Web Services Management: The Second Act

Of all the markets that the rush to capitalize on Web Services and Service-Oriented Architectures (SOA) spawned, the space known as Web Services Management (WSM) is likely the most turbulent. Marked by a large number of new entrant vendors and cutthroat competition for a steadily increasing number of customers, WSM products have come to offer a core set of functionality as well as many of the key capabilities necessary for companies to build and run SOAs.

In the last two years, the WSM market has formed, grown, consolidated, shaken out, and finally, gained some traction with customers. Of all the markets that emerged from the groundswell of adoption of Web Services and SOA during that time, the WSM market has seen the greatest number of new entrants, the most consolidation, and the toughest competition. However, all this turmoil surrounding the WSM marketplace is particularly ironic, considering the fact that the WSM market is inherently transitional, with much of the current set of functionality soon to be absorbed into other markets. Today’s WSM vendors are battling to become established vendors in a space that won’t exist in its current form a mere handful of years into the future, and as a result will have to be prepared to adjust their strategies as the broader market develops.

The Fragmentation of the WSM Market

To fully understand the various trends and forces that are buffeting the WSM market, it’s essential to realize that there are several different core functionality sets that broadly fall under the WSM moniker. There is also a core WSM market which includes products that offer monitoring, service level management, exception handling, and alerting capabilities. Of all the various WSM segments, the core WSM market has stabilized the most. Correspondingly, the vendors in this market are seeing the most customer traction, as end-users are becoming clear on their requirements for such products.

But while this space is seeing the most activity short-term, it also offers the functionality that incumbent system management vendors are most likely to offer, either by building it themselves or by acquiring one of the new entrants in this space. Such an environment makes the core WSM market especially cutthroat, as vendors seek to achieve sufficient traction in advance of the dominance of the incumbent players ZapThink expects in two to three years.

The first indication of fragmentation in the WSM market since ZapThink’s first report on this topic in 2002 is in the area of SOA enablement, which includes routing of Service requests, protocol translation, and building business-oriented Service views. While in 2002 the nascent WSM market offered both SOA enablement and WSM capabilities, an increasing number of vendors are now identifying themselves as SOA enablement vendors and not as pure-play WSM vendors. In spite of this divergence between WSM and SOA enablement, ZapThink believes that the two sets of capabilities will eventually converge into the same product families.

There is also broad variation in whether WSM vendors identify security as part of the WSM feature set. The convergence of Web Services Security and Management makes sense for two basic reasons. First, The management of security is essentially management of policies and identities, and having a consolidated approach to management simplifies the overall management picture. But more importantly, identity and access management (IAM) in particular are critical prerequisites for building and managing an enterprise SOA, because IAM is necessary for preserving the user context from the user interface across the Service interface to the underlying applications.

On the other hand, the greatest challenge to converging Web Services Security and WSM is the fact that the individuals responsible for security and system management in the enterprise may be in different departments within the IT organization. It can be a challenge, therefore, for the vendors in this converged space to identify the appropriate contacts in the organizations they approach. ZapThink’s research shows, however, that this issue is relatively minor, as companies who are undertaking SOA initiatives realize that they must pull together people from across IT (as well as individuals from various lines of business) in order to move forward effectively with an SOA initiative.

In addition, several vendors offer Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) capabilities and business metrics as well as IT metrics at some level as part of their Web Services monitoring and alerting capability. The challenge that each of these vendors has faced is again the different enterprise users. Line-of-business users are more interested in business management, while IT users find WSM more useful. Therefore, it is both easier to sell and to develop a management solution that focuses on one audience or the other, but difficult to sell a product that pleases both audiences at the same time.

Another market tangential to the WSM market is the Web Services testing market. These two markets overlap in the area of Web Services diagnostics — monitoring Web Services for the purposes of testing as well as management. Moving to an SOA shrinks the development cycle, as large, high-risk IT projects give way to iterative Service development and definition. As a result, testing (traditionally a design time activity) and diagnostics (traditionally runtime) will increasingly overlap over time as the basic distinction between design time and runtime blurs.

Metadata management is another area that is closely related to WSM. There are different types of metadata for different purposes, and therefore, the vendors who offer metadata management capabilities may not necessarily compete. Metadata, in fact, are fundamental to the basic operation of an SOA. In an SOA, Metadata include information about the business processes and rules that business users work with. The underlying software must be able to process metadata. So, instead of hard-coding business logic into the programming code, the business logic should appear in the form of metadata, which the programs must be able to deal with. Metadata management thus provides value beyond the operational aspects of an SOA to supporting the enterprise’s business logic itself.

There are also WSM vendors who are focusing specifically on business-to-business (B2B) uses of Web Services. It’s important to highlight the B2B WSM market segment, because the loose coupling requirement for SOA is particularly stringent when more than one company is involved. Clearly, one company cannot typically control another’s IT infrastructure. Nevertheless, companies that participate in networks of Web Services, whether between two firms or across multiple companies, must be able to manage the service levels for the Web Services they provide and access.

The ZapThink Take

As shown by the variety of shifting business models above, the short-term trend in the WSM market is primarily one of fragmentation, as vendors adjust their strategies for competitive advantage. However, this fragmentation trend is necessarily short-lived, as the marketplace will resolve itself in the next year to two years into categories that customers understand. Furthermore, the longer-term trend toward consolidation is also taking place, with the number of acquisitions that have already taken place in this market.

In the face of such turbulence, ZapThink recommends that vendors get down to basics: focus on solving customer problems. Be flexible with marketing strategies as customers come to understand their requirements, and the markets shift as a result, but hone your product strategies to address both current customer pain points as well as future customer issues that will likely occur as your products come to market. ZapThink predicts that such customer pain points will increasingly center on the transition to enterprise SOAs, and therefore, those WSM capabilities that address SOA-related issues will be the most important over the next two to three years.

Furthermore, while there will likely be further acquisitions in the WSM market, it is rarely if ever a good idea for a new entrant to attempt to position themselves for sale. Such positioning may be a way to give investors much of their money back, but does not constitute a successful outcome. Instead, focus on solving customer issues as they build SOAs, and that will lead to customer traction, which in turn leads to increased company value.

This ZapFlash is an excerpt of ZapThink’s latest report, Web Services Management: The Maturation of a Transitional Market. A significantly greater amount of detail, including ZapThink’s predictions for market size and growth are contained in the report. So make sure to purchase or download your copy today!

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