IBM Tests Web Services SLA Technology

In a move that is critical to the delivery of Web services offerings, IBM is developing middleware to guarantee service levels.

HAWTHORNE, N.Y.—In a move that is critical to the delivery of Web services offerings, IBM is developing middleware to guarantee service levels.

At the companys T.J. Watson Research Center here, IBM is beta testing software developed through its Web Services Management Middleware project that supports differentiated Web services offerings based on SLAs (service-level agreements).

The software is designed for the WebSphere Java application server and enables enterprises and solution providers to deliver online applications and tasks at guaranteed levels, said Giovanni Pacifici, manager of the Services Management Middleware group at IBM Research.

The development is timely, since corporate customers are demanding more accountability from their suppliers.

"Any time the lack of action from one of your business partners can cost you money, you need an SLA," said Todd Williams, vice president of technology at Genuitec LLC, a developer and solutions provider based in Dallas.

IBM is hosting the beta test on a Linux cluster in the IBM Research lab, supporting about 50 customers, Pacifici said. The system is built on WebSphere, with new algorithms devised by IBM Research and technology from IBMs Tivoli division. The SLA enforcing technology will be bundled into WebSpheres enterprise edition in six to 12 months, Pacifici said. The use of SLAs to provision Web-based computing resources is central to IBMs on-demand computing initiative.

Application service providers can use the middleware to differentiate service levels they provide to premium customers versus regular customers, and businesses can use it to deliver Web services offerings to divisions or business partners, he said.

"Today, IT shops are overprovisioning their systems, and they are giving users more capacity than needed," Pacifici said. Enterprise and service providers typically rely on static allocation, whereby premium-service users access one machine or a set of machines, and basic-service users access another. But in IBMs scheme, the SLA is encoded as an executable. "The system says everybody can go to all the machines. This is dynamic allocation," Pacifici said.

The Web Services Management Middleware project is nearly 2 years old, and IBM previewed an early version of it in October. But, until now, the company had not built a full-blown prototype, Pacifici said.

Hewlett-Packard Co. has said it is looking to include support for SLAs in its Web services management offerings and OpenView systems management technology.

Smaller Web services players, such as Actional Corp., AmberPoint Inc., Blue Titan Software Inc., Confluent Software Inc. and Digital Evolution Inc., offer some type of SLA management in their offerings; other big players, such as BMC Software Inc. and Computer Associates International Inc., have Web services SLA management on their road maps as well.

Ultimately, the success of Web services offerings could depend on service-level agreements.

"SLAs and Web services management in general are an absolute necessity for companies looking to deploy reliable service-oriented architectures based on Web services," said Ronald Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, in Cambridge, Mass. "You cant run a Web service in an environment where the service has to do something useful if you cant guarantee that it is performing. This is not even a nice-to-have, but a must-have.

"If not, Web services simply cant take off in a commercial environment," Schmelzer said.