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IT's Challenges for Performance Management

IT's Challenges for Performance Management

The explosion of Web services has spawned significant new challenges for IT and the technologies they use. With the infrastructure requirements for WebLogic applications growing more complex, the addition of Web services suddenly expands the management focus to systems and applications residing outside of IT's control.

Evolving technologies are addressing these requirements by monitoring the various application dependencies, integrations, and layers for WebLogic environments via component-level monitoring, correlation/analysis, and transaction mapping. This article highlights the challenges IT faces in maintaining Web services performance, the solutions available, and the industry/technology requirements needed for Web services management tools.

Web Services: Current State of the Industry
While Web services products are currently the focus of IT, the adoption of Web services technologies within the enterprise is slow. Every IT analyst firm predicts Web services will experience tremendous growth over the coming years. Today, companies are taking a cautious approach to Web services.

IDC recently published a report highlighting this trend:

  • Four out of five enterprises intend to undertake Web services projects over the next three years, and nearly one in four have already completed an internal solution using Web services.
  • Organizations plan to utilize Web services for a variety of business solutions; however, integration involving internal and external systems currently tops the list of functional uses.
  • Web services market share is still up for grabs: roughly 20% of respondents are currently undecided on which vendor to rely on.

    Early implementations are solving business problems, but more importantly, they are helping to identify future requirements. Many implementations highlight the need for additional standards to ensure interoperability between the various technologies. The Web services standards portfolio addresses functionality requirements, yet the management area remains vague.

    Web Services Standards Evolution
    The Web services standards evolution has come in three phases. The first phase involved laying out the core standards: XML Schema, SOAP, WSDL, and UDDI represent the building blocks of Web services.

    The next phase focuses on security and reliability; WS-I is working on critical Web services specifications like XML Digital Signature, XML Encryption, HTTP-R, SAML, and XACML. Additionally, groups such as OASIS, WS-I, and others are working on additional guidelines around these specifications.

    The third phase will address provisioning, transactions, workflow, and systems management. Unfortunately, this phase is in the early stages, but remains a primary concern among enterprises.

    Managing Web Services:
    What Does It Mean?

    There is a multitude of interpretations around what "managing Web services" means. Several companies offer Web service management solutions for the integration and distribution, ensuring version control, change management, provisioning, etc.

    Recently, OASIS announced its OASIS Management Protocol Technical Committee. The committee's goal is to facilitate distributed systems management over the Internet by sharing management information as a Web service and integrating various management tools such as network management, systems management, application and component management, etc. IT managers view this initiative as the next SNMP, offering a common language to communicate performance management information.

    The success of managing Web services is reliant upon the infrastructure. After security, performance and availability are the primary concerns among companies considering Web services initiatives. Currently there are no standards in place for managing Web services performance; however, many groups, including DMTF, WS-I, W3C, OASIS, and others are investigating and drafting requirements.

    Management Requirements for Delivering Web Services
    Like any service-oriented IT solution, the success of a Web services transaction depends on two separate infrastructures performing optimally. The service requester first depends upon the availability of the Web services registry. The requester then relies on the availability of the provider and the performance of the provider's environment. Finally, the requester is always dependent on the overall integrity of her or his own infrastructure.

    Additionally, the service provider is responsible for ensuring that its services are available on demand, i.e. when the service is down, the company is losing money. The provider must also offer acceptable performance levels to prevent requesters (customers or partners) from changing to a competitor. While availability remains a requirement, performance levels will be what differentiates providers and will act as the basis for service level agreements.

    Challenges for Existing Management Tools
    There are many challenges facing traditional management tools that ensure performance and availability of Web services. When integrating separate tools to address the different infrastructure elements, IT is still left without visibility into various critical components.

    IT managers often default to systems management tools for monitoring of Web servers, portal servers, Web application servers, and database servers. Network management tools provide protocol monitoring for such things as SOAP, HTTP/S, FTP, e-mail, and TCP/IP, and component management tools provide metrics on the performance and availability of JSPs, servlets, EJBs, and JDBC connections. Yet, while this approach addresses some needs a number of issues remain:

  • The coverage is limited, creating issues for diverse operating systems, application server platforms, middleware, and database technologies.
  • Many traditional tools are not designed with or for Internet technologies, including HTML, XML, HTTP/S, and JMX.
  • Enterprise management products fail to deliver a business-centric view into transactions, and a developer's view into the probable issues in the Java code.
  • The use of proprietary APIs results in the incompatibility of many tools, versus using standards such as SNMP, XML, SOAP, and WSDL.
  • Enterprise management tools are too invasive, whether it's a large framework solution and heavy modules on managed servers or instrumentation and profiling within Java applications. Web services tools must be lightweight with low overhead for minimal performance impact.
  • Web services environments will create high volumes of events, alerts, and observations, and massive amounts of historical performance data. Web services require scalable solutions capable of growing with anticipated data volumes.

    Leveraging Existing Technology - Java Management Extensions (JMX)
    Existing technologies may be leveraged to help fill the void of Web services performance management standards. The JMX specification defines the architecture and API requirements that allow developers to implement and expose the distributed applications management functions. Through the use of JMX, applications can be queried and monitored during runtime to expose performance and availability information within individual components.

    By monitoring a JMX-enabled SOAP runtime, a management application can consume many critical performance attributes within a Web services infrastructure, including the total number of Web services deployed and the total number of calls to all services combined. Additionally, data can be monitored from individual services, including successful invocations, the number of invocations per method, the number of failed invocations, and average response times.

    For JMX-based management, there are few requirements. To monitor the network, new solutions from companies like SMARTS, Concord Communications, and Micromuse offer scalable solutions designed for Internet environments, and provide the flexibility of standard protocols and APIs to allow for easier integration.

    BEA, the leading Java platform vendor, has already taken the step of adopting JMX as the mechanism to expose their performance and availability statistics. By taking these steps BEA has once again shown its commitment to the Java community and to supporting open standards for manageability. In addition, as BEA's platform strategy expands to offer greater coverage of Web services, customers can rest assured that they too will be manageable "out of the box."

    Most important, companies need a management solution designed to monitor application server environments, including the operating system, Web applications, and components. Currently, some products provide comprehensive management for performance and availability of application server environments, including CPU, memory, JVM, servlets, EJBs, and methods. In addition to the provider's infrastructure, information is also ascertained from the registry's response time using SOAP, HTTPS, and TCP/IP; and the performance of individual services, such as response time and invocations.

    This combined approach for proactively managing Web services ensures users that the services are performing optimally. There are only a few solutions that combine scalability and functionality with the ability to monitor, threshold, and act upon any Mbean within any JMX-enabled application, and monitor specific Java method calls. The ideal product also provides the monitoring information in business-centric views, such as the health or success/failure ratio of a particular service and views for both IT and development.

    Despite the lack of standards pertaining to Web services management for WebLogic environments, leveraging JMX and the combined solutions mentioned here addresses today's needs. They prevent service failure and can immediatly identify the probable cause of issues.

    References

  • IDC - Web Services Awareness and Adoption Study, 2002: Ready and Willing, but Able? (IDC #27736)
  • W3C Web Services Architecture Requirements, Working Draft 19; Section D-AC018 Management and Provisioning
  • More Stories By Dave Wilby

    Dave Wilby is vice president of marketing at Dirig Software. He has over 12 years of product management experience in the performance management space. At Tivoli, Dave served as director of product management for the Web Solutions team, where he was responsible for strategy and development of the product roadmap and guiding eBusiness product initiatives.

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