In-Depth

Profile: Building SOA Infrastructures, One Brand at a Time

Recent acquisitions by Progress Software fortify its stake in providing SOA infrastructure.

"Almost every organization is looking to adopt service-oriented architecture today, but the approach they're taking varies dramatically," said David Chappell, vice president and chief technology evangelist at Sonic Software. Whether organizations are experimenting with Web services toolkits, building service-level interfaces based on their application platform vendors, or taking an overall architecture approach by using an enterprise service bus, the Progress family of companies continues to expand and provide the branded products necessary to help companies realize their SOA infrastructure goals.

Progress's most recent acquisitions of Actional and NEON Systems demonstrate the company's commitment to becoming a powerful force in the SOA infrastructure space. Actional, which merged with Westbridge Technology in 2004, provides a Web services management product line that features end-to-end, policy-based, SOA governance and management and end-to-end business process visibility across the entire SOA network. NEON is a provider of enterprise-class mainframe legacy integration solutions, and is known for delivering the industry's first Mainframe Services Bus (MSB) for interoperability with distributed systems.

As part of the most recent Progress announcement, Actional will become a product unit under the direct responsibility of Sonic Software. Sonic Software, which according to Chappell was originally begun as an internal incubation project within Progress, claims to be the inventor and leading provider of the enterprise service bus (ESB) technology.

"Actional provides a very natural complement to [Sonic Software]; we intend to keep the product lines separate. Even though we'll obviously be doing work to have the Sonic ESB and the Actional products work together more closely, they can be used separately or combined," Chappell said.

Progress looked at every vendor providing a Web services management platform when the company sought to expand its technology offerings to support its plan for end-to-end governance capabilities, according to Chappell. In deciding on Actional, Progress decision makers opted for the Actional product line's unique capabilities in that, "they're not just built to manage Web services in a solo environment," Chappell said. Chappell pointed out that Actional's Looking Glass product, for example, allows nonintrusive instrumentation of a variety of platforms, protocols, and technologies, in addition to providing end-to-end visibility across those different platforms and protocols. In particular, Chappell mentioned that the Looking Glass Ghost Agent architecture lets you monitor EJB calls or RMI calls nonintrusively, monitor JDBC calls to the database, and monitor the .Net environment, in addition to Web services.

"What this allows you to do is dynamically discover end-to-end business transaction flows and dynamically build a network-wide process map to be able to gain visibility and insight into what's happening with business transactions," Chappell said. "In keeping with Progress's history and Sonic's history of heterogeneity and platform independence, we thought that that was an important capability.

"From the perspective of Progress, this [the Actional acquisition] is helping to further position Progress as having a most compelling set of SOA offerings. There's the enterprise service bus, the Web services management platform, and a few years ago Progress acquired eXcelon Corporation. Pieces of that went to Sonic and pieces went to what's now known as the Progress Real-Time division."

As has always been the case throughout Progress's over 20-year history, acquired product lines maintain their original brand names. Chappell said that maintaining brand recognition is an important part of the company's business strategy.

"When you are in a new market—either you're defining a new market or, like enterprise service bus, you're competing in one—you need to act differently, you need to market differently, and you need to behave differently than [you do] when you're in a mature market, like the relational database market," Chappell said. "That's the reason we've always kept Progress and Sonic separate companies with separate identities, so we have our own separate branding position. And it certainly seems to have worked. ... We were so successful in establishing brand recognition for Sonic, that most people don't even know that it's associated with Progress."

Another important acquisition by Progress made early in 2005 and absorbed into its Run-Time division was an event-stream platform from Apama. According to Chappell, the Apama platform has its roots in algorithmic trading, but the event-stream processing concept is applicable in other areas, and Progress is doing a lot of work there.

"The basic idea is that we can analyze a stream of events and be able to apply a set of rules to high-volume streams of events and then be able to take action on certain patterns," Chappell said.

The event-stream processing platform has a lot of traction in its own right today, Chappell said, particularly as a service on the enterprise service bus, where it can be a very important part of enabling a realtime business process. Event-stream processing incorporates business-activity monitoring, although the difference there is that with Business Activity Monitoring (BAM) dashboards, typically you can see what's going on, but you can't necessarily do anything about it. Instead of taking a snapshot of yesterday's data and trying to make business decisions based on the analytics of going over that, Chappell explained, you can ahead of time identify a pattern and then be able to complete a task in real time, such as identifying complex patterns within certain time frames and taking predictive actions on them.

"In algorithmic trading, for example, when a stock goes up and you see this other stock always go up at the same time, you can look that pattern over and take some action on that," Chappell said.

Chappell also mentioned the importance of data services and data caching technologies within Progress's overall strategy in helping to enable SOA infrastructure, which is another aspect to its Real-Time division. Another Progress company, DataDirect, essentially brought to Progress ownership of the substantial database driver market. The DataDirect acquisition was made a couple of years ago. Their drivers, when combined with some interesting innovations in XQuery, can represent a generic data services layer that can be used to access heterogeneous back-end data sources, Chappell said, adding, "on the enterprise service bus we have a specific database service based on that technology."

DataDirect also assumed direct responsibility over another recent acquisition, NEON systems, in late 2005. NEON is a provider of mainframe integration and has a product called Shadow ITE that represents a generic interface for a variety of transaction processing monitors and databases. Chappell said that though Progress is still in the product planning stages in this area, it will eventually integrate with the Sonic product line. Nevertheless, Chappell said that today, "by its nature works out of the box because NEON has a Web services interface, so the Shadow product allows back-end, mainframe data sources to be exposed through Web services and normalized through an XML data exchange and is, therefore, something that could be used with Sonic products already."

The recent Actional and NEON acquisitions are arguably very huge in the industry, and will contribute to Progress being formidable in providing enterprise-scale SOA offerings. Both companies have their own brand recognition that is well established and well recognized out there in their respective categories, Chappell said.

About the Author

Terrence O'Donnell is managing editor of Java Pro.

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