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Progressing in the SOA World
Jaya Smitha Menon
Monday, September 1, 2008
“The market for SOA infrastructure is coming to life now,” says Progress Software India Managing Director Ramesh Loganathan, who has been closely watching the industry excitement about service-oriented architecture (SOA). His company, Progress Software (NASDAQ: PRGS, Market Cap: $1.2 billion) which provides a comprehensive range of capabilities for the entire SOA lifecycle is moving faster to address new market opportunities. Businesses are moving from reliance on databases to reliance on software grouped around business processes—SOA. “There is a trillion dollars spent on technology every year and the largest portion of that is on integration and in this large portion most is spent on trying to make it all work,” says Loganathan.

Founded in 1981, Bedford, Massachusetts headquartered Progress Software has been constantly augmenting its SOA portfolio through several innovations and acquisitions and thereby growing its user base. The company’s 2007 revenue stood at $494 million. Company started the India development center in 2005. “Progress invests strongly in product development that exploits new advances in software technologies, anticipates market trends and provides business advantage to our partners and customers. Today, we have a strong and broad portfolio of best-in-class infrastructure products for a SOA,” says Loganathan.

The momentum behind what’s now called the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) arose from frustrations with Enterprise Application Integration (EAI), although the basic idea of SOA has been around much longer. EAI, which became popular in the late 1990s, centered on creating ‘adapters’ to bridge the gaps between a central message bus and the various connected enterprise applications and data stores. The EAI promise of loose coupling (an important architectural concept that means changes in one area do not require changes elsewhere) was somewhat watered down by the complexity of code required to manage individual adaptors, and the proliferation of adapters across the IT landscape.

However, SOA takes a slightly different approach, suggesting that rather than passing data back and forth across a central integration zone through adapters, each application (or applications) should provide ‘services’ to the rest of the world. These services are made available to other applications via a similar central integration framework in a way that loosely-couples the consumer and provider of the service.

No specific software is required to deploy an SOA, it’s a design concept not a product, but certainly the software that underpins it must support the creation of services, a repository to manage them, a registry for other applications to find them, and a mechanism for service consumers and providers to exchange business information.

It is here that SOA platform providers and tools providers like Progress Software stand to gain and grow in a market, which is expected to be at $910 million by 2012. It stands at just over $280 million today. Over the next four years, research firm OSS Observer projects the SOA market to enjoy a compound annual growth rate of 27 percent.

As these vendors know, SOA essentially uses the web to stitch together different types of applications, allowing them to be reused across an organization and recombined with still other applications. So an application that checks a consumer’s credit, say, can be plugged into a mortgage processing application or something else—and all costing a lot less than buying new applications for each function.

As organizations become more global, SOA will become an integral part of their strategy. It is aimed at lowering the total cost of ownership, simplifying integration and customization. Organizations are increasingly adopting SOA as a means to access and distribute information in real time.

Let’s say in a manufacturing business systems span departments and geographies. The company wants to integrate, and provide visibility and business insight across many different platforms, data sources and applications. The systems need to be fast, secure and always available. It is here that SOA provides a business-centric IT architectural approach that supports integrating the enterprise as integrated, reusable business processes or services.

The Product Suite
In its quest to solve how the world builds, operates and integrates software, Progress Software has launched a suite of products in its 26-year old history. Its breadth of products, services and technology are designed to enable SOA and business innovation, spanning Application Platforms, Services Infrastructure and Data Infrastructure.

At the heart of it is its flagship product—OpenEdge, which till date is the largest revenue generator for the company. OpenEdge provides a unified environment comprising development tools, application servers, , an embedded enterprise upgrade database, and the capability to easily connect and integrate with other applications and data sources.

The Progress product portfolio was extended to the enterprise integration space with the Sonic MQ product that was best-in-class messaging product. Seeing the opportunity for better abstractions, the Sonic ESB product was conceived by putting all these enterprise solutions components together in a SoA fashion leveraging the strong messaging backbone. It’s like when you take the top off (a computer), what you find is that there is a backplane, or bus, (that) you place cards into. Similarly, an enterprise service bus (ESB) is a software system where applications plugged into a data and services conduit—a ‘bus’—to share information or have different things talk to it.

SOAs are indeed complex, and you need a mechanism to track and manage the service assets within the organizations. Considering that, SOA governance systems will have to be standard equipment for most SOAs. This is where Progress Actional comes into picture. It provides an end-to-end visibility, policy-based governance and performance monitoring you need to manage your SOA in a distributed, multi-platform environment. “As we progress in the world of SOA, to increased mainstream adoption the notion of SOA governance will morph into more solid foundations of technology that offer reliable and performing SOA governance framework. Actional is best poised for this,” says Loganthan.

Progress constantly looks at adopting emerging technology trends in the application and integration infrastructure space and keeps adding more value into existing products and at the same time looks at newer areas to expand the product portfolio. Progress is credited with defining and creating the ESB space in 2002. More recently two new areas are the Complex Event Processing space (Apama) and the Semantic Data Integration space (DataXtend). In the former, Progress’ innovation is in its approach to the runtime efficiency. This renders Apama a very effective CEP platform with capability to handle very large number of rules on huge event streams—with complexity in the rules spanning multiple event streams and over an extended period of time. The Fraud Detection use case best highlights the power of the platform. A compex case needing time to process, typically working off of a nightly batch job Apama can solve the same problem in real-time. Basically execute all complex rules even as the transaction is occurring. So when a bank transfer is occurring, the system can detect a complex fraud sequence.

Likewise, the DataXtend product is in a pioneering space. DataXtend defines the yet emerging Semantic Integration space. Here again, there is a different view to integration where a common model is at the core for the enterprise. And all data interchanges are defined through this model. A significant shift from the peer-to-peer data transformation models widely prevalent in the SOA space. The SI model allows enforcing more discipline in the data interchanges, and also models the enterprise data landscape and transformations centrally, allowing detection of any change impact.

Hyderabad: The Center of Excellence
At the core of Progress’ ability to develop great products is its engineering team. The company has several R&D centers spread over seven countries. The Hyderabad centre is the second largest after the home office near Boston.

When Loganathan speaks, you wonder if it is technology that runs in his veins. His passion and excitement suggests that his world revolves around technology. And his passion is quite infectious and is reflected in the 140 engineers who work excitedly on some of the complex middleware technologies. Some of these engineers participate in the standard specification committees that define new standards in the middleware and tools space. Progress’ other centers look at the Hyderabad center as an early resource in several technology areas as it has built several competencies over the years. While providing technology leadership and guidance to help create an environment that is more than just a software development center keeps Loganathan busy, he also focuses on delivering value from a remote team and innovating various approaches to ensure a smooth functioning cross-continental dynamics, and delivery capabilities.

The Hyderabad center is involved in designing, building, and testing next-generation products for Progress Software’s major product lines —Progress OpenEdge , Progress Apama, Sonic ESB, and DataDirect Technologies. The fact that Progress builds products for the enterprise infrastructure, what matters is performance, reliability, robustness, and scalability of such infrastructure. “For this we always hire smart engineers who envision new uses of emerging technologies . This ties well with our strength in defining new product spaces,” notes Loganathan.

The engineers in Hyderabad center are aligned across common product goals including the integration of and better user experience across its products. “This is important now given that Progress is offering most of its products as part of the SOA Suite,” says Loganathan giving the example of having one support team for all products. If each product requires support in five different languages, it does not make sense to have five language support teams for each of the products in Progress’ kitty! “We have one worldwide support team for all the products,” he notes. Progress has a corporate push for shared services teams where possible. The technology-based team at the India development center is a very successful initiative, consistent with this focus.

The center has been designed to develop specialized focus and skills for development tools, management tools, .NET frameworks, adapters, and automated tools, testing. Additionally work is happening in document publication and support. Aptly called as the Centers of excellence, competencies of the center are leveraged by other engineering centers of the company also.

For instance consider adapters. In a large enterprise there are many—literally hundreds—of such systems, ranging from mainframes and legacy data sources to middleware technologies to homegrown application components to off-the-shelf business applications based on proprietary technologies. So, a broad set of adapters for interoperating with non-standard end systems is important for the success of any integration offering. Lack of an adapter is a barrier to adoption of integration. Many of Progress’ products require adapters for effective adoption in the client enterprises.

Adapter developers need to have deep domain knowledge of end systems and their APIs, along with the skills to bridge between them and various integration engines. “Our engineers in the adapter team bring in a combination of system level programming knowledge, operating system knowledge and architecture developing skills. In terms of quality, the engineers ensure reliability and efficiency of the code since it is very difficult to trouble shoot the low level adapters layers such as data access,” says Loganathan.

By having centers of excellence like that around adapters, Progress has been able to leverage the competencies quite well. With the economies of scale offered by having a larger team work on multiple products in a competency such as Adapters or Eclipse tools, the sharing, reuse and best practices result in compelling value addition and efficiencies in the product work from the India team.

The concept of modeling the Hyderabad center around CoEs evolved with the success of developing the first version of Sonic Work Bench—an Eclipse-based development tool for building ESB applications to run Sonic ESB. “It all started about four years back. A 20 people team worked for nearly 20 months. The project was extremely complex and challenging. Most of us had previously built a Java Studio product. Helped by that insight and experience, technical challenges could be handled locally. Even with a strong technical team, what helped more was the independent mandate given to the offshore team—other than the VP of Engineering and the Chief Architect of Sonic product there was hardly any one in the loop from the headquarters. We were able to make a difference and add significant impact on the overall product,” says Loganathan, who himself steered this group. Being proactive, circumspect and delivering in time ensured significant value from the team. Recognizing this, the management team back in Boston, initiated realigning the India team along other CoEs.

Progress Software India represents a unique model in offshore development, by extending the now popular ‘technology horizontals and domain verticals’ model of software services companies to infrastructure products domain. With an independent organization reporting into the corporate e-team, focusing on technology (horizontals), successfully delivering a mandate of cross products value to the product business verticals in the company. While still keeping the engineers excited with the technology charter in emerging areas.

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