Progress Sonic, Cape Clear blaze the SOA trail

Duelling ESB suites continue to advance on service-oriented integration, offering a choice between simple and affordable or sophisticated and costly

The concept of an SOA "suite" may seem antithetical to those who were counting on SOA to free us from the tyranny of vendor lock-in, but there's an upside to this development. First, today's ESB (enterprise service bus) suites are much more capable than the early point solutions. Second, when you're dropping six figures on a paradigm shift, you want to know someone has your back at every layer of the services stack.

I recently assessed two SOA product suites, the latest editions from SOA/ESB pioneers Cape Clear Software and Progress Software, the latter's offering formerly sold under the Sonic Software moniker.

Both suites, Cape Clear ESB 7.5 and Progress Sonic ESB Product Family 7.5, combine Java-based ESB and process orchestration engines, propped up with a graphical, drag-and-drop IDE for process modeling and debugging, and plenty of wizardry to wrap your business logic for service accessibility.

These suites have come a long way since my previous encounter with the Version 6 releases (and five other commercial ESB solutions), and I was immediately impressed by the level of maturity and development delivered by both vendors.

In this latest incarnation, the Progress Sonic suite migrates its orchestration server to the WS BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) 2.0 standard. Further, the Sonic Workbench , formerly a UML-style Windows IDE, has been rebuilt on Eclipse 3.2, bringing the toolkit in line with competitors' products.

The result was a much easier to use, standardized environment that freed me from the heavy Java-centric coding and scripting requirements that plagued the previous edition. The new IDE not only boosts productivity but also improves portability. It will make it easier for customers to find and cross-train developers without the steep learning curve.

For Cape Clear, September's 7.5 release showcased a new SOA Assembly framework -- a lighter-weight alternative to orchestration that strings together processes that don't require the heavy lifting that BPEL often demands (such as implementing persistence, for example). I was surprised to see Cape Clear stray from its pure-play, standards-based roots in favor of such a custom extension, particularly as it has yet to adopt BPEL 2. The company says the move speaks directly to customer requests and, I must say, there is no denying the expediency with which I had my processes running. SOA Assembly is a good complement to Cape Clear's BPEL engine.

Cape Clear has also added an Invoke-Retry mechanism, providing additional reliability over HTTP, and now offers easy REST-style (Representational State Transfer) invocations in the Assembly framework. For VARs, the addition of customer ID tracking throughout the product provides a skeleton for multitenant and multiuser buildouts.

On the downside, neither product innately addresses good lifecycle management, large-scale provisioning, or SOA governance requirements. They are also short on registry/repository mechanisms for larger enterprise rollouts in need of dynamic runtime support (although Progress does offer add-ons that begin to address these requirements). Even basic business activity monitoring comes at additional cost from both vendors.

The similarities in these solutions end there. Under the surface, these enterprise service buses are poles apart. Cape Clear, narrowly focused on XML-based Web services, has long incorporated WS-* standards for messaging between end points, but requires a Java application server for deployment. In contrast, the Progress Sonic ESB builds on the company's MOM (message-oriented middleware) heritage, relying on the SonicMQ messaging system for its backbone, bringing additional weight to the wire, but proven reliability as well, with easy scalability.

The Cape Clear ESB 7.5 suite makes good sense for small to midsize rollouts where its excellent, event-driven technology implementation and development tools aren't compromised by the unsophisticated management and administration features.

Progress Sonic ESB Product Family 7.5 is a very good choice for large and highly distributed SOA initiatives, thanks to brilliant distributed debugging capabilities and top-notch scalability. Although a number of features for the ESB (such as data services, monitoring, and XML offloading) require add-ons that could quickly escalate cost, Progress has done a great job in building out this product.

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