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The future of Web services

Web services are going to hit the data center. Be prepared.

Get ready for Web services to hit the data center

Most data center denizens have some time before they'll have to deal with Web services. They can use that time to get prepared, because eventually they will have a large role to play here, analysts say. At the moment, most Web services projects are skunkworks operations, says Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst with ZapThink LLC, a consulting firm in Waltham, Mass. "A lot of Web services use is on the grass-roots level, where developers are learning the technology," he says. "This doesn't have much effect in the data center, at least not yet." Most companies are still in "dabbling" mode, he says.

Eventually, though, when Web services reach critical mass in a company, data center employees will need to think about how to manage them all; primary areas that will require attention include security, as well as integration and transformation services. "Transformation" refers to the process of translating different XML style sheets for different business partners, as well as the process of publishing information on a variety of different platforms.

Different companies will reach this point of needing to control and manage their Web services at different times, depending on their implementation schedules, the relative criticality of Web services to their business and their long-range plans with the technology.

In addition to providing security for Web services, data centers will be called upon to do the things they've always done with applications – tuning, performance monitoring, providing the infrastructure needed to maintain various service-level agreements, and so on.

Whatever role the data center has with existing corporate applications will likely continue with Web services. "These applications will need to be measured for performance and tuned," says Simon Yates, director of Web services and application server research at Hurwitz Group, a consulting firm in Framingham, Mass. "That will happen at the data center level."

Other major areas of data center impact will likely be bandwidth and network traffic, says Ted Schadler, group director of research at Forrester Research Inc., a consulting firm in Cambridge, Mass. Web services "will increase the amount of information flowing around the company," he says. "Many of our customers are worried about what this will mean for bandwidth, and how they'll be able to maintain application performance levels."

Data center folks will likely be involved with Web services in a couple of other ways, too: first as a means of managing far-flung and diverse systems, second as a means of injecting new life into existing mainframe applications through SOAP-based interfaces on legacy systems.

Forrester's Schadler believes that "Web services are a kind of magical technology" to help standardize the systems management function for a wide range of corporate resources – server farms, database, storage and the like.

To prepare for these changes, data center folks would be well-served to take a few steps. First, work with your existing system management vendors to understand what they have planned for Web services extensions to existing products. For instance, "IBM is reworking Tivoli to be more Web services-oriented," says ZapThink's Bloomberg. "But it's not like IBM is going to do it all by itself; they're working with AmberPoint."

AmberPoint, Flamenco, Grand Central and Sarvega are among a host of companies in the up-and-coming Web services management arena. Web services management helps customers scale, control and coordinate these new applications for use in a production environment.

Which leads to a second step that data centers can take: do some research into these new companies. Understand what they're doing, and look into new categories of products that might help down the road. For example, there's something called an XML proxy – a hardware-software combo that helps manage security for Web services.

A third step is to look into some of the products available to Web-enable legacy applications. Names here include Seagull, MicroFocus and HostBridge. These companies provide ways of accessing mainframe applications with a Web front end, so the data locked in the hosts can be used by a new generation of end-users.

Also understand that this new world may require some new thinking from mainframers used to centralized control. "Mainframers are used to being the gatekeeper, and they tend to like everything to be centralized and orchestrated through them," says Hurwitz's Yates. "But Web services, by their very nature, are scattered through different parts of the IT infrastructure. So data center guys need to get used to the intelligence in the network being distributed."

Johanna Ambrosio is a freelance writer based in Massachusetts


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