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Oblix to Buy Confluent in Web Services Play

Security software maker Oblix is acquiring Web services management concern Confluent Software for an undisclosed amount of stock, internetnews.com has learned.

The merger, expected to be announced Monday, would solidify the emergence of the independent services oriented architecture (SOA) industry, or companies that create software that makes XML-based communications between applications and servers in a Web services environment.

SOA is a term that's been bandied about by tech leaders for some time, and is considered the linchpin for the utility computing or on-demand strategies being touted by companies such as Hewlett-Packard and IBM.

For Cupertino, Calif.-based Oblix, the purchase fits like a glove: Confluent develops Web services management software -- of which identity management is an essential piece -- for companies looking for a way to tie together their networks and programs in a seamless and real-time manner.

Ken Sims, Oblix vice president of marketing, said the role performed by applications and services within the infrastructure is going through an evolution, from the active role of enforcement handled at the application level to a federated, or centralized, area that handles security throughout the network.

"This is one of those inflection points, where there is a shift in the architecture within the enterprise as people move over to this services-oriented architecture," he told internetnews.com. "The systems management guys have, in essence, been passively monitoring what's going on in the company and keeping track of things that happen. (Oblix and Confluent) are much more active."

A merger means the public can expect products showcasing Confluent's access, service level agreement (SLA) and business process monitoring software and Oblix' software to manage the security of who does or doesn't get on the network.

According to Rick Caccia, Oblix director of product management, because the two companies have worked so closely in the past, there is already a working model being used in the workplace. It's just a matter now, he told internetnews.com, of re-packaging the software.

Jason Bloomberg, a senior analyst at research outfit ZapThink, said Oblix' acquisition of Confluent is a departure from the norm for companies in the identity management and Web services management industries, though the synergies between the two make it an ideal arrangement.

"Most companies in these two markets have been happy with partnerships to complement one another's strengths, but there's no question the Oblix/Confluent combination promises to offer a more comprehensive management solution than any other one company might be able to offer," he told internetnews.com.

To date, most of the acquisitions in the Web services management arena have been big-name companies bolstering their own utility computing offering. HP last September scooped up Web services management software developer Talking Blocks to beef up its On Demand offering. In December, Computer Associates bought out Adjoin, giving the software and services company its own management solution.

But these larger companies don't have the flexibility that Confluent provides, said Paola Lubet, Confluent vice president of marketing.

Because most of the larger software vendors already provide active roles in their applications, they are using Web services management software mainly as a monitoring tool, or a glorified dashboard, for its own brand of software.

It's that homogeneous approach, Lubet told internetnews.com, that makes Confluent's offering much more attractive in a business world that is dominated by heterogeneous, or multi-vendor, systems.

"Until the day everybody is using IBM, or BEA (Systems), or an HP OpenView, etc., until that time heterogeneity and flexibility is going to be a key aspect that people will be looking at," she said.

With the departure of Confluent from the independent field, the field of remaining Web services management companies has grown even smaller, and will likely force larger Web services companies to speed up their acquisition plans if they hope to buy up a ready-made management product.

David Bressler, principal architect at one of those independent Web services management developers, Actional, said the deal between the two companies makes sense, since Oblix bolsters Confluent's software with better security.

The acquisition would also give his company breathing room in the industry.

"(The acquisition) is great news for us," he told internetnews.com at a recent conference in New York City. "Every time a company gets acquired, it validates our space and cuts out a bit of the competition."

Ed Horst, vice president of marketing for competitor AmberPoint, said it seemed as though Confluent was having a hard time gaining customer traction.

"Even if you're well funded, you have to work hard to get new customers, and continue to execute on the basics," Horst told internetnews.com. "What exactly Oblix will do with this is not clear, but I wouldn't be surprised if they cherry pick ther security features to help them better compete with Netgrity IBM products such as Tivoli Access Manager."

Officials expect to close on the merger within the next couple weeks. Of Confluent's 50 employees about 15 -- made up of engineers, sales team and executives -- will move to Oblix' headquarters.