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Tibco ActiveMatrix: Less Or More Complexity For SOAs?

Tibco's recent launch of its ActiveMatrix product has stirred up some discussion about whether the product suite would simplify the building of SOAs, or add complexity to an already difficult task.
Tibco's recent launch of its ActiveMatrix product has stirred up some discussion about whether the product suite would simplify the building of SOAs, or add complexity to an already difficult task.ActiveMatrix removes the need to write transport code to interconnect services by introducing a container that abstracts the business logic from the plumbing. The same transport code is applied to services whether they are built in Java or Microsoft .Net, or are part of custom or packaged applications.

Because of its cross-platform capabilities, ActiveMatrix has been compared to an enterprise services bus, or ESB, which is a message broker that supports SOAs. Tibco, however, is emphatic: ActiveMatric is not an ESB.

But it is middleware, and middleware can add complexity, especially when it's added to more middleware. That was the point of ZapThink analyst Ronald Schmelzer, whose comments in a story I wrote for Intelligent Enterprise irritated Tibco.

"Companies implement systems to deal with heterogeneity, but then things change and they have multiple such systems or the original system doesn't meet their new needs, so then they need more middleware for their middleware," Schmelzer said. "And indeed, this Tibco announcement does look like the 'middleware for your middleware' type solution. Can this cycle ever end?"

At my request, Tibco sent its response. The company argues that ActiveMatrix can become the core integration piece in a SOA because the product is built on the Java Business Integration standard, and a set of specifications called the Service Component Architecture, which describes a model for building applications and systems using a SOA.

"JBI and SCA aim to eliminate vendor lock-in by providing a standard container and component architecture that allow various integration technologies from multiple vendors to interact," Tibco said.

I don't claim to be an expert in building SOAs, but my experience in writing about standards has me leaning in favor of Schmelzer's arguments. Over the years, vendors have formed hundreds, if not thousands, of organizations and technical committees to develop interoperability standards and specifications. Yet software still doesn't work well together. That's because it's more profitable to use standards as a guise for locking customers into your platform, than to hand them technology that would make it easier for them to switch to a competitor.

If Tibco's argument hangs on its use of standards and industry specifications, then it leaves me very skeptical.

Drop me an email to let me know what you think.