Progress looks ahead to Web services

At the company's annual user conference earlier last week, Progress Software Corp. officials outlined an ambitious two-year plan for building a complete Web services environment.

By leveraging the messaging middleware infrastructure of its Sonic Software Corp. subsidiary, Bedford, Mass.-based Progress expects to deliver business process integration and modeling tools and Web services orchestration tools that can be accessed by customers using applications built in the company's fourth-generation language development environment.

The products under development include Task Manager, Flow Manager, Service Access Manager, Configuration Manager, and a Business Process Engine, said Peter Sliwkowski, Progess' vice president of products.

Progress officials argue that their distributed set of middleware offerings is a better platform for building collaborative applications that leverage Web services because no company is going to standardize on a single application server platform. In addition, company executives said they doubt application servers will be able to scale well enough to support a major Web services deployment in the enterprise.

"That's the reason I left BEA to join Sonic," said Gordon Van Huizen, vice president for product management at Sonic Software, which is a subsidiary of Progress. Prior to joining Sonic, Van Huizen led the engineering team for BEA Systems Inc.'s WebLogic application server.

Last week, Progress officials announced a number of nearer term initiatives designed to enable their existing products for Web services. Taken together with forthcoming projects, Progress is positioning itself to compete directly with IBM Corp., BEA Systems, Oracle Corp., Microsoft Corp., and Sun Microsystems Inc. in the rapidly growing Web services marketplace.

Analysts said, however, that Progress will have its work cut out in that space. Boston-based AMR Research Inc. recently issued a report that whittles the application server and Web services infrastructure market down to four main players: BEA, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle.

That is not to say that all other players in this space are irrelevant, according to Peter Urban, a senior analyst at AMR. Urban added that Progress has solid technology but the classic best-of-breed or end-to-end solutions argument is at play.

Furthermore, the success of particular application servers and related infrastructure will in no small part be reliant on application vendors and third-party ISVs, Urban added.

"The applications vendors won't port to the smaller application servers because it is just too expensive," Urban said.

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