There was an unseemly scramble among big-name vendors this week, all eager to be seen aboard the SOA bandwagon. IBM had extensively trailed its big announcement, and BEA and Microsoft were both keen to grab some of the limelight:
BEA pushed out a press release declaring that BEA Helps Companies Deploy Service-Oriented Architectures Today, which presumably is meant to imply that it knows all about SOA even if it doesn't have any specific SOA offerings. The release somewhat undermines this stance when it goes on to note that BEA is unique in being the only vendor who can provide an integrated platform for SOA made entirely from BEA products, which is nice but it rather misses the point about having an SOA in the first place.
Microsoft, meanwhile, had .Net platform architect Pat Helland brief Mary Jo Foley of specialist newsletter Microsoft Watch about its SOA strategy. Helland at least has the grace to concede that services architectures are designed to connect "independent and yet interconnected pieces of apps", but the gist of the story, as reported by sister title eWeek, is that Microsoft will be positioning its product range as "the base SOA platform," which is just as graceless as BEA's stance.
The trouble is that SOA puts platform vendors into a self-contradictory bind. On the one hand, they want to extol the freedom from vendor ties that customers gain by implementing SOA. On the other hand, they want their own platform to remain their customers' preferred or exclusive choice. But of course if they were the only platform in town, no one would need the interoperability and platform-neutrality of an SOA. All of this can't help but make their enthusiasm for SOA sound implausibly hollow. How can you celebrate customer choice while simultaneously dismissing the alternatives offered by your rivals?
It's this conundrum that makes IBM's positioning on SOA so much more sophisticated than that of its rivals. IBM is emphasizing its middleware and consulting story while keeping the platform angle in the background. Of course, like any other vendor, the company still wants its customers to buy its WebSphere platform rather than any rival. But by selling the ecosystem first, it turns the platform sale into a minor afterthought rather than inviting cognitive dissonance by putting it centerstage.
IBM's announcement launched a new middleware product, the WebSphere Business Integration Server Foundation, along with a set of services offerings to help customers get more out of their business processes and existing legacy assets by implementing SOA. Here's a quick roundup of the coverage: