Rollout: Software AG WebMethods Suite

Software AG's acquisition of WebMethods is the largest SOA buyout so far. How will the two separate product lines be merged?

July 7, 2007

7 Min Read
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Most consolidation in the service-oriented architecture middleware space is driven by vendors seeking to plug gaps in their own product lines, giving them a more complete suite. But the biggest deal so far, Software AG's planned acquisition of WebMethods, is different. As far as SOA is concerned, the two are competitors: Each has a strong and popular offering in the enterprise service bus (ESB) and design-time governance areas, but relies on partnerships or third-party products for runtime management and enhanced security.

At the time it announced the acquisition, Software AG said that it planned to maintain all of its own and WebMethods' products. This was met with widespread disbelief, as the ESB and governance offerings were so similar that few vendors would want to keep both going indefinitely. A more detailed road map has since revealed that the two ESBs will indeed be merged into one, as will the governance products. The ESB will come from WebMethods, the governance platform from Software AG. The entire SOA suite will be sold under the WebMethods brand name.

Software AG admits that rather than technology, the acquisition was motivated primarily by WebMethods' customer base: Though there's some overlap, WebMethods sells primarily in North America, Software AG in Europe. Their largest competitor worldwide is IBM, with Oracle, BEA, Sun Microsystems, and Tibco also offering complete suites in both the ESB and governance spaces. Unlike its major competitors, Software AG doesn't make application servers themselves, which can be seen as either a hole in its product line or an opportunity to help bridge the multiple platforms customers are using.Understandably, the acquisition is making some users apprehensive. Competitors are already saying that there's a better match between Software AG's and WebMethods' customers than their products, though they haven't gone so far as to speed up their release cycles in the hope of catching the companies merging. However, having spent so much money on acquiring customers, Software AG doesn't want to alienate them. It says that most of its integration work will focus on giving its customers more options. The aim is for the new WebMethods Suite to be compatible with both its predecessors by 2008, giving each vendor's customers' access to the other's features.

BUS Connections
An ESB is at the heart of most SOA deployments, so it has become the main product offering in most companies' SOA suites. Software AG and WebMethods are no exceptions. WebMethods has historically focused on the ESB as a set of features rather than a separate product, but this is mostly just semantics: All ESBs are highly componentized anyway, as their functionality is split among service enablement, message routing and mashing the services into new applications. Every installation differs in the service enablement layer, as different modules are needed to adapt each of the underlying servers --- a mainframe, custom CRM application, or any other legacy environment --- so that it is accessible to a SOA or through Web services.

Software AG sold its ESB as the CrossVision suite, which was particularly strong on developing services and orchestrating them together, supporting multiple Web services standards and a platform that can add Ajax interfaces to SOA components. In contrast, WebMethods' Fabric product was more focused on the nuts-and-bolts integration: translating messages between different protocols and routing them to the appropriate services. This ultimately makes the WebMethods Fabric more scalable, so Software AG is basing its new ESB on Fabric, and porting the CrossVision features over to it. Because ESBs are so componentized and designed to integrate different applications, merging the two products is relatively straightforward. Software AG says that the CrossVision ESB will be replaced by the WebMethods ESB Orchestration Edition in the fourth quarter of 2007. This will essentially be a rebranded version of WebMethods Fabric that will add 95% of the CrossVision features. Full feature compatibility will be achieved with the higher-end WebMethods ESB Integration Edition, due by 2Q 2008.

Big Governance
Design time governance is usually thought of as a separate product category from the ESB, though both Software AG and WebMethods included it as an (optional) component of the CrossVision and Fabric lines as well as an independent product. Software AG's CentraSite design time governance offering was developed in an alliance with Fujitsu, while WebMethods acquired its SOA Governance product with smaller vendor Infravio in June 2006. At the time the Software AG announcement was made, WebMethods had just finished integrating the Infravio product with its own Fabric, as well as that of Cerebra, another registry vendor it acquired in 2006.

Software AG plans to continue its alliance with Fujitsu, developing further versions of CentraSite and ultimately discontinuing the Infravio product. The rationale is similar to that behind its decision to use the WebMethods Fabric as an ESB: the CentraSite platform is more flexible and scalable. Because Software AG and Fujitsu both have a long heritage in application integration --- Software AG in EAI, Fujitsu as a maker of mainframes itself --- CentraSite governance platform goes beyond Web services, offering a complete code management system for many different kinds of applications. In contrast, Infravio targets SOA specifically, with policy enforcement and XML schema validation features.Both products are based on the JAXR (Java API for XML Registries) standard, so some data can already be shared between the two. The next integration step will come with the release of CentraSite 3.2 in September, available in three flavors: the Enterprise and Community editions will be similar to existing CentraSite products, while the Governance Edition will be a new version of Infravio with a CentraSite look and feel. The three will be able to import each others' data, but the Governance Edition will still be Infravio underneath. The next upgrade, whose version number has not yet been decided, will move the Governance Edition to the CentraSite platform. This is due in 2Q 2008, at which point the existing Infravio code will be phased out.

Although CentraSite and Infravio have some policy enforcement features, most governance happens at design time. Runtime control requires a separate SOA management product, which neither Software AG nor WebMethods provides at present. Before it was taken over by WebMethods, Infravio led development of SOA Link, an alliance aimed at ensuring interoperability between governance and other platforms. Software AG plans to merge this with its own CentraSite Community and maintain partnerships with SOA management vendors AmberPoint and Actional.

Assuming that Software AG can successfully integrate WebMethods, it will be a formidable competitor in the ESB and SOA governances markets, as well as in business process management (BPM.) Both vendors already had products that some considered best-of-breed in these areas, so combining their functionality makes very attractive package. The only other vendors that produce both ESB and governance products are IBM, Tibco, Sun, SAP, and Oracle, all of which also offer application platforms or other SOA components. Because Software AG doesn't offer these, it needs to be the best of breed in both its SOA target markets.

Andy Dornan is a senior technology editor. Write to him at [email protected].

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