Progress Software has always been a little larger that it looked. Founded around 30 years ago, it was one of the early 4GL/database companies and one of the few that made a life for itself as software moved from mainframe/minicomputer deployments to the client server world and then to n-tier browser-based architectures. Progress Software both survived and thrived. This was achieved mainly by virtue of good engineering and a dedication to the ISV market.
The Big Footprint
In the 1990s Progress became the gorilla of the ISV market for ISVs building business applications. It has and still has many thousands of ISVs as customers, all of whom provide regular revenues to Progress. Down there in the SMB market the ISV is often the gate-keeper of the small business IT budget. The SMBs may not have huge IT budgets, but the dominant ISV in an account will normally determine where that money goes. Given Progress’s business model, (run time license fees) those ISVs never passed huge sums on to Progress, but collectively they controlled a huge IT spend over which Progress had a good deal of influence. For that reason Progress has always been a little bigger than it looked.
As that pre-millenium decade progressed, more and more ISVs emigrated from other failing 4GL vendors and moved to Progress and that migration continues even now. As far as we’re aware, the only other vendor with a bigger piece of the ISV market is Microsoft.
The Next Decade
Progress was always a platform company, in the sense that it provided a complete development platform – but that platform was targeted at the SMB market. In the past 10 years Progress has gradually changed direction and through a series of acquisitions, coupled with internal development projects, it has built what I think of as a “2 layer enterprise platform.”
In 2000 (over 10 years ago) they launched Sonic which actually defined the concept of an Enterprise Service Broker (ESB) – the idea being to have a software component that managed inter-program messaging throughout all or part of the corporate network.
In 2002 it acquired eXcelon Corporation (formerly Object Design, an object database company) and soon after acquired a UK company, Apama, which was the first stream processing software development company. It had a 4GL-like capability that allowed financial traders to easily develop and implement trading algorithms. It was paired with the Object Design database, ObjectStore, and now delivers event processing (real time) capability across the board. eXcelon’s XML technology was migrated to Sonic, enabling it to do XML translations on the fly.
In 2006 Progress acquired Actional Corporation, which had had one of the few (some would maintain the only) true enterprise class SOA management product aimed at process monitoring, security, and implementing run-time governance. Also in 2006 Progress acquired Neon Systems, which had mainframe modernization software. In 2008 Progress acquired Xcalia, a data integration company, and Mindreef, which had web services testing and diagnostic software. Also in 2008, it acquired IONA technologies which had long provided a CORBA infrastructure but also offered some open source SOA components and Artix a commercially-licensed SOA product. Finally, in 2101, Progress acquired Savvion, a respected provider of Business Process Management technology.
For 10 years it wasn’t exactly clear what Progress was doing. It was acquiring a crowd of very good software components, but it wasn’t at all obvious (to me at least) that these components had coherence until Progress started filling in the gaps.
The Problems with SOA
SOA was always a work in progress to some degree. By adhering to web services standards and with the help of an ESB you could get some useful reuse out of some of your software, and you could thread applications together to build end-to-end processes, but there were bits missing. At the architectural level, these included a true data integration layer and a full SOA management capability. At the business process level, this included a full Business Process Management (BPM) capability.
If you take a detailed look at what Progress has been doing, it now becomes clear that it has been building exactly that – a true comprehensive enterprise architecture and a true comprehensive BPM capability. The upshot of this is that Progress has started to get aggressive in the enterprise market. It now competes head-to-head with Oracle, IBM and Tibco, arguably on an equal footing. And despite the fact its competitors have been established in the enterprise market for far longer, Progress is winning business. Indeed, this is the area of Progress’s business that is currently growing fastest.
The Progress marketing pitch is now about architecture, both at the application level and at the business process level and it has the software needed to deliver that.