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Managing XML 'services creep'

XML is a classic double-edged sword, solving integration problems while creating potential business network problems, according to Jack Serfass, a veteran of XML software ventures.

Serfass is co-founder and chairman of a new company, Swingtide Inc., which announced this week that it is developing applications to deal with problems such as 'XML service creep.' The Portsmouth, N.H.-based firm plans to release applications later this year for 'Logical Network Management,' which will run on enterprise systems management platforms, to help manage XML implementations, he said.

While not going into the details of the yet-to-be-released applications, Serfass said they will be designed to help IT departments monitor and identify XML activities throughout an enterprise network.

The proliferation of XML in the last few years has created a situation where organizations often don't know where the meta data standard is operating and what it is doing, Serfass said. This is due to a problem he calls XML service creep, where XML shows up when no one in an organization expected it.

'Even if a company doesn't have an XML mandate as part of its architecture plan, just the fact that you're buying packaged software -- applications like SAP or application servers -- many of those systems now have XML bundled in with them,' Serfass explained. 'What we're finding is people are being surprised; even if they hadn't planned on implementing XML, they're using XML in ways they didn't know they were using it.'

A variant of this problem is what Serfass identifies as the 'viral nature' of XML.

'What we've seen is that within large companies, it's very easy for application developers to start to create a whole bunch of XML services, most times described in SOAP,' he explained. 'What can happen very quickly is that these services start to get chained together. That's kind of the viral nature. These applications can start to appear in places where you didn't expect them to and in ways you didn't expect them to; they also start to get linked in ways you hadn't anticipated. So one XML service could actually take down five or 10 other services down the line. Trying to figure out which service caused the problem can be quite difficult.'

So that will be another job for Logical Network Management, which will also help with more mundane tasks such as making sure the headers for the various implementations of XML vertical industry standards work with each other, he said.

The executives at Swingtide have previous experience in the XML world. Serfass and co-founder David Sweet were founders of Bowstreet, the XML and Web services infrastructure firm, as well as Preferred Systems Inc., which they sold to Computer Associates.

Serfass said Swingtide's assessment of the potentials and pitfalls of XML are based on nine months of research among the Fortune 1000. The company has produced a white paper, 'XML is Challenging the Quality of Online Business,' which is available at http://www.swingtide.com.

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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