Taking Stock of SOA

By eweek  |  Posted 2006-01-16

Taking Stock of SOA

The move toward service-oriented architectures has spawned a host of companies competing for developer mind share. Thought leaders from two such companies, Tom Erickson, CEO at Systinet Corp., in Burlington, Mass., and Gordon Van Huizen, strategic technology adviser and chief technology officer at Sonic Software Corp., in Bedford, Mass., recently shared their views on SOA development and other issues with eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl K. Taft.

Tom Erickson

Where do you think your company fits in comparison to your competition? What is your niche? What do you offer above and beyond the other guys?

One of the major differences is that, when you built applications previously, you had a nice situation with four walls to your application. You got your application development team together, and you defined the criteria.

You defined what kind of security you were going to have, service-level agreements. You defined how things were going to work together. ...

What SOA does is bring out the notion of a couple of other important concepts.

One is our niche: governance. And governance involves a series of functions, including discovery, policy management, contract management, change management, portfolio management and others.

Click here to read about Mercurys acquisition of Systinet as part of its SOA governance strategy.

Theres another area that is complementary to what we do, which is management security, where you have different types of enforcement, monitoring and provisioning.

But other companies are talking about offering the same thing. Infravio [Inc.] is one among many.

Absolutely. Infravio is a competitor of ours. Theres no doubt about that. Infravio is in the management security area, and through the work they did at one of their customers, they built some areas around this and realized this was a lucrative area for them to go into. And so about a year or so ago, they decided to move from the management security area into the area that were in. Sun [Microsystems Inc.] has introduced an integrated registry/repository; IBM has capabilities that are often considered in lieu of ours. And even though we work with IBM in some situations, we compete with them in other areas.

So how often do you partner? I know you have a relationship with BEA [Systems Inc.] for one. Who else do you have relationships with?

Well, Oracle [Corp.] resells our software and is embedding it in their Fusion Middleware product. At the big level, we have Oracle and BEA as our two biggest partners. We do work with IBM. Weve got two projects where were working with Microsoft [Corp.]. We also work in the ESB [enterprise service bus] world with Sonic and TIBCO [Software Inc.]. So we remain quite agnostic in the overall way that we service the market. And weve managed to [stay platform-agnostic] by providing a unique capability on a global basis. In fact, were working with Cisco [Systems Inc.] on a couple of opportunities as well.

What are the Microsoft projects?

In the case of Microsoft, theres some ESB capabilities, where Microsoft is using BizTalk Server as an ESB. And if you have an ESB and you want to manage your services, theres a nice complement between how they work. So you can take companies that are natural partners for us.

Microsoft claims BizTalk outpaces ESB. Click here to read more.

Our partner network is very robust. Some resell the software, like BEA and Oracle. Others just work with us, like [Hewlett-Packard Co.s] OpenView, which were [built into the architecture of] their management product. With TIBCO, we have more than a dozen customers we work with around their BusinessWorks product.

So what do you think about Microsofts strategy around using BizTalk in an ESB-like situation?

Well, they arent going out and doing what IBM or BEA are doing, and what Oracle will announce soon as well. And theyre trying to adopt BizTalk to their current requirements. In fact, they just won a major deal in conjunction with us in California.

We really believe that Microsofts strategy is very much focused around "Indigo." Now BizTalk is a stopgap measure for them. What they really want people to do is to use the messaging capabilities that are built into Indigo, which are very synonymous with how we think about the way that Web services at a very low level will work in terms of how they interoperate.

One of the things Microsoft is doing is painting a bigger picture of the enterprise, in terms of how you actually scale these things and how ... you manage them. They havent announced or come out with that at this point in time.

Next Page: Gordon Van Huizen of Sonic Software.


Gordon Van Huizen

Whats your take on Sonic vis-à-vis the competition, not only in the ESB space, but in the whole area of competing to deliver infrastructure for SOAs?

The market continues to solidify in the way that we would have hoped a few years ago, which says that ESB is an identifiable category of technology that increasingly organizations put together RFPs [requests for proposals] for. And as organizations become more savvy about what theyre looking for, Sonic performs increasingly well in that environment. So, getting people to the point where they have bake-offs and vendors come in and compete, Sonic continues to do remarkably well.

So the dynamic that weve talked about—with IBM and BEA telegraphing this message about how ESBs fit into service-oriented architectures—creates a great environment for us competitively, since Sonic has the goods.

There are other types of technology needed to build out an SOA strategy. The Sonic approach has been to partner with the vendors we think are leaders in those areas: AmberPoint [Inc.] for Web services management [and] Systinet for registry, repository and the aspects of governance that they provide. And that set of relationships is working pretty well.

OK, but what do you think makes Sonic unique versus other players?

I think the breadth of the ESB offering. The other players tend to be missing some core component or feature of an ESB. Cape Clear [Software Inc.], for example, only recently got serious at all about messaging technology. And, generally, other small vendors tend to fall by the wayside early in the evaluation process for lack of functionality.

Also, the depth and hardening of the product is unbeatable, and things like availability and scalability come into the equation. So by the time you get to the best and final round, the smaller players have been excluded and its quite often Sonic against IBM or Sonic against BEA.

Whats your take on Microsofts strategy around ESB?

I continue to think that Microsoft is doing a great service to the industry with Indigo and the whole message-driven approach to SOA and evangelizing that.

What isnt clear at this point at all is what Microsoft intends to do from a middleware point of view around ESB. So in our view theyre allowing developers to create better service-enabled endpoints—better business-level services. But it isnt clear to us how they will offer an ESB-style product for connecting those services together.

So you see their BizTalk strategy as a stopgap?

Yes, exactly. And the usual model with Microsoft is that they dont do anything until they really, really have to. So the current BizTalk model will probably stay in place, I would imagine, for the next couple of years, until theyre pressured to do something more decentralized and more service-oriented.

Well, I guess the question then is, is it enough for their customers, or would they need to look elsewhere?

Its certainly been our experience that they do [go] to another vendor for the enterprise-grade middleware that would tie services together. And even in environments where Microsoft owns the development piece and the application deployment piece, they dont own the middleware piece that connects the systems together.

So there are certainly small-scale and certain types of SOA projects where having a centralized broker approach like BizTalk would be just fine. But for broader SOA strategies, organizations tend to think—in our experience—more broadly than this.

What is your partnership strategy? What do you look for?

We look for a technology where there is a clearly defined need and where there are multiple vendors competing in that space and there is a vendor that is demonstrating clear leadership, both in terms of the technology that they offer and market perception around the technology.

Another angle that we look for is delivery of methodology, which is why we have a partnership with BearingPoint [Inc.], in particular. They have the most evolved view of SOA.

Can you talk a little about data handling and what you guys do in that realm?

Theres a set of challenges that show up when youre building a large-scale SOA that requires the use of reference data. So, for example, if Im building a service-oriented network thats dealing with RFID [radio-frequency identification], and Im building a common infrastructure for that.

When a scan happens at a manufacturing plant, theres typically a significant amount of reference data that needs to be available to make sense of that scan and figure out what to do with it—what customer orders are impacted, etc. So theres a projection of that reference data that needs to occur. And right now the process side of SOA is dealt with in a very distinctly different way than the data management side. And over time we think these two worlds need to merge.

So what has been thought of as federated queries, the need for that is heightened quite a bit in the SOA environment.

Do you provide this?

Were incrementally building out to provide this service-oriented data layer. And the market strategy is to allow it to operate independently of the ESB, but also operate well in an ESB environment. So were looking at how to share metadata between those environments.

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