SOA is a means to an end, namely recombinant enterprise applications strung together from component services. Anyway, that's the idea animating the rash of M&A activity in recent months, by companies such as IBM, which bought Webify earlier this month, after snapping up two other SOA companies, DataPower and Bowstreet. But will the rise of SOA change the very nature of companies such as IBM and BEA, dragging them out of their comfort zone in middleware and professional services and turning them into enterprise application providers? InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill sat down with Webify CEO Manoj Saxena to find out.
How does IBM's acquisition of Webify fit into IBM's overall SOA scheme?
IBM has been very focused on providing business innovation and business agility to the client base using SOA as paradigm, and IBM's SOA strategy encompasses multiple aspects, including hardware, middleware, and business processes. This particular acquisition provides IBM with industry-specific software and services delivery capability to help customers improve business agility and their business results.
Does the acquisition mean IBM is getting into the applications business through Webify's components-based approach to software services?
No not really, because what IBM is providing to this acquisition is a set of business accelerators. These are pre-built SOA assets that can be used by the customers to build new business processes and new business applications. It is not an application in the traditional sense that you can put it on a CD and then you run it on a machine and you're up and running. These are ... parts that still require a significant amount of stitching ... together to build a flexible, tailored solution to the customer.
What does a business accelerator do?
Take the analogy of a car. If an application is a completely pre-built car, this business accelerator is like giving you some core differentiator capabilities, such as the engine and tires and transmission and stuff. In the case of insurance and health care, and soon banking and telecom, there are some core components around processes, such as claims of processing ... or payments processing for consumer-directed health care ... that customers can then combine with existing legacy assets and stitch together a new layer of business processes and loosely coupled business networks.
But if it's not middleware for plumbing and it's not networking, then it sounds like these business accelerators would be for new application services. Correct?
These are application services, but not an application. That's the big difference. So, as you well know, with SOA the very nature of an application is changing. We are moving into loosely coupled distributed assets, some of which may be coming from your mainframe systems, some of which may be coming from best-of-breed packaged applications like SAP and Oracle (and) remote application components like an Equifax for credit. IBM is providing industry-specific middleware and business accelerators to improve the time to market for the customers when stitching together flexible and innovative business processes.
What are you going to do to support WebSphere, and does this preclude you from supporting other application platforms such as JBoss, BEA, or some of the other application servers out there?
The current plan is for Webify to continue to support the other platforms like Oracle and BEA. But in the next 60 days, we will come back with a more defined road map on how the Webify industry Fabric -- which is Webify industry middleware -- will be integrated into IBM SOA Foundations. In about 60 days time we will be publishing a well-defined road map on how the Webify industry Fabric will be integrated and become a core part of IBM WebSphere.
Is there going to be a role for IBM Global Services in all this?
Yes. This acquisition is unique in that it has been made by both IBM Software Group and IBM Global Services together. On the software group side, Webify's two products [SOBA Fabric and SOBA Suite] are like the building blocks, the Lego blocks that go on top of the Fabric. Those two pieces are going to be leveraged by both IBM Software Group and by IBM Global Services to deliver into their own engagement a set of pre-built business accelerators that provide differentiation and innovation to IBM Global Services Offerings.