Vendors like to back standards – as long is it is in their interests!

I was reading Danny Goodall’s post on his strategic marketing blog about standards-based marketing…

….and it brilliantly illustrated a point that I think is often experienced in the software marketplace – some vendors rush to back standards and push them, but only to the point that they fit with their own goals.

The example Danny discusses is Sonic Software, part of software vendor Progress. Sonic is well known as the first software vendor to use the ESB acronym (Enterprise Service Bus), and did indeed peddle the standards message hard asDanny, the marketing guru behind Sonic’s early success, remembers:

All the while I was creating marketing programs that stressed Sonic’s commitment to standards and, by implication, I was de-positioning other vendors’ technologies as being the Devil’s spawn due to their reliance on proprietary features. “How,” we asked “would organisations ensure interoperability between their, and their trading partners’ infrastructures if they didn’t conform to the emerging standards?

Of course the standards message is very attractive to users. Buyers are keen to be able to ensure that not only can components interoperate without a lot of extra work, but also that vendor lock-in is weakened through the ability to substitute components from different suppliers, bringing prices down and reducing risk. Therefore, vendors that preach standards may come across initially as ‘good guys’. However, it pays to look more closely to find out how serious the vendor REALLY is about standards. In the Sonic case, while it talked a great story, the mystery was that its own ESB product was unable to run over any standard JMS-based messaging pipe for years. Instead, it used a proprietary interface that ensured Sonic ESB would only work over SonicMQ, the Sonic messaging pipe. This was a real problem for many prospects, because IBM’s WebSphereMQowns around 80% of the messaging pipe business and therefore prospects interested in an ESB were frequently looking to run it over their existing software. This restriction was arguably one of the key reasons Sonic lost its leadership position in the ESB market.

So why did Sonic take this line? Obviously, only Sonic knows, but a cynic would argue that it consistently refused to support the JMS standard in the early years to ensure that it could force the sale of its own messaging pipe. No matter that this meant the user often had to buy another one on top of the incumbent solution.

I am not picking on Sonic here – this is only one of many examples where vendors claim to be standards-based while not shrinking from proprietary solutions when in their own interests. And of course, it is entirely understandable – after all, software vendors are businesses too. To me, the important thing is that users keep away from the rose-colored spectacles. Standards are valuable, and vendors do provide important support, but there will always be compromises.


Posted in enterprise service bus, esb, IBM, Imported, Marketing, Markets, SOA, Sonic.