Sonic Software is one of the earliest pioneers in the ESB space, and its portfolio of products has proved to be a powerful, flexible platform for building an SOA. Sonic clearly recognizes this, as it has continually moved to integrate and extend its platforms to provide a seamless and unified SOA solution. Sonic Workbench 6.1, which was released in March, is essentially the developer-only version of a fully loaded SOA Suite 6.1, providing all the components of the suite in a bundled format that makes it possible for developers to build, test and deploy any SOA process or application.We found that for any business willing to fully buy in to the Sonic platform, the SOA Suite provides a very extensive platform for building a service-based infrastructure.However, while it is possible to use other products in place of some Sonic components, it really works best and is easiest to develop for when the entire suite is used. Sonic Workbench, which we tested, consists of the ESB, SonicMQ, the XML Server, the Orchestration Server, the Stylus Studio Integration Edition IDE (integrated development environment) and two new components: the Collaboration Server and the Database Service. The Sonic Workbench for developers is priced at $3,750 per named user. Its live deployment equivalent, the Sonic SOA Suite, is priced starting at $35,000 per CPU. Version 6.1s new Database Service essentially runs in the ESB and makes it possible for anyone familiar with SQL to easily integrate standard database statements and procedures within an ESB process. The Database Service uses JDBC (Java Database Connectivity) to connect to the databases and supports IBMs DB2 and Informix, Microsofts SQL Server, Oracle Corp.s Oracle, and Sybase Inc.s Sybase databases. The Collaboration Server adds more business process capabilities to the Sonic platform and made it possible for us to connect business-to-business processes in our overall service infrastructure. The Collaboration Server supports most popular B2B standards, such as ebXML and RosettaNets RosettaNet. The Collaboration Server works especially well in conjunction with new features in the Orchestration Server that give the Sonic platform almost all the features that one would expect in a BPM (business process management) product. Now included with the product is a very good graphical interface for building complex business processes. Although the interface is probably more developer-oriented and complex than some of the modeling tools in many BPM products, we found it to be very extensive and powerful, letting us create UML (Unified Modeling Language)-based processes to manage our internal and external business activities and then easily connect them within our overall service solution. While nearly all management and development is done in the Stylus Studio Integration Edition IDE, the size of the suite often left us confused as to how to handle a variety of tasks (such as which server component something should connect with). Still, the IDE is very good, and the provided documentation helped us overcome our initial confusion. In addition to the BPM interface, other new graphical interfaces made common tasks easier to perform. These included editors for XML schema and documents, an ESB itinerary editor, an editor for creating and testing XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations) mappings, and improved XML Query tools. Next page: Questions to ask.