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SOA metadata technology spurs webMethods to buy Cerebra

Startup company's W3C semantic technology will provide a federated metadata repository with automated discovery for the next version of webMethods Fabric.

As part of a strategy to move beyond its application integration roots into SOA, webMethods Inc. announced Monday that it has acquired Cerebra Inc., a privately-held start-up. Cerebra's semantic metadata management technology with automated discovery capabilities will be incorporated into the next version of webMethods Fabric scheduled for release in December, said Marc Breissinger, CTO at webMethods.

Dealing with semantic metadata is a critical missing link for SOA.
Jason Bloomberg
Senior AnalystZapThink LLC

The deal evolved out of an OEM relationship webMethods initiated with Cerebra about 18-months ago as it sought semantic metadata technology to incorporate into its Fabric product suite for business process management and SOA, he said.

As webMethods has evolved from an enterprise application integration (EAI) vendor towards its goal of being a provider of SOA and BPM software, it has been looking for ways to manage the complexity that comes with the emerging architecture, Breissinger said.

"We saw about 18 months ago that we needed a way to try to manage and tame that complexity if our customers were going to be successful in deploying SOA and BPM on top of SOA on a broad scale," he said. "So we started looking for different technologies that we thought could help us manage that complexity while still not forcing people to build giant enterprise data models and enterprise service models and application models in the sky that turn out to be very fragile and static and never succeed."

The California-based start-up with its semantic technology built on the W3C Web Ontology Language (OWL) had the technology Virginia-based webMethods was seeking, Breissinger said. As the bi-coastal technical relationship grew, he said, webMethods realized that the Cerebra technology was going to be so strategic to the next version of webMethods Fabric that it would be best to own it rather than OEM it.

As work on the December release progresses, Cerebra's development team, now part of webMethods' newly christened southern California offices, will create a federated metadata repository employing the semantic technology, Breissinger said. When integrated into Fabric it will automatically identify and collect metadata and provide IT departments with a single view of software assets including Web services, documents, business processes, governance policies and user profiles, as well as associated metadata histories, he added.

The acquisition received generally favorable reviews among analysts asked about it on Monday.

Ken Vollmer, principal analyst with Forrester Research Inc., said webMethods is smart to gain control of technology that is strategic to its SOA product suite, which he said already compares favorably with other products on the market.

"For example," Vollmer said, "we evaluated webMethods Fabric features against the leading pure-play ESB's about nine months ago and webMethods scored as well as or higher than any of the pure-play ESB vendors at that time."

However, Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst with ZapThink LLC, was skeptical about how much automation will be possible in building a metadata repository.

"On the one hand, dealing with semantic metadata is a critical missing link for SOA, so yes, it's an important part of a successful SOA implementation," Bloomberg said. "But while Cerebra can provide some level of automation, there always remain many issues that must be resolved manually."

Bloomberg also contested webMethods' assertion that Cerebra's technology is unique, by pointing to Metallect Corp., a Dallas, Texas-based startup, which he said, offers "a semantic metadata management capability similar to Cerebra's."

The most positive analyst view came in an article, Consolidating Data Integration Architectures with Metadata Acquisitions, written Monday by Bill Swanton, vice president of research for AMR Research Inc., which was being touted by the webMethods marketing staff.

"The interesting part of this acquisition is that it reflects the coming together of data and application integration," he wrote. "SOA will require one place to define all the players: Data, processes, and people. While metadata has usually been thought of in the context of data warehouses and integration, the end game will be services for SOA."

For more information
ZapThink: Registry/repository lies at the heart of SOA

Enterprise Data Integration: A critical piece in a Service-Oriented Architecture

In that game, the AMR analyst said the acquisition could revolutionize repository technology offerings once the Cerebra technology integration with webMethods Fabric is completed.

Swanton wrote: "webMethods is in an interesting position as the Cerebra repository starts surfing in webMethods Fabric later this year. It doesn't have the market clout of the MISO (Microsoft, IBM, SAP and Oracle) vendors, but it arguably has one of the best generalist products (Fabric) for integration and BPM, with strong B2B e-business credentials. It can set a pattern for what is required in the market, retain its position as a credible best of breed and force the Big Four vendors to do the right thing."

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed by webMethods.

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