By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2004-02-24 Print this article Print

Web services have become vital tools for many corporations, handling everything from business-to-business connections among partners to integrating vital back-end systems to driving diverse data to corporate portals.

Managing, monitoring and controlling these services are vital tasks for many organizations, and companies are looking to dedicated Web services management platforms to fit their Web services management needs.

In the following review, eWEEK Labs examines three recently released Web services management platforms: Actional Corp.s Web services management platform, which consists of Actionals Looking Glass and SOAPStation products; Cape Clear Software Inc.s Data Interchange 4.7; and Confluent Software Inc.s Web Services Management Platform 3.5.

We were impressed with the breadth of capabilities in all three platforms and with the detailed controls they provide to manage, monitor and control access to Web services. All three products had broad feature sets, but each emphasized different areas of control: Actional is heavily focused on monitoring and service-level compliance, Cape Clear is very developer-focused and provides detailed Java application server integration and management, and Confluent focuses heavily on security and policy enforcement.

Finding the right Web services management platform depends on which aspects of the services a company needs to manage most. It also depends on the platform an organization uses to develop Web services—different products integrate better with different platforms.

Companies must keep in mind that Web services management is a hot technology and that these platform developers could become acquisition targets. In fact, during our testing, Confluent was acquired by Oblix Inc., which was clearly attracted to the products security focus.

Actional Web Services Management Platform the two key components in Actionals Web services management platform are Looking Glass 5.0 and SOAPStation 5.0. (Looking Glass 5.0 and SOAPStation 5.0 include smaller components, such as agents and consoles.)

Each covers a distinct area of Web services management. Looking Glass 5.0, priced at $100,000 for the server and console, provides analytical and monitoring capabilities. SOAPStation is priced at $50,000 for two CPUs and handles most of the actual Web services management, making it possible to define and provision Web services, configure rules and policies, and secure and control access to these services.

Like traditional management platforms, the Actional platform includes a number of agents that are deployed to specific servers to perform detailed process-level monitoring. Actional offers agents for BEA Systems Inc.s WebLogic, IBMs WebSphere and Microsoft Corp.s .Net.

Actional, which shipped in December, was the only application we tested that provides specific support for .Net; the others support mainly Java application servers, although all three platforms handle Web services from any platform.

The server components for Looking Glass and SOAPStation run on Linux, Unix and Windows servers, and both have very good browser-based administration interfaces. However, these interfaces are very similar, as are the browser-based interfaces for managing the agents. This can be confusing when managing lots of services, especially if a company has only a few workers dedicated to Web services management.

Management tasks are performed in the Looking Glass console, a Windows-only interface that let us generate detailed analysis of our services. A handy visual network view let us see performance levels and the status of our services and monitor their dependencies.

For Cape Clear, managing Web services is all about integrating with back-end data sources and applications and controlling the flow of data through Web services. In this regard, Cape Clear Data Interchange 4.7 has more in common with products such as Microsofts BizTalk Server and with business process management systems than with the other products in this review.

However, this developer-oriented approach could be of great value to some companies. After all, its the developers who create and edit Web services and also build integration with applications and data sources.

Although Cape Clear Data Interchange 4.7 cant touch the other products in this review when it comes to monitoring services or defining security controls, many Web services management products—including those from Actional and Confluent—will very likely need to work with a platform such as Data Interchange 4.7 to deal with integration issues.

Data Interchange 4.7, which shipped in December and is priced starting at $75,000, is mainly a large Java application and, as such, will run on pretty much any server system. The product consists of a server platform, which handles integration with J2EE (Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition) application servers and enterprise data sources, and a very powerful Studio development environment.

Studio is one of the most powerful elements of Data Interchange. We used it to create a variety of Web service clients, to integrate Web services into J2EE applications and to edit XML files in detail.

Data Interchange uses XML Schema heavily for its integration capabilities. We especially liked Text Schema Editor, which let us take files, including text, spreadsheets and XML files, and create schema that could be used for transforming data into the proper formats for integration.

Data Interchange 4.7 comes with a slew of good XML and Web services editing tools, including an Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformation mapper and a nice little tool for editing WSDL (Web Services Description Language) files.

However, although these tools are great for complex integrations, Data Interchange relies on them a little too much in some ways. For example, if we wanted to add a simple Web service to the server for management, we couldnt simply point to the WSDL URL. Instead, we had to go to Studio and create a package of the service.

On the server side, Data Interchange had some very nice features for routing SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) messages, and the product integrates with nearly every J2EE server available—although, of course, it doesnt integrate in the same way with non-Java servers.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

Check out eWEEK.coms Developer & Web Services Center at http://developer.eweek.com for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools.

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Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst, eWEEK.For nearly fifteen years, Jim Rapoza has evaluated products and technologies in almost every technology category for eWEEK. Mr RapozaÔÇÖs current technology focus is on all categories of emerging information technology though he continues to focus on core technology areas that include: content management systems, portal applications, Web publishing tools and security. Mr. Rapoza has coordinated several evaluations at enterprise organizations, including USA Today and The Prudential, to measure the capability of products and services under real-world conditions and against real-world criteria. Jim Rapoza's award-winning weekly column, Tech Directions, delves into all areas of technologies and the challenges of managing and deploying technology today.

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