Progress builds alternative SOA stack with Actional buy

By adding the Actional Web services management product to the Sonic Software ESB, Progress Software has built deep hooks into two of the main SOA product categories.

Progress Software Corp. yesterday agreed to purchase Web services management vendor Actional Corp. for $32 million,

fleshing out its service-oriented architecture product line.

Progress has taken the heterogeneity story to heart, which is a better story for SOA.
Jason Bloomberg
Senior AnalystZapThink LLC

While many large, established vendors – such as IBM and Microsoft – have built SOA platforms around development tools that could be used for a broad range of tasks, Progress boasts an SOA-specific portfolio with Actional and it's Sonic Software enterprise service bus (ESB). Yet having SOA-specific tools doesn't necessarily guarantee that money will follow.

Actional, through the various phases of its eight-year existence, had received $85 million in venture capital funding, but only sold for $32 million. Progress chief technology officer Gordon Van Huizen said his company was undaunted by those figures, stating a belief that the services visibility and runtime governance of the Actional product line is a category that's about to pop.

"It's taken the market a while to acquaint itself with all the various SOA product categories," he said. "But 2005 was a banner year for Sonic and we think the time is right to add runtime governance."

Under the Progress umbrella, Actional joins Sonic, which was the first ESB-branded product on the market back in 2002, and DataDirect, which offers data management for SOA as well as mainframe integration thanks to the December purchase of Neon Systems. Progress also offers an Eclipse-based application development and deployment platform.

Van Huizen said that the breadth of offerings at Progress maps well to the piecemeal approach companies are taking with SOA.

"They're adopting based on immediate needs instead of on a prescribed path," he said. "Not everybody starts in the same place." Van Huizen added that being able to get those disparate pieces from a single vendor likely will prove attractive to customers interested in one-stop shopping.

Jason Bloomberg, a senior analyst with ZapThink LLC, said the only major SOA-type of software Progress lacks at the moment is a registry/repository offering.

"It's probably one of the best non-platforms out there," he said. "Progress has taken the heterogeneity story to heart, which is a better story for SOA. You don't want to have a tightly-coupled product line."

William Mougayar, vice president and service director at Aberdeen Group, sounded a similar note, saying "You've basically got three new types of functionality pieces in SOA – ESB, registry and policy management. I think it's all going to merge eventually and become something like SOA-infrastructure management."

Even ESB critics praised the Actional purchase.

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"I've been berating the ESB market because it's lacking in governance," said Anne Thomas Manes, vice president and research director at Burton Group. "This purchase really addresses that for Sonic."

While no specific plans have been announced to blend Actional functionality with the Sonic ESB, Van Huizen did offer that the Actional SOAPstation policy enforcement engine could be added to Sonic, tying service governance to service creation.

Actional also brings some hardware know-how into Progress with its Westbridge Technology background. Manes ventured that Sonic might even look to put its ESB on a server.

"From an operations perspective, you just throw it right into the rack and it needs almost no care and feeding," she said.

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