Undoubtedly, as the Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) continues to emerge as a hallmark of service-oriented architecture (SOA), the competition between open source and proprietary products will continue to heat up. Granted, ESB is a well-established category of infrastructure software. Enterprises across the world (medium to large) rely on this technology to provide the reusable business services for its applications, business processes and users. In parallel, the ESB market has proven ready for open source disruption with the following serving as indicators of such:
- Very little "new blood." No new proprietary vendors have rolled out ESBs over the past two years. "New" products have been the result of existing vendors extending the capabilities of older enterprise application integration offerings to include ESB-esque features like Web service support and business service orchestration.
- Signigicant market consolidation. The trend of larger platform vendors acquiring niche ESB vendors have reduced the number of players and available choices. The Oracle BEA acquisition is a prominent example and last year's acquisition of webMethods by Software AG, another.
- Commoditization of the ESB. No longer a leading/cutting-edge technology, ESB is now a substantially cheaper, infrastructure commodity. As it stands, more growth potential exists in emergent upper layers of the infrastructure stack, e.g. Business Process Management (BPM). The ESB is going the way of the application server, that of a sort of bundled prerequisite for new products.
However, despite the opportunities for open source disruption, the ESB market is unique in the sense that its core capabilities are still evolving. An example of this evolution is the fact that over the past four years the ESB, as well as other integration-centric categories, continues to take shape. Circa 2004, the conceptual understanding of an ESB included Web services, event triggering, routing and messaging. By 2006, this expanded to include a large number of capabilities that were previously classed in the EAI domain such as, data transformation; process orchestration; application adapters; process modeling and process monitoring. Today, the ESB stack now includes event-centric capabilities like Complex Event Processing (CEP), event management, simulation and human workflow. Where both EAI and ESB capabilities can be grouped under the integration-centric business process management umbrella.
Survival for open source vendors in this market is directly related to: how clearly the business model is defined and communicated, how quickly and capably mass adoption is established; the efficiency of technology and service delivery models. The presence of serious, commercially viable companies to support middleware deployments is critical for enterprise customers. However, while the lack of compulsory upfront license fees characteristic of proprietary products aids adoption, it removes a chunk of revenue stream. A reality which can't be discounted since smaller open source companies are faced with the prospect of fewer resources available to invest in building a business. These same vendors will not be able to rely upon traditional strategic approaches to growth and capturing market share if they intend to thrive. They must work alternative forms of monetization into their business models in the face of lower average deal sizes.
This entails stimulating strong ecosystems of consultants and system integrators through a practitioner focused outlook, one that encourages speed and flexibility of customization (two valuable differentiators). These third party channels are key to fully understanding the role of an open source ESB not only as a product but as a solution. There is also room to explore how to leverage relationships with the Apache and Eclipse communities, through the incorporation of technologies from the former and the development of a family of plug-ins for the latter. Doing so, provides some branding momentum since those two remain the most trusted and recognizable names in the open source community.
Interestingly enough, the trajectory of the Deutsche Post spin-off SOPERA will provide a glimpse at the path that lies ahead for ESB challengers. Currently it needs to extend its capabilities with more feature completeness most notably an adapter framework. This could take shape as a commercial add-on or as a partnership with an open source BPM effort (perhaps Intalio). However, SOPERA must be careful to clearly communicate a strategy and execute along a focused path that serves as a buffer from the pressures of a highly competitive ESB market...ditto for any other open source ESB effort that has its sights set on challenging larger incumbents.