Flamenco's roots aid Web services management

Designing a Web service for a few dozen participants is one thing. Designing a system for thousands of clients with hundreds added weekly is a different story. In the latter scenario, there is a high premium on service provisioning, customer self-service, and security.

Flamenco Networks is meeting those demands with its WSM (Web Services Management) product. WSM gives enterprises the tools to create self-service Web service management portals for their customers and partners.

The real strength comes from Flamenco's roots as a VAN (value added network) for Web services; Flamenco's WSM lets you create your own personal VAN. VANs have been around since the '60s, but their features, including improved security and reliability, have real benefits for modern Web services-based systems.

A VAN of your own

The WSM architecture uses proxies, also known as end points, on both the producer and the consumer side, which are linked by a central controller to create a Web services network. What sets WSM apart from other WSI (Web services intermediary) products with similar architectures is the nature of the central controller. WSM's central controller is a Web portal where participants in a transaction can come together, establish a relationship, set up connections to specific services, and monitor transactions.

As a result, service providers can use WSM to offer a private-labeled Web services management network. Any service provider on the network can send their partners invitations containing a link to a location where the partner can self-provision connections to the provider's Web services.

As part of that provisioning, the partner downloads and installs a Flamenco end point customized for that connection. The partner's end point intercepts SOAP messages sent on their network and uses a secure, monitored peer-to-peer connection to forward the messages to the provider's Flamenco end point.

The provider's end point delivers the SOAP message to its Web service, then intercepts and handles the response. Meanwhile, WSM logs transaction statistics gathered by the Flamenco proxies; these statistics, including status and error information (where applicable) plotted for any given time period, are available to both the provider and its partners on the provider's WSM Web site.

Building relationships

WSM administrators can manage the Web portal and users, monitor log-in activity, track critical events, and send alerts and notifications to users. Alerts are usually high-priority messages about errors or service availability, whereas notifications include things as simple as an invitation to join a connection.

When a network user, service provider, or consumer logs in to the portal, a streamlined, clear dashboard provides them with all current alerts, current notifications, pending relationships, or pending connections, along with a graphical summary of successful and exceptional service invocations over a pre-selected interval.

For each provided service, users access the service's WSDL file to configure an end point that takes the form of a proxy software application. (The end point need not be co-installed with the service it proxies). Configuration is straightforward; there's not much back-and-forth because you basically use the invitation and settings offered.

End points are only required on one end of the connection, but when used on both, they provide the bonus of a secure, reliable transport protocol that supports guaranteed once-only message delivery, stream compression, and synchronous and asynchronous communication. End points can be federated and support message routing, too.

In addition to monitoring end points and transactions, the portal is the center for establishing relationships with other parties, including members of the network as well as complete outsiders who are invited in.

Once a relationship is established and end points configured, the parties involved can easily set up as many connections as needed for various services or options. Security is determined on a connection-by-connection basis: no security; whole message security, where the proxies exchange messages via an encrypted channel; or WS-Security for the entire exchange. Each connection can set up specific alerting arrangements for transaction failures.

Users view status information for all their end points and the partner connections to those end points through the portal. Drilling down into the end point information brings up graphs of the transaction activity, including detailed reports for each transaction. The reporting tab generates reports on transactions for a given time period. The reporting tool covers the basics, but unfortunately doesn't offer sophisticated comparison or graphing capabilities.

Flexibility in its blood

WSM is easy to use. The Web-based interface presents the service metaphor clearly. Creating a Web services network is intuitive and requires minimal effort if you have a basic familiarity with Web services. Automatic creation of customized end points for client download makes connecting from the client side straightforward and reduces administrator burden considerably.

A cursory review of WSM's features and architecture wouldn't distinguish it greatly from a number of other WSI products. But WSM's heritage as a VAN means it's got flexibility in its blood. This will come in especially handy for enterprises that expect significant future growth and want their Web services to expand with demand. National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), for example, used WSM to create a Web services interface to its system for verifying student records. NSC currently services thousands of higher education institutions, but envisions selling verification services to HR departments across the country, a market that could eventually reach the hundreds of thousands.

WSM's self-provisioning features, combined with users' ability to set up their own relationships and manage and monitor connections within those relationships, sets WSM apart. It is a natural choice for companies that hope to offer Web services to thousands of partners.

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