Corporate Oxygen is no more. The secretive company, founded late in 2001 by Rajiv Gupta and other veterans of Hewlett Packard's e-Speak services initiative, has changed its name to Confluent Software and has emerged from stealth mode.
As expected, its Web services platform, CORE, merges integration, management and business analysis, and its executive team has amassed a solid roster of allies, including Ascential Software, BEA, IBM, Mercury Interactive, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems. The company intends to redefine its sector. Like e-Speak before it, however, Confluent risks being best remembered for arriving years ahead of its time.
Context: Gupta, CTO Sekhar Sarukkai and chief architect Shamik Sharma managed the e-Speak team and built Conversation Server, a pioneering service deployment platform. When the three decided to establish their own company, they conducted extensive market research among Fortune 500 CIOs. CORE, they say, reflects the enterprise requirements for managing Web services that emerged over the course of those interviews.
In July 2002, Apax Ventures and Utah Venture Partners invested $6 million in the company. James Hogan, VP of marketing and business development, told the451 that Confluent plans on seeking a second funding round early in 2003. The company's 24 employees moved from San Jose to new offices in Sunnyvale last week. Confluent boasts three early-stage customers, each paying around $60,000 for its software. Hogan hopes deals will reach the six-figure range by Q1 2003. That would certainly help the company impress prospective investors.
Technology: Confluent CORE was designed to be a cost-effective, easy-to-use platform for managing Web services across their full lifecycle, from testing and deployment through to integration, upgrades, monitoring and support. In the process of designing CORE, Confluent's developers believe they have solved some hard problems around security and policy enforcement.
The product consists of three modules. CORE Integrator is a platform that enables Web services and applications to be integrated in a loosely coupled way. It provides a central console for defining and enforcing security, quality-of-service, logging and change management policies across multiple services. Logging, messaging and transformation are run as shared infrastructure services, which should help enterprises cut development time for new services. Tightly coupled connections between applications can be eliminated, which should help reduce maintenance and upgrade costs.
The second piece of the puzzle is CORE Manager, which alerts IT administrators to performance and availability issues with every Web service in the network. CORE Manager seeks to assist diagnosis by identifying the Web services that are causing application-level failures or performance degradation. It also monitors the entire network for security violations.
Third and finally, CORE Analyzer adds business activity monitoring (BAM). You might think of it as the line-of-business complement to CORE Manager's IT monitoring, in that it detects business problems and notifies business operations staff. As you'd expect, it offers detailed reports via customizable graphical dashboards.
Competition: In order to position CORE as a complete package for Web services management, Confluent's executives have to try to redefine the sector – in part by portraying numerous competing products as incomplete or overspecialized in one area. This is a very tall order, with Actional, AmberPoint, Talking Blocks and WestGlobal in particular covering more or less identical ground. Also converging on the sector from only slightly further afield are Blue Titan, Cape Clear, Digital Evolution, Flamenco, Grand Central, Infravio, Primordial, Systinet, The Mind Electric and WestBridge.
Actional's freshly announced SOAPstation acts as a Web service proxy, handling service provisioning, fine-grained access control, versioning and change management, logging and reporting. Actional claims it plays a more active role in management than rival AmberPoint, a claim AmberPoint executives vehemently deny.
The AmberPoint Management Foundation offers monitoring, access control, business and system alerts, and logging, but it also handles online upgrades, a very interventionist feature. AmberPoint sharpened up its security story with an October 1 release, and new versions of the product able to provide quality-of-service management and subtle exception handling are due out any day now.
Talking Blocks also handles security, version control, integration and monitoring. Its particular emphasis is on uniting the divergent worlds of the J2EE and Microsoft application servers. Meanwhile, over in Ireland, tiny but ambitious WestGlobal offers a very familiar-sounding package, consisting of authorization, BAM, performance and revenue management, service prioritization, dynamic service routing and version management. If anything, WestGlobal's lifecycle coverage is more comprehensive than Confluent's. Whatever Confluent lacks in technology smarts, though, it more than makes up for with its Silicon Valley connections.
One final caveat remains. Fifteen Web services management hopefuls are named in this section, but actual corporate deployment of SOAP-based applications lags far behind entrepreneurs' and investors' hopes. Most customer successes are still at the pilot stage.
Confluent's single reference customer, a health and fitness company in Minnesota, is not exactly a blue-chip account. CIOs make motherhood statements and developers experiment with low-risk deployments, but widespread adoption of mission-critical Web services implementations – and with it, the need for management platforms – is at least 12 months away. Not all of these companies have the resources to wait that long.
The451 assessment: Confluent boasts impeccable credentials and impressive hype, and its CORE platform takes a usefully broad view of the Web services management problem. Other platforms take similarly broad views, however, and there's a case to be made for the position that all Web services management vendors are waiting with various degrees of impatience for the market to ripen at last.