Mega-Vendors Warming Up to the Cloud - Part 4

Part 1 of this blog series depicted the three evolutionary phases (or waves) of software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing adoption. The post ended with some glimpses into the future and the likely implications for SaaS users.

Part 2 then explored the apparent opportunities and accompanying challenges (and painstaking soul-searching exercises) that SaaS aspirants face in their endeavors. Some concrete examples of vendors and their new strategies and solutions were presented, most notably SAP Business ByDesign.

Part 3 of this blog series analyzed recent SaaS initiatives by mainstream mega-vendors. Some concrete examples of vendors and their new strategies and solutions were presented, most notably Oracle’s Platform for SaaS and SAP’s recently unveiled on-demand strategy for large enterprises.

Coming back to the company that has inspired this series, Progress Software, the vendor believes that most mega-vendors, based on their nascent and budding SaaS offerings described in Part 2 and Part 3, have been slow to market with SaaS offerings. Thus, the window of opportunity for Progress’ partners is still open.

What Does Progress Software Offer On Demand?

This link was recently sent to more than 10,000 Progress Application Partners and independent software vendors (ISVs) with Progress’ semi-monthly newsletter on interesting applications based on the Progress OpenEdge platform. Corporate strategies, plans, and events at Progress that impact the Progress Partner and Developer communities are described there as well. As a matter of interest, more than 90 percent of Fortune 100 corporations use applications powered by Progress Software.

For its part, Progress Software remains happy to stay in the middle layer and out of its ISV partners’ business. Namely, Progress has always focused solely on enabling applications development, and until recently only in the realm of on-premise software. Progress’ OpenEdge platform continues to be developed on both on-demand/SaaS and on-premise tracks.

The company's  intent is for both platform releases to be functionally close to each other, but some functional gaps will occasionally exist. Indeed, the SaaS platform deployment has brought about the increased requirements of personalization, multitenancy, data management, user interface (UI) flexibility, integration, information security and  compliance, model-driven architecture (MDA) tools, and so on and so forth. While Progress’ install base is still predominantly on-premise, virtually all new OpenEdge sales have been to ISVs with on-demand aspirations, irrespective of whether they are longstanding ISV partners or new startups.

Progress pledges to stay out of its ISV partners’ business of delivering the actual applications or services and dealing with pricing/usage models, devices and users, and ecosystems. Progress technology is completely unbeknownst to the end-user, who is only interested in getting a login for an on-demand application.

On the other hand, Progress is not in the full-fledged all-inclusive infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) or platform-as-a-service (PaaS) business either. In other words, Progress does not directly deal with actual hosting and “SaaS plumbing” (i.e., user provision and metering, virtualization, hardware, network, service level management, and so on in the cloud).

Progress Software is not competing in the space of, NetFlex, Bungee Labs, Longjump, WorkXpress, and many others likely to emerge in the future. So, what is Progress Software’s sweet spot? That would be SaaS-enablement, or providing an “in the box” SaaS application development platform for ISVs and business service providers (BSPs) looking to optimize service development and delivery in the cloud.

Progress OpenEdge is a leading application platform for ISVs and large strategic customers (where Progress sells directly) to build, operate, and manage an application as either an on-demand service or on-premise software. More detailed information on the OpenEdge platform and Progress Software partnering philosophy can be found in TEC’s previous article  A Partner-friendly Platform Provider Discusses Market Trends.

In summary, OpenEdge provides a productive development environment with relatively cost-effective operation and management, while preserving existing investments in the platform (i.e., not a single feature gets discontinued in the future). Efficient data management, deployment flexibility, openness, and remarkable scalability make OpenEdge a compelling choice for ISVs and BSPs.

In addition to technology prowess, Progress has the experience and knowledge to help partners make a profitable growing revenue stream for their SaaS businesses. Currently, Progress Software says that over 250 of its application partners are delivering SaaS offerings today. Moreover, 40 of these partners claim that SaaS will be more than half of their business by 2010.

Progress' Seven Keys to SaaS Success

In its SaaS technology delivery, Progress Software has identified the following seven key success factors:

  1. Multi-tenancy: the ease of going from 1 to N on-demand customers (tenants).

  2. Information security and compliance: ensuring that data and applications are accessed only by those who need to know.

  3. UI flexibility: being able to easily use the UI technologies that meet the needs of the customer.

  4. Personalization: ensuring that the application looks exactly as the tenant and end-user want.

  5. Integration: the ability to easily integrate with any other application by supporting all relevant standards

  6. Operational excellence: being always available with the ability to scale to any size.

  7. Productivity: a highly productive environment focused on a versatile platform and industry best practices.

What drives Progress Software’s strategy and product decisions? The vendor boasts that it listens closely to its customers, while looking into and researching the market and industry trends. Current trends are that businesses need to change rapidly to take advantage of emerging business models (like SaaS) to integrate applications and functionality, both within the four walls of the enterprise and within the extended enterprise of suppliers, partners, and customers.

Other burning needs are to be compliant with ever-changing rules and regulations (e.g., the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, Basel II Accord, etc.) and to make sure that data and processes are secure. All in all, business agility is a must, and service-oriented architecture (SOA) could be the best model to provide this agility to diverse portfolios of applications.

Ready to Harness SOA?

All of the above business requirements are putting IT departments under tremendous pressure, as they need to enable the agility required to respond to all those challenges in a timely basis. Whether they need to modularize applications and business functionality into reusable components and services through SOA; implement multiple UIs to fit each user’s requirements (be it power users, or casual users, sedentary in the office, or mobile on-the-road) to the same body of business logic; integrate and assemble services; or enhance applications to monitor and respond in real time to events as they occur, developers have never been in need for more productive environments.

Developers are required to learn, use, and be productive with ever-more technologies and complex software architectures, with an increasing number of moving parts, components, and services. Intuitive, integrated, flexible, and extensible development environments are a must to adapt to the needs of each developer at each stage of the software development lifecycle.

But let’s not also forget that building new applications that adhere to SOA concepts and best practices is only part of IT departments’ jobs. Maintaining and transforming existing applications is equally important. Tools to empower the developer to generate the model from existing legacy code and vice versa are critical to maintain applications while transforming them to SOA-enabled applications.

Oft-cited potential business benefits of SOA:

  1. Business flexibility: via an architecture designed for continuous business change.

  2. Multi-channel user self-service: whereby customers (and trading partners) can access the company’s services when and where they want.

  3. Business process outsourcing (BPO): Focus on the company’s core competencies as building blocks in the company’s customers’ and supplier’ business processes.

But these benefits do not come that easily and without the heavy-lifting of SOA management and governance. Thus, when the Progress Sonic ESB and Progress Actional SOA governance offerings become fully SaaS-enabled like their OpenEdge counterpart, Progress Software hopes to have a “killer SOA trio.” The recent combined deployment of Progress OpenEdge and Sonic at Portland Fish Exchange (PFEX) might be a harbinger of what the future holds.

What are your thoughts in this regard, and your experiences with SOA platforms and SOA management solutions like Progress OpenEdge, Sonic, and Actional? Again, your comments, thoughts, suggestions or individual experiences with SOA enablement and governance and are more than welcome.

At the end of the day, dear readers, your comments with regard to the opinions and assertions expressed thus far are welcome. How important are the abovementioned considerations in your software selections, and what are your on-demand, on-premise or SaaS experiences?
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