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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Why SOA Software bought Blue Titan

I happened to be visiting SOA Software in Los Angeles ten days ago. You can imagine my surprise when Blue Titan's Frank Martinez stepped out of the elevator to greet me on my arrival.

I was therefore able to get an early briefing on this week's acquisition announcement, while enjoying the panoramic 18th-floor view of the Pacific coastline that will greet Frank every time he makes the trip south to HQ from his base in Silicon Valley.

At first glance, this looks like an acquisition of a direct competitor — the first such by SOA Software, whose three previous acquisitions have been made to extend its technology and expertise. But in fact it turns out that the companies rarely came up against each other in sales calls. This makes the fit more complementary than it might seem. More importantly, it also provides an intriguing insight into the current state of the SOA market.

"The technologies while quite similar have a very different slant to them," SOA Software's VP of product marketing Ian Goldsmith told me as the three of us chatted.

"It's about governance and tolerance," he went on. "[SOA Software] instruments service consumers to implement downstream policy ... [Blue Titan] is a hell of a lot more about elasticity and quality of service."

This speaks to two distinct styles of SOA being implemented by enterprises today. On the one hand are very centrally controlled implementations, where the main concern is ensuring that services follow the rules that have been defined by a central IT architecture group. A good example of this type of implementation might be an organization that is using SOA to improve integration and reuse in order to consolidate and simplify its installed based of applications. The only way to achieve that objective is by defining a central set of rules and then enforcing them with strong governance.

At the other end of the scale, there are highly devolved implementations where the main concern is being able to tolerate a wide variety of service behaviors and policies. A typical implementation here would be in some kind of ecosystem in which autonomous participants choose their own service implementations and the owner of the SOA either has no power or can see no business case to enforce specific policies beyond common-sense security and boundary-setting. Exposing an API to customers is a good example of this type of implementation. The API provider isn't going to want to drive customers away by restricting the service implementations it will allow, and so has to be able to mediate anything from WS-* to REST and beyond, at various levels of service quality and sophistication.

This divergence may ring a bell with readers of my ZDNet blog, where I posted last week about SOA at rock bottom, and concluded that, "The missing link that connects SOA to Web 2.0 is a services mentality. SOA, SaaS and Web 2.0 are all services architectures; I see them all as part of the same continuum." The conversation I'd had with Ian and Frank was one of the strands that had led to that conclusion. SOA Software has acquired Blue Titan so that it can address the many fragments of that continuum, from highly controlled, governance-strong SOA-style architectures to highly devolved, governance-lite Web 2.0-style architectures. It's an astute move.

The other thing it does of course is to consolidate SOA Software's position as the leading pureplay SOA vendor, at the same time as narrowing the choice of acquisition targets available to others (such as BEA, Sonic, Mercury, Oracle, IBM, CA and HP) who might want to bolster their own SOA play. "We are clearly the best-positioned company in the SOA space to survive as an independent entity," Ian Goldsmith told me.

Certainly bringing Frank Martinez on board strengthens the company's visibility as a technology leader, as well as adding a much-needed Silicon Valley office. It will no longer be seen as so much of a dark horse. From Frank's point of view, the acquisition is probably the best available path that existed to avoid getting swallowed into a large corporation. Or as he put it: "We've built a phenomenal strategic footprint. Given the opportunity and ability to amplify what we've done, this is the perfect fit ... Our destiny is a hell of a lot more self-deterministic than we would have got alternatively."

posted by Phil Wainewright 10:51 PM (GMT) | comments | link

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