Actional boosts Web services management

Seeking to simplify the management of Web services-based business processes, Actional Corp. on Monday unveied al policy management software, agent technology, and an upgraded version of its services broker.

The product portfolio is intended to minimize the impact of constant changes inherent in dynamic enterprise Web services environments, the company said. Actional is focusing on helping users visualize interdependencies in service networks, be aware of problems, predict the impact of changes, and respond to planned or unplanned changes.

"We ensure that service networks and applications that use (Web services) can be kept up and running even in the face of constant change," said James Phillips, Actional senior vice president of marketing and product management, in Mountain View, Calif.

New to the company's portfolio is the Looking Glass console and server, which provides for centralized policy management and enables administrators to monitor complex service networks and improve performance. Network performance statistics and alerts are collected, service network interdependencies are identified, and users can predict the impact of planned service changes, enabling deployment of new applications and services without disrupting service availability, Actional said..

Looking Glass "allows you to visualize the network" and see dependencies and relations, Phillips said.

Actional Active Agents, meanwhile, are platform-specific agents that gather run-time statistics and monitor service activity based on policies defined in Looking Glass. The initial agent supports the Microsoft .Net platform; agents are planned for the BEA WebLogic Server and IBM WebSphere application servers.

The company is upgrading its SOAPstation Web services broker. Version 4.0 of the product is an in-network component that manages interactions between applications that provide Web services and systems that consume them. New features include improved performance and integration with the Looking Glass server to enable a federated approach to policy distribution and deployment, according to Actional.

The agent and broker can act together on network traffic to transform documents, change document destinations, and enforce security policy, according to Phillips.

One analyst called Actional's announcement a logical progression.

"I think it's the next logical evolution in their product," said Bob Parker, an analyst at AMR Research, in Boston . "They're doing the right things, based on the customer demand we're hearing," Parker said.

Another analyst said Actional's Looking Glass provides passive management, similar to what network management platforms such as Hewlett-Packard's OpenView provide for networks and systems.

"What products like Looking Glass are doing is bringing that idea into the distributed Web services world," said analyst Brent Sleeper, a principal at The Stencil Group, in San Francisco .

Management tools vendors such as HP, however, eventually will add Web services management capabilities similar to what Actional is offering, perhaps through technology acquisitions, Sleeper said. "It's inevitable that they will have this functionality," he said.

Actional's Phillips said he believes the vendor has an advantage in Web services management because it has a shipping product. Actional software can integrate with network management platforms such as HP Open View via Simple Network Management Protocol and proprietary interfaces, Phillips said.

Actional also is announcing a partnership with Microsoft in which Microsoft will market and sell Actional products alongside .Net systems. Actional has been selected as a Visual Studio .Net Integration Program Partner.

In addition, Actional is announcing its Lighthouse Customer Program for companies implementing projects that use SOAPstation. Among the participants are Avon, Cara, Charles Schwab, Transclick, and SAIC.

The Looking Glass console and server will be available in a controlled release to selected customers on March 31, with general release targeted for late April. SOAPstation 4.0 and Actional Active Agents will ship on March 31.

A typical deployment featuring SOAPstation, Active Agents, and Looking Glass costs US$250,000 for a large enterprise, Phillips said.

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