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

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

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