Was Visions Solutions right to acquire Double-Take?


vision1
On May 17th Vision Solutions announced that it was acquiring Double-Take – bringing together its own IBM Power HA/Disaster Recovery business and Double-Take’s strength in the same market with Windows and to a lesser extent Linux. But did it do the right thing?

On the face of it, this was a natural move for Vision. Its strength was in providing availability solutions based on IBM’s 64-bit Power servers. This market is a strong and inflential market, but is nowhere near the size of the Windows market. Also, since there are few players in the more specialist IBM Power market, Vision already holds a reasonable share. For growth, it was essential for Vision to do something. It had choices – it was already partnering with Double-Take to supply Windows to its IBM base, and had other partners for Linux. But by choosing to acquire Double-Take, it is definitely buying a Windows availability provider who also does Linux rather than the other way around.

My concern is that my instincts tell me the Linux market is going to be much more interested in availability than the Windows one. UNIX in general is a more secure and robust operating system than Windows, and therefore people using Linux may have greater expectations of availability, provided through file mirrors, backups, network switchovers and disaster recovery scenarios. In contrast, any user of Windows knows that the system is always going to have its availability problems – just think how many times you have to reboot when you use your own Windows laptop or desktop. The question is therefore; how strong and widespread is the demand for availability on Windows?

At some level, there is demand. For example, a lot of people would like their office data backed up so the can get it back quickly if there is a problem. But beyond this basic data level, it seems to me demand may be limited. Indeed, this seems to be backed up by the fact that in the past year or so Double-Take has suffered slowing growth and market pressures on its finances. Maybe Vision would have been wiser to acquire a Linux availability provider, like SteelEye Software for instance.

If you want to fly in the Cloud, check the exits first

clouds1While Cloud adoption may be very cautious for core business systems, desktop clouds have seen a high take-up. But if you want to fly in the Clouds, you really should check your nearest emergency exit before you take off.

The cost advantages of putting all your desktop files and storage into the cloud are very persuasive, not to mention the attractions of access anywhere. But as Lustratus has pointed out before, there is a concern here. There are LOTS and LOTS of cloud suppliers – not unexpected when a new and radical idea comes along. But remember the real problem with cloud from the supplier’s side; the supplier has to put in all the investment in infrastructure up front, and then receives income in small per-user usage charges. This might look a great plan on a five-year basis with a rapidly expanding user base, but when year one or year two is tied to a period of tighter credit conditions it is easy to get over-extended. Look at G.host for instance, which went bust two or three months ago because it found its cloud no longer economical. Not a nice situation for all the people who had files and data living in it, although to be fair they got reasonable warning from the company.

The sensible thing to do is check the escape routes before you go in. Perhaps your cloud vendor will be fine, growing into the market leader with oodles of cash to invest in new infrastructure to sustain the huge number of users, but just maybe it might be one of the ones that doesn’t make it. Look at your back-up procedures, and put in place an emergency plan to avoid any disruption if the worst happens. And make sure above all that you do your due diligence before selecting your cloud.

CICS and PHP – DON’T PANIC

OK, so when IBM briefed me a few weeks ago on the new announcement about PHP support for CICS, I almost fell off my chair. IBM asked me what I thought and I said I was horrified…taking something as reliable and trustworthy as CICS and throwing it into the wild, unkempt PHP world just left me filled with dread. But on hearing more, my concerns were largely put to rest, and my message to others with the same initial reaction as me is ‘Don’t Panic’.

The initial description to me was ‘adding PHP support for CICS transactions’. Now I am not so old that I do not understand the power of PHP, and its ability to quickly generate nice, modern interfaces for websites and the like. But my own experience of PHP is playing games on the Internet (“Sorry the server has crashed, the damn PHP code has gone pear-shaped again”)  and messing about building pages and making a mess of them. I therefore initially viewed the idea of PHP in CICS as a great way to take reliable applications and make them unreliable/unpredictable, while probably crashing the rest of the innocent CICS apps at the same time.

However, it turns out IBM is not stupid. The biggest point that relieved my fears is that the PHP support is provided in its own address space. Now, CICS is REALLY good at protecting different address spaces from hurting each other – in fact I was part of the team that delivered the multi-region operations (MRO) capabilities to I can vouch personally that this is the case.  So all of a sudden, what had me running screaming for the hills begins to sound like something quite exciting and yet also non-threatening. As I thought about it more (and talked to some people half my age who are PHP fans and really understand the sorts of things it can do) I began to realize how smart IBM has been here. This is a great way to provide a more flexible and rapid way to build jazzy front ends to CICS apps, extending their life sustantially. It also offers the modern wave of technical people an environment with which they are initmately familiar.

The upshot is, PHP support for CICS looks like a winner. There is no need to panic about disruption to operations, because of IBM’s smart thinking in isolating the PHP functionality, but on the other hand this support offers companies a way to leverage their CICS investments, keep the technology vital and alive, respond far more quickly to the need for more attractive interfaces enabling more efective multi-channel delivery and get the kids excited and contributing.

New Lustratus Research Report – A Competitive Review of SOA Appliances

Just a short note to say that I’ve uploaded a new report to our web store at lustratus.com.

The report, entitled A Competitive Review of SOA Appliances focuses on Intel’s SOA Expressway, IBM’s DataPower range and Layer7’s SecureSpan SOA Appliance. In the report I compare and contrast the technical and strategic approaches each vendor takes to addressing the task of creating, managing, accelerating and securing a service oriented architecture using appliances.

The report can be found here.

Steve Craggs

IBM acquires Cast Iron

castironI am currently at IBM’s IMPACT show in Las Vegas, where the WebSphere brand gets to flaunt its wares, and of course one of the big stories was IBM’s announcement that is has acquired Cast Iron.

While Cast Iron may only be a small company, the acquisition has major implications. Over the past few years, Cast Iron has established itself as the prime provider of Cloud to Cloud and Cloud to on-premise integration, with a strong position in the growing Cloud ecosystem of suppliers. Cast Iron has partnerships with a huge number of players in the Cloud and application packages spaces, including companies such as  Salesforce.com, SAP and Microsoft, and so IBM is not just getting powerful technology but also in one move it is taking control of the linkage between Cloud and anything else.

On the product front, the killer feature of Cast Iron’s offering is its extensive range of pre-built integration templates covering many of the major Cloud and on-premise environments. So, for example, if an organization wants to link invoice information in its SAP system with the Salesforce.com sales force environment,  then the Cast Iron offering includes prepared templates for the required definitions and configurations. The result is that the integration can be set up in a matter of hours rather than weeks.

So why is this so important? Well, for one, most people have already realized that Cloud usage must work hand-in-hand with on-premise applications, based on such things as security needs and prior investments. On top of this, different clouds will serve different needs. So integration between clouds and applications is going to be a fact of life. IBM’s acquisition leaps it into the forefront of this area, in both technology and partner terms. But there is a more strategic impact of this acquisition too. Noone knows what the future holds, and how the Cloud market will develop. Think of the situation of mainframes and distributed solutions. As the attractions of distributed systems grew, doomsayers were quick to predict the end of the mainframe. However, IBM developed a powerful range of integration solutions in order to allow organizations to leverage the advantages of both worlds WITHOUT having to choose one from the other. This situation almost feels like a repeat – Cloud has a lot of advantages, and some misguided ‘experts’ think that Cloud is the start of the end for on-premise systems. However, whether you believe this or not, IBM has once again ensured that it has got a running start in providing integration options to ensure that users can continue to gain value from both cloud and on-premise investments.

Steve

2010 crystal ball gazing

crysalballLustratus has just published the 2010 edition of its popular infrastructure software market predictions. This year, highlighted areas include BPM, BRMS, Cloud Computing, SOA Appliances, Integration, Security and even software patent litigation.

Every year Lustratus goes through this exercise, trying to identify the key trends for the year. Perhaps the most traumatic part of the forecast is the scoring of the predictions from the previous year – always an opportunity for embarassment. Fortunately, Lustratus has had a pretty good record over the years.

This year Lustratus is highlighting trends such as the continuing success of business alignment software like BPM, the effects that Cloud Computing is likely to have on the market, the resurgence of interest in good old integration. The Lustratus predictions can be downloaded at no charge from the Lustratus web store.

Steve

Progress Software acquires Savvion

handshakeSo Progress Software has bought yet another software company; this time a BPM vendor, Savvion. But is this the right move for Progress?

Progress Software has spent most of its life growing through acquisition, making use of the piles of cash generated by its legacy mid-range database product to find new areas of growth. After all, the legacy business may be highly profitable, but its returms are dwindling by the year and Porgress desperately needs something else to shore up its balance sheet. Unfortunately its acquisitions have had a bit of a patchy record of success. Perhaps it will be different this time.

Savvion is a credible BPM (Business Process Management) software provider, and 2009 was a bumper year for BPM sales. Specialist companies like Pegasystems and Lombardi showed huge growth rates, bucking the downward trend triggered across many technology sectors by the economic upheaval. On top of this, Progress has been trying to establish itself as a viable SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) and business integration vendor ever since it launched the Sonic ESB in the early years of the last decade, and BPM was a glaring hole in its portfolio. For these reasons, it is easy to see why Savvion would seem a good fit.

There seem to be two problems for Progress, however. Firstly, BPM is now rarely a solution bought in its own right – hence the rapid consolidation of the BPM market with Pegasystems more or less the only major oure-play BPM left standing following IBM’s acquisition of Lombardi. Instead, BPM is deployed more and more as part of a business transformation strategy involving components such as SOA, application and data integration, business rules, business monitoring and business events management.  Secondly, the gorillas in the space are now IBM, Oracle and SAP. These companies all offer a full suite of products and more importantly services based around BPM and the rest of the modern infrastructure stack. Companies such as Software AG, TIBCO and Axway form a credible second tier, too.

In previous acquisitions, Progress has treated each acqusition as purely software products. This is not surprising, since selling databases is more about selling products than selling solutions. However, it is this factor that has been at the root of the patchy performance of Progress acquisitions. For instance, the Data Direct division of Progress, where it placed a number of acquisitions in the data space, has fared reasonably well. This is because it is more of a product business. However its attempts in areas such as ESBs and SOA governance have suffered due to a seeming reluctance to embrace a more industry-specific, services-based solution model.

With its acqusition of Savvion, Progress once again has the chance to try to show the market that it has learnt from its mistakes. BPM is absolutely an area where companies need to be offered solutions – products together with services and guidance to develop effective and affordable business solutions. It will be hard enough for Progress to cut a share of the BPM pie with all the big players involved, but it does have one outstanding advantage; it has a strong and accessible customer base in the mid-range market where the larger companies struggle. However, if it fails to take on board the need to hire industryvertical skills and solution-based field and service professionals then this acquisition could prove to be yet another lost opportunity.

Steve

Unlocking more value from legacy CICS applications

old-lockIBM’s acquisition of ILOG has resulted in a great new opportunity to unlock the business value of CICS applications by turning the COBOL logic into easy-to-read/edit ‘business rules’.

IBM has taken the ILOG JRules Business Rules Management System (BRMS) and made it part of the WebSphere family. But even better for CICS users, IBM has made this business rules capability available for CICS applications too. This whole subject is discussed in more detail in a new and free Lustratus Report, downloadable from the Lustratus web store, entitled “Using business rules with CICS for greater flexibility and control”. But why is this capability of interest?

The answer is that many of the key business applications in the corporate world are still CICS COBOL mainframe applications, and although these applications are highly effective and reliable, they sometimes lack in terms of flexibility and adaptability. Not unreasonably, companies are loath to go to the expense and risk of rewriting these essential programs, but are instead looking for some technology-based answer to their needs for greater agility and control. The BRMS idea provides just that. Basically, the logic implementing the business decisions in the operational CICS applications is extracted and turned into plain-speaking, non-technical business rules, such as ‘If this partner has achieved GOLD certification, then apply a 10% discount to all transactions’. This has a number of benefits:

  • It becomes easy for rules to be changed
  • It becomes easy for a business user to verify the rules are correctly implemented
  • If desired, business users can edit operational rules directly

While BRMS is a technology with a lot to offer in many scenarios, it seems particularly well suited to legacy environments, providing a way to unlock increased potential and value from existing investments.

Steve

IBM acquires Lombardi to reinforce its BPM solutions

contractIBM has agreed an acqusition of Lomardi, one of the few remaining pure-play BPM suppliers, with target of closing the deal in 2010.

IBM has reaffirmed its position of strength in the burgeoning Business Process Management (BPM) space with this acquisition. Lombardi has three assets that IBM is particularly interested in; its human-centric BPM capabilities, its extensive professional services resources and its reputation and success with BPM at the departmental level.

For the uninitiated, business processes tend to span some or all of three distinct areas of usage – human-oriented processes, document-oriented processes and prorgram-oriented processes. Human processes involve such aspects as task lists that people use as they carry out their assigned tasks, document processes upgrade traditional paper-oriented models and program-based processes involve the dynamic interaction of applications. IBM has always been most experienced at dealing with program-to-program interaction, delivering its own WebSphere BPM offering. A few years ago it also acquired FileNet, a major player in document-based processing that had document-related BPM products. Now it is making the Lombardi acquisition to strengthen its human interaction BPM capabilities.

This is an exciting acquisition, closing out the weakest areas of IBM’s BPM solutions. However, the challenge for IBM will be to properly integrate the new product set with its existing BPM offerings. Frankly, IBM has not done a good job to date on this with its previous BPM acquisition of FileNet – IBM marketing collateral exhibits confusion over what are essentially two differnent product solutions that both claim to be BPM. Hopefully it will handle the Lombardi acquisition better.

Steve

Platform Computing takes on the Cloud

ListeningI was on a call this week with Platform Computing, a well-known software vendor in the high-performance computing (HPC) world of grids and clusters that is now trying to make the leap to the Cloud Computing market.

Platform Computing has a strong reputation in the HPC world, selling software that helps manage these multi-processing environments, but it is keen to expand its market coverage and open up new opportunities in more general areas of IT, and it has selected the Cloud Computing marketplace to help it achieve these diversification aims. At first, this may seem odd, but a little thought quickly shows that this is not nearly as big a leap for Platform as it might at first seem. After all, internal clouds almost always involve virtualization, and handling the management needs of a virtualized environment is very much up Platform Computing’s street.

But for me, the real nugget that came out of this briefing was an interesting distinction that helps improve understanding of Cloud Computing and its relationship to Virtualization. I meet a growing number of people who have heard about Cloud, but do not see the distinction between Cloud and virtualization. While there are a number of ways to look at this distinction, as I discussed in my Executive Overview to Cloud which Lustratus offers at no charge from its web store, the discussions with Platform brought another one that I think is an interesting take. The Platform position is that virtualization solutions by definition only make virtualized resources available for usage. Its Cloud management software differentiates itself from virtualization by offering heterogeneous access to resources – that is, Cloud-based access to resources that have already been virtualized AND ones that haven’t. I think this is a useful distinction to keep in mind when looking at data centre strategies.

Steve