Calling all integration experts!

Remember the old Universal Translator as modeled here by the late Mr. Spock? One of the first (or perhaps future?) examples of integration solutions, and certainly one of the most fondly rememberehttp://zagg-blog.s3.amazonaws.com/community/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/12581.jpgd! But at its heart, it is also an almost perfect representation of the integration challenges today. Many years ago, there was EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) which was all about integrating homegrown applications with purchased package applications and/or alien applications brought in from Mergers and Acquisitions activity. The challenge was to find a way to make these applications from different planets communicate with one another to increase return on assets and provide a complete view of enterprise activity. EAI tools appeared from vendors such as TIBCO, SeeBeyond, IBM, Vitria, Progress Software, Software AG and webMethods to mention just a few.

Then there came the SOA initiative. By building computer systems with applications in the form of reusable chunks of business functionality (called services) the integration challenge could be met by enabling different applications to share common services.

Now the eternal wheel is turning once again, with the integration challenge clothed in yet another disguise. This time it is all about integrating systems with completely different usage a resource characteristics such as mobile devices, IoT components and traditional servers, but also applications of completely new types such as mobile apps and cloud-based SaaS solutions. In an echo of the past, lines of business are increasingly going out and buying cloud-based services to solve their immediate business needs, or paying a third-party developer to create the App they want, only to then turn to IT to get them to integrate the new solutions with the corporate systems of record.

Once again the vendors will respond to these user needs, probably extending and redeveloping their existing integration solutions or maybe adding new pieces where required. But as you look for potential partners to help you with this next wave of integration challenges, it is worth keeping in mind possibly the most important fact of all; a fact that has been evident throughout the decades of integration challenges to date. Every single time the integration challenge has surged to the top of the priority list, the key differentiator contributing to eventual success is not the smarts built into the tools and software / appliances on offer. Rather it is all about the advice and guidance you can get from people with extensive experience in integration challenges. Whether from vendors or service providers, these skills are absolutely essential. When it comes down to it, the technical challenges of integration are just the tip of the iceberg; all the real challenges are how you plan what you are going to do and how you work across disciplines and departments to ensure the solution is right for your company. You don’t have the time to learn this – find a partner who has spent years steeped in integration and listen to what they have to say!

Cloud gives ESBs a new lease of life

ESBs have become the cornerstone of many SOA deployments, providing a reliable and flexible integration backbone across enterprises. However, the Cloud Computing model has given ESBs a new lease of life as the link between the safe, secure world behind the firewall and the great unknown of the Cloud.

As ESB vendors look for more reasons for users to buy their products, the Cloud model has emerged at just the right time. Companies looking to take advantage of Cloud Computing quickly discover that because of key inhibitors like data location, they are forced to run applications that are spread between the Cloud and the Enterprise. But the idea of hooking up the safe, secure world of the enterprise, hiding behind its firewall, and the Cloud which lies out in the big, wide and potentially hostile world is frightening to many. Step forward the ESB – multi-platform integration with security and flexibility, able to hook up different types of applications and platforms efficiently and securely.

More and more ESB vendors are now jumping on the ‘Cloud ESB’ bandwagon. Cast Iron, now part of IBM, made a great name for itself as the ESB for hooking Salesforce.com with in-house applications; Open Source vendor MuleSource has been quick to point to the advantages of its Mule ESB as a cost-effective route to cloud integration; Fiorano has tied its flag to the Cloud bandwagon too, developing some notable successes. Recently, for instance, Fiorano announced that Switzerland’s Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL) had adopted the Fiorano Cloud ESB to integrate 70 on-premise applications with its Salesforce.com CRM system.

Over the next few months, we expect to see a growing number of these ‘cloud ESB’ implementations as more companies realize the potential benefits of combining ESBs and Cloud.

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

Did Teilhard’s JuxtaComm patent wipe out IBM, Microsoft and SAP?

US_Patent_coverOver the past two years, a little Canadian company called Teilhard has been suing IBM, Microsoft, SAP and many others over a data exchange patent it acquired from JuxtaComm, but all parties have now settled.

I have occasionally blogged in the past on this case, regarding a patent from a company called JuxtaComm (now owned by Teilhard which is in turn owned by Shopplex.com) on a ‘System for transforming and exchanging data between distributed heterogeneous computer systems’ (US patent number 6,195,662). Legal activities were leading up to a November 2009 trial date. Many people have contacted me recently to try to find the current status, since there is little information available in the public domain and what is available in the blogosphere seems terribly polarized one way or the other. In answer to these frequent contacts, I thought I would post an update.

Firstly, the trial is off. All parties reached mutually acceptable settlement agreements, and these agreements included protection for all parties from future legal action. It should be noted that no information has been released by any party yet on the terms of these settlements. Settlements are exactly what they say – the dispute has been settled between the parties, for good. The only other point to note is that settlement amounts reflect the confidence and risk for each party in continuing to trial – therefore settlements can be large or they can be small or even zero. It all depends how strong each party thought its case was, and how much each was prepared to risk in terms of legal costs and potentially unexpected trial outcomes.

Secondly, as part of the pre-trial legal process, the judge involved formalized definitions for the terms involved in the patent, for example ‘script’. By choosing unusually wide-reaching interpretations for these terms which programmers would find highly eccentric, the result was that the patent applicability was increased dramatically from what it had originally covered, that is ETL (extract/transform/load). In the ‘script’ example, for instance, while the defence argued that a script was “a series of text commands’ that were interpretively run sequentially by the script processor”, the judge decided that a script meant “a group of commands”! However, the reason this is important is that subsequent to these definition rulings, the US patent office is now re-examining the patent for validity based on the new definitions. This work should be finished in the new year, and will have a bearing on future legal actions against new perceived infringers.

The big question to some, particularly those who own shares in the private Canadian company owning the patent now,  is how big or small the settlements are. As I said, this will be determined by a combination of risk, confidence and desire to avoid burning legal costs unnecessarily. On the plus side for the patent holder, the judge’s definitions strengthened the case substantially, making it far more wide reaching and therefore widening the impact on potential infingers. On the negative side there were an awful lot of examples of software that seemed to do the same thing as the patent describes which predated the patent, although in legal terms this sort of prior art does not necessarily invalidate the patent or law suits, apparently. But in the end, the truth is no-one knows whether settlements were huge or miniscule.

The only trustworthy sources for this settlement information in my view would be any formal announcements from any of the parties involved. For example, if a company has had to make a large payment for settlement, then depending on how much this payment is as a percentage of its turnover it might be legally required to make a statement about it in its SEC filings. Similarly, if the patent holder announces any substantial dividends then that would be another indication of settlement sizes, since the patent-holder makes very little revenue in software sales and therefore any significant profit would have to have come from patent settlements. Perhaps the next six months or so will make things a little clearer, but don’t hold your breath; as a private company, the only people Shopplex.com is required to keep informed is its own shareholders – it is not required to make any statements at all to the wider public.

Steve

What software buyers are looking for in 2009

With the global downturn in full swing, there are a lot of concerns over how software markets will perfom.

However, one trend is emerging as a vital ingredient if software companies are to succeed, and those companies that have recognized it are already benefiting.

Software buyers in 2009 are finding an industry vertical specialization to be essential to support any investment justification. The problem for many users is that although the technologies and products available offer the same sorts of benefits as before, in order to get any purchase through the system it has become critical to have a strong business backing all the way. Nothing will move if a business sponsor is not pushing for it. Of course, investments have always had to be justified, and a business alignment is a key part of this process, but in the economic downturn this focus has moved from being part of the justification to being the overriding element. A business sponsor has to be brought on board right at the beginning if the particular project has any chance of success.

As a result, companies that do more than pay lip-service to describing business benefits are prospering. The software vendors that offer truly vertical solutions, tuned for particular industry needs and taken to market by field teams with the relevant industry domain knowledge, are the ones that are succeeding. One proof point is Pegasystems, who I blogged about a few days ago. Onereason that Pegasystems has maintained such strong growth in 2008 with its BPM offerings is a strong industry vertical sensitivity. 

Another excellent example is IBM and in particular its Information Management division. Information Management software is regarded as unsexy – although still important, it has tended to be neglected in the rush towards application-oriented strategies and initiatives. Enter a new IBM management team that has restructured the go-to-market approach for Information Management software to an industry-vertical one, generating models of particular industry challenges and processes, looking at the specific needs of these industries and carrying the industry-vertical business messages to prospective buyers. Whether serendipitous or the result of impressiveexecutive insight, this approach has almost exactly dovetailed with the software buyers’ needs for a more relevant, industry-related message in order to secure investment. The result is that IBM is claiming significant sales and successes in its information management software business segment, even in the current environment. 

Other software companies would do well to take note. If you want to sell software this year, you have to help your prospective buyers by going to market with clearly aligned business vertical offerings and messages.

Steve   

Is the time right for Progress Software to be bought?

In the course of my ongoing analysis of software infrastructure vendors I was intrigued by the recent earnings release from Progress Software…

…and it caused me to dig a bit deeper. Basically, Progress is holding its revenue stream although not growing it, and I guess in today’s environment that is OK. But when the performance of the company over the last few years is considered, a different picture starts to build up.

Basically, Progress made a lot of money from its OpenEdge database product, and this business is still providing a rich ‘cash-cow’ revenue stream. However, not only has this stagnated but it is starting to decay, with Q109 showing a sharp drop. Admittedly this is probably in part due to currency movements, but the trend is clear – this is not a growing business ans the writing is on the wall, at least in the longer term. Progress knows this, and so over the past few years it has been on the acquisition trail, trying desperately to find a new business that can grow sufficiently to become the new OpenEdge. It has tried the area of Data, with its DataDirect division growing through acquisition, but this business has reached a steady state with little or no growth. It tried the area of messaging, being the company that brought the term ESB (Enterprise Service Bus) to the world through its SONIC line of business, but having got a great mindshare and market position it lost focus and this business is now fatally damaged, with others such as IBM, Oracle andMicrosoft taking up the mantle. Recently it acquired the APAMA complex event processing business, Actional (SOA management) and IONA (a datedintegration business based in Ireland). It has since found some success with the excellent APAMA offering in the heartland of financial market data processing, but has struggled to replicate this success in other industries and use cases. Actional has also had some success but it is immutably tied to the SOA star which is having its own problems. And IONA, similarly to Progress, has a nice legacy integration business based around Orbix but has failed utterly over the years to create anything else worthwhile.

The result is that although the IONA purchase has increased revenues in the Progress ‘integration infrastructure’ business unit, this is likely to be a one-off improvement and once again Progress is going to be stuck with an aging cash-cow and no clear rising star to take over responsibility for driving growth.

This might seem a recipe for Progress itself to be acquired. Up to now, this has been unattractive due to the share price, but in thecurrent climate the acquisition looks a lot more interesting. My view is that there are probably two strong candidate acquirers for Progress:

  • Companies looking for attractive maintenance businesses where profit can be maximized by cutting expenses and taking the money until the product line sunsets
  • Companies not currently in the integration space but wanting to get into this lucrative area and looking for a ready-made product set (perhaps to underpin a professional services business)

Who knows what will happen in the current turmoil? I may be way off the mark, but if I was a company fitting either of these two categories, and I had the money, I think now would be a good time to strike. After so many false dawns, I suspect the Progress management team might not resist too hard….

Steve

    Data – the forgotten element of SOA

    Now and then on this blog I have my ritual little moan about data – how it seems that SOA people just want to talk applications, and no-one cares about the data (apart from the USER of course!).

    So I was delighted to see that the Integration Consortium is holding a webinar one week today (September 18th) specifically on data considerations for SOA. It should be a good session – I know John Schmidt (one of the speakers) well, and the experience he has built up from Best Buy, Wells Fargo and BofA should have given him lots of good insights into this important subject.

    Steve

    Don’t be afraid to ask for SOA help

    While the number of SOA success stories grow, there are a lot of companies that are finding SOA a struggle.

    As often happens when something gets heavily hyped, managers are almost embarrassed to admit that they are having trouble. But the truth is that for many, getting outside help may be the best way forward and end up giving great returns.

    There seem to be three common SOA ‘failure’ scenarios.

    • This SOA-based project is blowing its schedule/budget/SLAs
    • We are diligently implementing SOA, but we just aren’t getting the returns we expected
    • Everybody agreed SOA was a great idea, but now nothing is actually happening

    It is easy to feel that these scenarios must reflect badly on management or technical efforts, since other companies seem to have succeeded with no problems. But in fact, it is perfectly natural to find SOA difficult. In essence, SOA is REALLY different – it is a different way of working, the tools are different, programming is different, design is different…..and so on. However, an important corollary of the success of SOA in other companies is that there is a growing pool of knowledge around SOA procedures and best practices. Already, there are some professional services organizations that have embraced all this accumulated knowledge and developed service offerings specifically designed to unblock the SOA logjam – getting projects moving again, finding why the SOA strategy is not delivering, and clearing up any organizational or procedural blockages.

    Companies should not feel bad about asking for help. It really can be worth it, even if there is an initial investment hit. And fortunately, once IT and business professionals get the hang of SOA, they wont need the outside help, so the cost hit does not have to be an ongoing one. The key is to make sure companies choose the right partner. This is a subject that is discussed more in a recent Lustratus Report, “A little help goes a long way”, that can be downloaded for free from the Lustratus web store.

    Steve

    Message-driven SOA – what goes around?

    Starting from when I was running IBM’s MQSeries business, in the 1990s, I learnt a big lesson about seeing things from the user point of view.

    We had a great messaging product, and it started the EAI (Enterprise Application Integration) market rolling. Soon, vendors were pitching the wonders of business integration through an all-encompassing EAI framework….and users started moaning about it being complicated and too hard. Vendors brushed off these concerns and just shouted louder, and I was an evangelist in this….and then I started actually listening to users. I remember pitching for all I was worth on the strategic value of EAI, and then a user saying to me, “Steve, we believe you. But we can’t get there in one jump – at the moment, what we really need is to hook this application up with that one, that’s all”.

    For a moment my strategic eye was offended. How could you take this wonderful, clever, strategic software and then just hook two applications together? What a waste! But of course, I then learnt the practicalities of life, and the imperative to focus on the business need. If the business needs Application A to talk to Application B, then that is what it will fund, and that is what it wants to achieve. Sweeping frameworks are all very well, but for most companies practical considerations come first.

    Now I am having deja vu, all over again. I believe in SOA – I am an evangelist. I can see the huge benefits it promises as a strategic platform for business agility, business visibility and cost-efficiency. And yet, talking to users it has finally sunk in that while some of the more lucky companies have the funding and resources to go the whole hog with SOA, there are a large number of users who ‘just want to link A to B’, but want to do so in a way that is consistent with a goal of enterprise-wide SOA some time in the future.

    The new Lustratus report, free from the Lustratus web store, discusses a more tactical approach to SOA – “message-driven SOA”. It points out that even for those companies who are terrified by the prospect of having to work out their process implementations and flows, change the way they work and deal with business transformation issues, there is a way to leverage SOA ideas in a tactical, simple way that is at least a step on the road to overall SOA adoption. Message-driven SOA is almost a reprise of the tactical use of messaging in the 1990s, but with an SOA spin on it. So, message-based flows loosely couple applications and programs together, delivering the benefits of business integration without necessarily having to get tangled up in full-scale process re-engineering and modelling. And yet, the reuse concept of SOA is also leveraged, together with the ability to expose these message-based integrations as SOA services.

    Message-driven SOA may not be the answer to every problem. As a rule of thumb, it will be most attractive for integrations that are primarily of the application-to-application kind, where human interaction is limited and tasks are of short duration. But it is well worth a look to see if this simpler approach to getting tactical SOA benefits might be useful.

    Steve

    Will mashups mash up your infrastucture?

    One of the forecasts in the Lustratus predictions for 2008 Insight, available free of charge from the Lustratus web store, deals with the emergence and adoption of mashups.

    At this moment it is unlcear how fast mashups will be adopted, but Lustratus thinks that any serious adoption will place massive strain on enterprise infrastructures, causing the unwary to buckle and collapse.

    Mashups seem great. The user is suddenly in a position to create his or her own page layout with all the business applications needed to carry out this user’s activities. A great productivity boost, perhaps, but what are the impacts on the enterprise? Basically, as Lustratus points out, every desktop becomes an application. Instead of an IT department having to worry about 10 or 20 applications, all of a sudden there are 100s or even 1000s. Worse still, while traditional IT-controlled applications are usually controlled fairly rigorously with procedures, policies and management practices, the world of mashups could well be more akin to anarchy.

    Fundamental to a productive mashup will be the need to drive the different business services required by the particular user, and therefore services will suddenly become tools used by hundreds in many different ways. All of this activity could create huge traffic increase as well as a generally uncoordinated style of operations, causing major difficulties for the infrastructure software trying to hold everything together.

    Well, OK, maybe this is a little negative – but the point is, enterprise architects and management should start considering these issues now. Trying to sort this out when the genie is out of the bottle will be a lot more difficult…..

    Steve