services-based application and create SLAs on performance and availability. It also determines the authentication and authorisation requirements for subscribing to the new application. The engine itself will intercept packets and route them to the appropriate requested web service.

CA for its part is working on Unicenter WSDM. Currently in beta with customers, the platform also focuses on performance and availability of web services.

"What we're focused on building with WSDM is a standard set of metrics regarding health and availability of Web services applications," Hochhauser said. "With WSDM, a business partner can understand what is happening on both their side of the application and the business partner's side."

IBM is adding WSDM support functions to its Tivoli products. According to David Cox, an architect at Tivoli Systems, Tivoli has created an events and monitoring application that measures system and transaction performance. It will be ready at the end of the year.

On the networking side, vendors are developing hardware elements such as routers and switches that contain XML interfaces. DataPower Technology, a startup that creates XML processing devices, has created an API for its

XS40 XML Security Gateway and XA35 XML Accelerator. The interface uses XML/SOAP messages to provision, configure, or monitor its network devices. The interface meets the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I) Basic Profile 1.0 specification, which was completed last month by the WS-I, a industry group that promotes Web Services interoperability.

Eugene Kuznetsov, chairman and CTO of DataPower, explained that XML messages deliver a richer set of information to network management platforms than SNMP, JMX (Java Management eXtensions), or CIM (Common Information Model).

IBM's Cox added XML allows network devices to communicate information such as the detailed status of any given network device. For example, with SNMP, network management platforms typically know that a device is not responding. With web services it can be determined why the device is down.

iControl technology has an API that allows developers to write directly to the company's traffic management device called Big-IP so that developers can remotely manage and control the device.

Jeff Browning, iControl product manager at F5, said a handful of software developers with built-in management consoles have already written to the device. This offers enterprise customers more granular control of their device and ultimately their network.

However, Browning acknowledged the industry still needs to define common ways of reporting information about the health of a network device."

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