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Early Web Services Mover Launches Startup

When Rajiv Gupta co-created e-speak for Hewlett-Packard back in the early '90s, he knew he had a unique technology on his hands, one in which modular software boasted unparalleled flexibility in performing a variety of functions.

Getting these code components to work for electronic business was another matter and e-speak, while a novel concept, morphed into HP's Web Services Platform. Since that time, Gupta has moved on from Hewlett-Packard to mold his better-informed, finer-honed vision of Web services. His new company is called Confluent and it is a pure Web services software play.

Confluent, formerly Corporate Oxygen and funded by from Apax Partners and UV Partners, is focused on an emerging niche that looks to offer management capabilities in Web services platforms. To that end, the Sunnyvale, Calif. company hopes to lure businesses with its CORE Web Services Integration and Management Platform, which includes management features for security, failure, performance, change and problem diagnosis.

For his part, Gupta said he has learned a lot from successes and failures with the e-speak. He carries with him what he calls the "scar tissue" of his experiences at HP .

"With e-speak, we focused too much on the technology and not enough on how we can make that technology work for the enterprise. It was rich and complex, but not very useable," Gupta told internetnews.com. "But, along the way, I gained an understanding that it isn't just about the technology but what the customer wants to make their business work."

Gupta said he and his team at Confluent have spoken to more than 200 CIOs, asking them what they are missing and what they require to make Web services work for them, as well as what they were willing to pay for certain characteristics.

"What they've [CIOS] told us is that 'we love the promise, but we won't even go there unless you give us the control and visibility that we need'" Gupta said. Gupta said that what Confluent has to offer businesses beyond the features of major platforms, is more visibility and control into the applications running on the platforms.

"This is very important to CIOs," Gupta said. "He or she loses his or her job if they can't find consistent control in their platforms," Gupta explained.

To be sure, Confluent's products straddle the line between open Web services standards and traditional proprietary integration. CORE is platform neutral, and features a heterogeneous environment of Java and .NET. This is a tricky position because it raises integration and interoperability issues.

Gupta said Confluent has worked through such issues by forging alliances with Ascential Software, BEA, IBM, Mercury Interactive, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, Confluent to reduce integration issues. These pacts, Gupta said, play a critical role in the company's strategy, putting them in a competitive position.

What the analysts are saying
What is Confluent focusing on that the major players such as Microsoft, IBM and BEA are not? Stencil Group Principal Brent Spinner told internetnews.com the big guys are about creating tools and run-times for Web services to be created on, and ultimately look to enable Web services connections.

"Confluent are looking at what happens when you introduce them to the environment," Spinner said. "It's one thing to enable Web services on one application, or even two, three, or four. But just picture when these things all over the place. It's chaotic. Companies like Confluent are aiming to provide one framework for managing Web services. Certainly, you can apply software to software to solve technology. How do you deal with failover? How does a CIO know what is happening in his business? That's what these startups are addressing."

The other companies who adhere to similar Web services management goals as Confluent include upstarts WestGlobal, Blue Titan, AmberPoint and Talking Blocks.

Spinner said these are all firms trying to differentiate themselves in the market despite the fact that their goal is similar. None of them, he said, looks to be a clear winner because the niche is so young. But Confluent has the high-profile of Gupta and his team to throw around.

What do they need to do to succeed?

"Gupta is right," Spinner said. "It's not about the technology. These companies are putting out credible software and they have strengths in different areas. It's about who is going to run the best business. The standards help commodities the technology. It comes down to who can manage customer relationships."

Summit Strategies' Dwight Davis said Confluent has a good strategy in recognizing that Web services needs are evolving from qualitative to quantitative forms. As good as it is on paper though, Web services management may be ahead of demand, he said.

"Companies like Confluent aren't going head to head with major platform vendors," Davis told internetnews.com. "They are looking to build on the development tools.

Still, Davis maintains such companies are critical for the future of the sector.

"Rajiv helped drive the idea of component-based computing," Davis said. "With his expertise and credentials, Rajiv has helped Confluent form relationships that would have been harder for another startup company to establish."