Rarely does any acquisition by any vendor garner the rave reviews from analysts covering service-oriented architecture (SOA) that followed IBM's announced acquisition this week of ILOG Inc., the business rule management systems (BRMS) vendor.
The friendly acquisition announced Monday and scheduled to be completed this fall will add a business rules engine that IBM needs to fill out its business process management (BPM) focus for SOA, according to analysts interviewed for this article.
"The ILOG acquisition goes a long way in rounding out IBM's 'BPM enabled by SOA' vision," said Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst at ZapThink LLC. "Business rules were the missing piece and ILOG fills the gap nicely. Products from the two vendors were already working together in many clients, so this acquisition makes sense both for customers as well as for the vendors involved."
Randy Heffner, vice president at Forrester Research Inc., also sees this acquisition as a positive for IBM's business-driven approach to SOA.
"IBM's acquisition of ILOG is nothing but good for IBM," Heffner said. "It deepens and strengthens for IBM a critical area of technology infrastructure for business flexibility and business optimization. IBM has many opportunities – and therefore challenges – to extend its leverage of ILOG's feature-function across its platforms including WebSphere, Tivoli and Lotus, in particular."
The typical post-acquisition concerns of how the acquiring company will integrate the new technology into its product line are manageable in Heffner's view.
"Sure, ILOG's products will be yet one more complexity in IBM's massive product portfolio, prompting many to joke yet again about IBM software products coming with 'a slew of consultants in the box,'" Heffner quipped. "But you'd have the same product integration challenges if you bought any other rules engine separately from your application/SOA platform."
IBM's linkage of SOA and BPM is the next phase in the evolving service-oriented approach to business computing, said Joe McKendrick, analyst with McKendrick Research, who characterizes this as a move toward "SOA 2010." But while IBM is incorporating the ILOG rules technology into WebSphere, there also needs to be a discussion among practitioners about how to move toward event-driven architecture (EDA), he said.
"If we're going to talk about moving SOA into the next phase, and that is event driven architecture, we need to have a discussion of how SOA and BPM practitioners can better work together, and how their tools can better interoperate," he said. "EDA requires the ability to process events as they are entered into the workflow. This is clearly top of mind for IBM as well. This is positioning for SOA 2010."
Bradley F. Shimmin, principal analyst for application infrastructure at Current Analysis LLC., noted that Red Hat Inc. with its DROOLS rules product is also looking at that future vision of an SOA enabled application environment with process optimization. The reason for this, he notes, is that BPM is the central factor in return on investment (ROI) for SOA.
Business rules technology is important because it crosses so many parts of the SOA lifecycle.
"Rules play a central role because rules can be employed in a number of different capacities that are all very closely intertwined," Shimmin explained. "For example, I can use a rules engine to define rules for my runtime governance. For runtime governance I'm using rules to make sure I can respond to events in the application infrastructure. I can use a rule engine to define and control how developers create business processes. I can use the same rules engine for developers doing Web services composition to make sure SLAs are defined, make sure different data sources are correctly utilized."
Rules management for design time, runtime, and govern time can utilize the same repository and the same rules engine, Shimmin said.
The ILOG acquisition will provide IBM with an integrated approach to rules management across a spectrum of its products, including not only WebSphere, but Tivoli and Rational as well, Shimmin said.
"What IBM is setting themselves up to do is provide that centralized repository of rules for an application that works with Tivoli on the runtime side and works with their BPM suite on the design time and runtime for BPM, and on the build time with Rational, too," he said.
Rules management technology is so important to the future of SOA, that Shimmin predicts that other vendors, most notably Oracle Corp., will be looking to acquire it as IBM has.