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Web services rides the management wave

Actional hooks up with Microsoft and joins a growing number of companies touting tools for Web services application performance.

A growing number of companies are looking to capitalize on an emerging niche in business software called Web services management.

Start-up Actional on Monday will seek to bolster its position among competitors, with enhancements to its product line and a partnership with Microsoft.

Web services is an umbrella term for standards and development techniques that make it easier to share information between different computing systems.

Until now most of the revenue from Web services has come from development tools and software to run newly written Web services applications. Large companies like Microsoft and IBM, as well as providers of specialized Web services development tools, have been profiting from sales of Web services software to businesses.

The latest wave of Web services software has focused on managing applications once they are written and implemented on corporate networks. These management programs are geared toward helping network administrators monitor Web services to ensure applications operate at a predefined performance threshold.

Actional Monday introduced a console to its software that allows an administrator to monitor how well a Web services application is performing. The tool, called Actional Looking Glass, can generate statistics on how quickly applications respond, which helps administrators to improve overall performance.

The company is also adding so-called agent software that can track performance and feed data about it back to the central management console.

Companies typically rely on systems management software to monitor their applications' performance, but using Web services can complicate the operations of a company's network.

Web services allow companies to break up larger applications into smaller pieces. But what companies gain in flexibility with a more modular approach, they lose in ease of administration, said James Phillips, Actional's senior vice president of products and marketing.

"If you're taking big, monolithic applications and busting them up into smaller components, then there are more things running around a network that you need to worry about," said Phillips. "There are clearly a lot more dependencies."

As part of Actional's partnership with Microsoft, the companies will co-sell Actional's Web services management products with Microsoft's .Net application development tools and operating systems.

Actional is one of a growing number of companies targeting Web services management. Philips said Actional competes most frequently with Confluent Software and AmberPoint. Actional said it has about 100 customers.

Hewlett Packard, which has a substantial base of customers for its management products, intends to move more aggressively into Web services management as well. The company plans to release its "adaptive infrastructure" strategy later this month, which will include improved management of Web services applications.