SOA Success Demands Dexterity

Opinion: Traffic tools point the finger at applications' hot spots.

Its no longer possible to point at a rack of hardware—or even point at the door of a server room—and say, "My application runs in there." Distributed systems may rely on multiple data centers, supply chain partners and third-party service providers to create and maintain key elements of an application or its performance-improving infrastructure.

It follows that its not enough to know that a box is running, or that a room has power and cooling, as basis for saying that a business need is being successfully met. The room, the box and even the operating system and the middleware code are utterly ignorant of the difference between ordinary housekeeping tasks, low-value customers inquiries and critical tasks being done for your most valuable clients.

If youre trying to meet strategic business goals with tools and techniques that merely measure hardware and software health, youre trying to juggle while wearing mittens. Performance measurement and facility management require far greater dexterity, a challenge I explored in a conversation at this months VMworld conference in Los Angeles with Damian Reeves, chief technology officer of Zeus Technology, in Cambridge, England.

"We sit at the intersection of network and application—its a very interesting place," Reeves said. The Zeus Extensible Traffic Manager product, or ZXTM, "has Layer 7 visibility," as Reeves put it—meaning that it has access to the highest level, the application layer, of the seven-level model developed by the OSI effort of the International Organization for Standardization.

"Weve ripped apart the packets," Reeves said. "If theres encryption being used, we have the decrypted plain text. We see all the transactions, so we can make intelligent decisions about where to send things. You can define service classes, describe service-level agreements for different types of customers at different times and check that users are getting the level of service they should."

Reeves was at VMworld to announce the release of a new packaging option of ZXTM. In addition to pure software and conventional hardware appliance configurations, its now available as a "virtual appliance"—a phrase defined by VMware as meaning "a prebuilt, preconfigured and ready-to-run software application packaged with the operating system inside a virtual machine." One enterprise IT user of virtual appliance technology appeared in a video interview shown at the VMworld opening session and described the resulting freedom to scale capacity in response to fluctuating needs, saying, "We download an appliance as easily as we download a song from iTunes."

Virtual appliances are gaining momentum quickly, said VMware Technology Development Vice President and VMworld emcee Steve Herrod in his opening remarks at the conference. On average, he said, the VMware Virtual Appliance Marketplace sees about one new download per minute from its inventory of about 300 available choices.

Microsoft is reading the same handwriting on the same wall: The company announced this summer its strategic partnership with XenSource to develop what the XenSource home page describes as "interoperability of Xen-enabled Linux guest operating systems and the new Microsoft hypervisor-based Windows Server virtualization." In mid-October, Microsoft opened its own Virtual Hard Disk format under its Open Specification Promise program (unveiled in September), which "irrevocably promises not to assert any Microsoft Necessary Claims … for making, using, selling, offering for sale, importing or distributing any implementation to the extent it conforms to a Covered Specification."

Microsoft followed up with announcements, timed (presumably not by accident) to coincide with VMworlds opening day, that Microsoft and partner companies would offer "VHD Test Drive" versions of enterprise products.

My resulting forecast is one of data centers with greater flexibility and fingertip control.

Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at


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