Users, vendors try to manage Web services

Travel industry giant Orbitz Inc. couldn't wait for management software vendors to offer the tools it needed to track how integrated applications performed under pressure. So the online travel company built its own.

"We needed to figure out how to manage all of the many devices and elements and integrate them into one kind of view of operations," says Kevin Malover, Orbitz CIO. He says the Chicago company that searches about 450 airlines to find the lowest airfares for customers needed to ensure "all of the moving parts" worked together smoothly for a more-than-satisfactory end-user experience.

For Orbitz, the high volume of online transactions required the company jump a bit ahead of network management vendors and write its own software to manage the performance of its Web service applications, which include booking airline tickets, via the Web. When a customer visits the Orbitz Web site, he triggers a process that involves Orbitz getting the user request, searching numerous databases, delivering travel options, tweaking the details, handling credit card authorization, confirming accounts and so on.

Unfortunately for Orbitz - and despite a lot of recent talk from management software companies - industry watchers say most vendors can not yet manage Web services, or the technology that uses XML interfaces to let applications talk to each other and potentially work as one business application or process. For Orbitz and the billions of transactions the site processes per second, all those moving parts pose problems for traditional management tools.

"Travel is not static. The inventory changes every second, and these transactions are fairly complex," Malover says.

Several vendors can manage the performance, including metrics such as response time, availability and accuracy, on an individual application, server or device fulfilling a user request. But tracking each transaction in a process that involves several pieces of software working together and then relating how the performance of one step can or will affect the next step in the process remains a challenge for most management software.

Although Orbitz uses Micromuse's Netcool network management software to detect faults, Malover says the company designed its own application that would alert network operations staff to application behavior and online service abnormalities.

"We built alarming into our application layer not to tell whether there is a terrible event happening on a server, but to see how the application is behaving, how well applications are working together and what's happening when a customer visits our site," Malover says.

Making the various networks, systems and databases work together requires a high level of integration between multiple applications and creates a lot of room for performance problems. "It's more about flagging a wacky response from an application than looking for failures," Malover says.

In fact, users asked about the main inhibitors to Web services adoption said they found performance management products to be too immature, among other issues. And while security topped the list of user worries about implementing Web services, reliability and interoperability came in second and third, respectively, in an Evans Data survey of 400 enterprise development managers.

As for the security concerns, standards groups are debating where and how to incorporate security into future standards such as WS-Security and WS-Routing. And the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards is developing ebXML, which includes models for security and standardizing electronic business processes.

While many seem to accept that security concerns need more attention, many management vendors say their software can address user concerns about performance, reliability and interoperability by managing network, systems and application performance and availability.

Right now there are few network, systems and applications management software vendors that say they can detect inaccurate application response and incorrect content delivery. Smaller vendors such as TeaLeaf Technology and Webhancer say they can measure Web application performance from an end-user perspective and let network operations know when inaccurate content is delivered. And while not making that claim, big framework vendors say they too can manage multiple applications as a service being deployed by enterprise companies today.

Heavyweight network management contenders Computer Associates, IBM/Tivoli Systems and Hewlett-Packard detailed this spring how their software can manage multiple applications integrated to deliver one service and manage how well those applications work together.

Part of the problem in managing multiple elements as one is the nature of network management software. Most tools require server software installed at a central location, while software agents reside on the device to be managed. Because the idea of Web services would let applications across the Internet dynamically talk to each other, placing agents to collect performance data at every hop along the way represents a challenge.

Using standards and protocols to integrate applications on an intranet poses less of a management issue because all the elements of the service reside within the corporate firewall. Companies such as BMC Software and Aprisma say their application management software can manage processes that tap multiple resources within a firewall.

When deploying Web services via an extranet, or shared Web site with a specific business partner, companies can use dedicated VPN lines and other means of securing the connection and creating a path for the components to work together. Using industry protocols and standards lets the disparate applications communicate, but also gives management software the ability to get in on the conversation.

CA incorporated support for XML, Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI) and Web Services Definition Language (WSDL) protocols into its CleverPath portal software in April. The company says the protocol support lets the portal software understand the application trying to connect to it.

Tivoli and HP were among the companies that added support for Sun's Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition and Microsoft's .Net application development environments in anticipation of managing applications developed specifically with XML, UDDI, SOAP and WSDL integration in mind. NetIQ also intends to put its AppManager suite of software to use when enterprise companies embrace the new technologies.

But industry watchers say it's too soon to determine if these packages truly can manage complicated transactions and integrated applications across network domains because Web services technology has not yet seen widespread adoption by enterprise companies.

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More about AprismaBMC Software AustraliaCA TechnologiesEvans DataHewlett-Packard AustraliaIBM AustraliaMicromuseMicrosoftNetIQOrbitzOrganization for the Advancement of Structured Information StandardsTeaLeaf TechnologyTivoliUDDIwebHancer

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