SOA Software: not such a soft SOA sell

When you are a small software company competing for air in a market that is expected to be worth $15 billion by 2009, it helps to hype yourself up a bit – especially when your competitors and partners include the likes of IBM, Oracle and Microsoft.

SOA Software is a case in point.

The Californian venture capital backed company opened up in Europe this autumn with some bold claims: We are, says its publicity material, “the largest specialist vendor of SOA solutions…and the only vendor to offer true SOA Infrastructure.”

For a company with just $30 million in revenues in 2005, that is a bold statement. All the big enterprise software companies can justifiably say they are selling a lot, lot more SOA software than this.

“SOA Software is establishing itself at the heart of the SOA infrastructure.”

But SOA Software’s claims are not entirely unreasonable, even if it uses a little marketing licence to pep up its literature. Its customers include such household names as Merrill Lynch, Pfizer, British American Tobacco, and Verizon. And while many web services and SOA start ups did not survive their infancy, five-year old SOA Software is growing at a claimed 400% a year (when acquisitions are included), and is emerging as a leading SOA technology consolidator.

In the past three years, it has bought several of the fellow start ups that were identified by analysts as technological innovators in the coming SOA revolution. These include Flamenco Networks (for publishing secure

web services over private networks), ThoughtDigital (for managing distributed web services messaging), and Blue Titan, which provides a web services-based engine for linking different integration engines together.

These have been added to SOA Software’s own products, including its flagship Service Manager, which enables managers to apply policies and track how web services are used. It also has a standards based (UDDI) web services directory.

Put all these together, says Frank Martinez, executive VP product strategy, and you have a more or less complete product suite that spans what he calls the “SOA infrastructure layer”. This covers the all-important functions, so far largely neglected by most of the big platform providers, of management, security, governance and messaging and mediation.

It is SOA’s breadth of products across this layer which allows it to make its somewhat bold marketing claims. No-one else has all these products – but then, no one else (including IT analyst Gartner) divides up the SOA market in this way.

Categories aside, the importance of these functions to an enterprise is nevertheless undeniable, and so far, SOA Software appears to be established in some important, platform neutral territory at the heart of the SOA project.

“The fact that we don’t have an application or an integration platform is a major asset in our conversations with customers,” says Martinez. No one wants to be freed from the tyranny of proprietary, monolithic applications, only to be locked into one vendor’s SOA management suite.

It may not, however, remain that way for long. Suppliers such as SAP, Oracle, IBM and BEA will undoubtedly try to expand into the management area, and some will already have SOA Software on their radars as an acquisition target. And even the company’s own publicity material advertises that its key executives are “entrepreneurs with successful exits”. In today’s market, a sale to a trade rival is far more likely than a public flotation.

In the meantime, SOA Software is eyeing up new opportunities of its own. Martinez believes that demand will soon emerge for a new category

of software that helps businesses buy web services and manage them from a business point of view. That is likely to be the next big stop on SOA’s emerging roadmap.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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