Software AG: The XML - oops - SOA company

Software AG has built a global customer base over 35 years by being an early mover in a couple of major technology trends. The company introduced one of the first databases, Adabas, in the 1970s, a platform-independent computer language, Natural, in the 1980s and an XML (Extensible Markup Language) server, Tamino, in the 1990s.

In an interview with IDG News Service, Peter Kürpick, member of the Software AG executive board responsible for research and development, talked about the company's evolutionary move from XML servers and integration to new products and services needed to build an SOA (service oriented architecture) infrastructure.

IDGNS: How did Software AG enter the middleware market?

Kürpick: In the early 90s, our founder Peter Schnell realized a need to connect various systems so that information flows would not be confined to one system. He started a project, the message broker, which is known today as our enterprise service bus. This technology allows you to connect systems of different kinds to exchange information.

IDGNS: And then the Internet came along. What happened then?

Kürpick: In the mid-1990s when Internet gained momentum, Software AG detected a need for companies to standardize application tools. The standard was XML and became a core business. We tagged ourselves The XML Company. But that tag is going to disappear soon as XML is now pretty much a given in the industry; it's nothing special anymore.

IDGNS: So if you're not going to be The XML Company any longer, what do you want to be?

Kürpick: What we're doing now with SOA is a natural extension of what we've done for the last several years. SOA is a concept of loosely coupling systems and generating new applications based on highly standardized technologies, such as Web services and business process management. We've decided to bring a technology stack to the table that covers all the basic components of SOA. This includes opening up and connecting any kind of system. We have a toolset to connect to those systems. And once you've connected to three or four systems, you'll want to orchestrate a new process that takes data from system "a" to system "b" and beyond. This is where our enterprise service bus comes into play.

IDGNS: How does AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) fit into this?

Kürpick: We use this technology to develop enterprise screens, or "mashups," that companies can deploy on top of their systems to have an integrated view of data being generated by a variety of applications. This is what our crossvision suite is all about.

IDGNS: How do you make customers understand what SOA is all about?

Kürpick: We tell customers they need one central place, an SOA registry/repository. Here they register all their metadata, or SOA "artifacts," which describe interfaces, business processes, Web services and more. The repository is a library of sorts where users store all the ways they connect systems, providing a map of their IT landscape. It allows them to govern and manage their SOA infrastructure.

IDGNS: So this is your interpretation of SOA -- to work through this repository?

Kürpick: We say that an SOA registry/ repository is a must. It allows businesses to govern the life-cyle of SOA components, such as services, processes and policies.

IDGNS: Is this repository approach unique to you?

Kürpick: There are only two companies in world doing this right now: Software AG and Hewlett-Packard Co., via an acquisition. HP acquired Mercury Interactive Corp., which owned Systinet -- the only competitor with a similar approach.

IDGNS: Are there other interpretations of SOA with the library?

Kürpick: You really can't run a large scale SOA landscape without a central library. As with any library, you need to know where the books are. With SOA, you need to know where all the services are you want to link and how to link them.

IDGNS: And you help with your own proprietary technology?

Kürpick: Our technology is entirely based on open standards. We see ourselves as a neutral player in the integration space. We're not biased toward SAP AG or Oracle Corp. or any other vendor of business applications for that matter. Our mission is to integrate heterogenous IT landscapes. Businesses prefer to enable new processes on what they already have. They don't want to embark on huge conversion programs.

IDGNS: When companies follow a SOA path, do they need to invest heavily in consultants?

Kürpick: They need some level of consultancy. SOA is a learning process. We can guide businesses and help them avoid interruptions. Our technology is based on standard ways of doing things -- for instance Eclipse as a development environment or Java as a standard way of developing code. Large companies can do much in-house. So it's really a question of how large you are and how much you want to do in-house.

IDGNS: So no more XLM -- SOA is the future. But SOA can go away too, right?

Kürpick: SOA is an architectural concept and I expect it will be around for at least the next 10 years or longer. The concept is really only at the beginning.

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