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Vendors Jockey for Position in SOA Race

The scope of Web services and service-oriented architectures (SOAs) became much broader last week, as BEA Systems and Computer Associates staked out their paths for distributed computing.

Why SOAs and Web services? Consensus around the software industry is that customers are seeking cost-effective fixes for their integration issues en masse. SOAs and Web services facilitate that, analysts say.

For BEA, the path comes in the form of Liquid Computing, an ambitious effort to provide best-of-breed enterprise in real-time fashion. The San Jose, Calif., company's strategy is rooted in providing SOA infrastructure as a method for distributed computing that employs reusable interfaces to integrate a company's applications.

CA, meanwhile, is taking a different tack. The Islandia, Calif., company has vowed to render its entire product portfolio -- some 1,200 bits of software -- as services in an effort to provide clear window management into customers' data centers.

BEA and CA are looking challenge in a field full of foes, including Microsoft and IBM , as well as smaller specialty vendors offering anything from SOA enablement (helping enterprises craft SOAs) to metadata management, security and monitoring.

In terms of getting its message out, IBM is the leader. The Armonk, N.Y., company issued its first SOA software component in April and chased it with SOA design centers and assessment services in May.

A Liquid Strategy

BEA CTO Scott Dietzen is quick to concede IBM's first-to-market status, but said his company's ability to offer "best-of-breed" software makes it a strong contender. Dietzen discussed Liquid Computing in a recent interview.

"Rather than integrate systems in an ad-hoc way, Liquid Computing says we can create a new fabric modeled after the Web and designed for integration and for building these composite applications very easily," Dietzen said. "XML and Web services is the foundation for the vision, but orchestration such as business process management or workflow and portal are the overlays that deliver the value on top of infrastructure."

Liquid Computing, then, is about being able to build service that overlay and touch multiple apps because typical customer service scenarios may touch five, 10, or 20 different systems.

Dietzen said BEA is working on Project Quicksilver, a Web services message broker, or enterprise service bus (ESB), that boasts a shared messaging layer for connecting applications and other services throughout an enterprise computing infrastructure.

Demonstrated at BEA EWorld, Project Alchemy is the company's mobile version of Liquid Computing, an SOA platform for "occasionally connected" users who are traveling.

"If it's possible to innovate your way to success, then BEA has a bright future," said Redmonk analyst James Governor, who attended BEA Eworld.

Governor was particularly by the company's transformation from a one-track-minded Java software company to a more open vendor looking to support heterogeneity.

"The inflection point that was really interesting is this notion of compatibility, this notion of loosely coupled approaches to architectural development," Governor said. "Seems to me they were making a statement that BEA is no longer the Java company and that Java is now the implementation platform for all of the specs they are going to support."

Big Blue's Liquid View

Asked about BEA's announcements and strong entrance into the SOA space, Bob Sutor, director of marketing, WebSphere Software Foundation at IBM, said it came as no surprise.

"The strength of our story has not diminished with anything that they announced," Sutor said of one of IBM's major application server rivals. "I think you're going to see a lot of people join the party. People are recognizing a little more openly that SOAs are the way to go. Frankly, it's from the acceleration of the growth of the use of Web services. It probably has something to do with the IT market rebounding."

Sutor reserved judgment until he sees the actual products. Ditto for CA, which issued Web services management news after the company's purchase of startup Adjoin, and HP, with its purchase of Talking Blocks.

Sutor is confident that IBM's WebSphere Foundation is extremely strong. "This is just the beginning of our rollout. You're going to continue to see how this applies to SOA and legacy transformation, or security and management and SOA and development."

Microsoft's Indigo Monster

While SOA might seem old hat to Big Blue because they have been talking about it for months, the truth is that there are no clear leaders at this point. In many ways, the market has hardly gotten off the ground, and Microsoft has yet to officially come to the table with anything other than promise.

But when it does deliver, look out. Though in early stages, the company has a solid vision for SOA based on Windows, which analysts are loathe to ignore or condemn.

The Redmond, Wash. software giant is working on Indigo, a communications component of its next-generation Longhorn operating system, which is the company's interoperable SOA for Web services.

"Indigo is not going to wait for long," Governor said. "Otherwise Microsoft would be badly behind the curve. Customer adoption is happening now. Now the market is ready for the marketing message."

You could argue endlessly about whose platforms will work with what and who is leading in the early SOA market. The fact is Microsoft, BEA and IBM have compelling stories.

Please see page 2 to learn what CA and other players are planning for the space.