The question over just who invented the enterprise service bus, or ESB, saw another dramatic twist yesterday as Gartner’s most senior middleware analyst, Roy Schulte, told me that it was Candle’s Roma product of 1998 that is the ESB’s "most direct ancestor", but that it was Sonic Software that coined the term.
The row over who invented the ESB – said to be the new paradigm in open, web services standards-based integration technologies – began early this week with Tibco Software’s chairman and CEO Vivek Ranadive telling me that it was he who invented the technology, contradicting Sonic Software’s long-held assertion that it invented it.
Ranadive told me that he invented the ESB, and that Sonic Software’s claims that it did so are "a complete joke". Sonic Software subsequently went on the record to say its engineers invented both the technology and the term to describe it before it released its first ESB in February 2002. Sonic said that Gartner VP and distinguished analyst Roy Schulte would back up its claim.
Speaking to me yesterday, however, Schulte explained that the picture is altogether more complicated than either Tibco or Sonic Software portray it. Schulte confirmed that, "The first time I heard the term ‘ESB’ was from Sonic. Sonic also shipped the first product that used the term ‘ESB’ in 2002."
But Schulte said it is not clear exactly who invented the concept behind the ESB: "I think that Sonic invented the term to the best of my knowledge, although the concept had many fathers. Like most things, ESBs had precursors, and other labels (web services broker, web services manager, fabric, web services network) have been used to describe the same or similar types of middleware products."
As for the technology ideas that went into the concept of the ESB, Schulte asserted that: "The most direct ancestor to the ESB was Candle’s Roma product from 1998, later called Candle Pathwai." Candle was acquired by IBM in April 2004 – an irony that will not be lost on either Tibco or Sonic Software, since IBM has only recently begun to claim that it too has an ESB of its own – IBM’s head of software Steve Mills recently telling ComputerWire that: "I know we do [have an ESB], in fact I’ve been delivering ESB functionality for many years."
However, while Schulte said that Candle’s Roma is probably the closest direct ancestor to the ESB, he was quick to point out that: "Roma was an ESB in every respect except that it did not have web services support. Web services are definitional to an ESB – if it can’t send and receive SOAP/HTTP messages or if it doesn’t support WSDL [web service definition language], then it is not an ESB."
"Sonic’s XQ (later called Sonic ESB) did support web services and thus was an ESB in 2002," said Schulte.
So where does all this leave Tibco chairman and CEO Vivek Ranadive’s claim that it was he who "wrote the book" on the ESB, seemingly supported by the fact that Tibco has always called itself ‘The Information Bus Company’? "What Tibco was selling in the 1990s was an enterprise message bus, not an enterprise service bus," argued Schulte. "Like Roma, it predated web services so it was not an ESB."
"However, like Roma, it had most of the other characteristics of an ESB by 1998," Schulte continued. "In fact, although it lacked web services support then, it had integration features like transformation, adapters and (later) business process management (BPM) that were missing from many of the first ESBs. In other words, Tibco’s products in the 1990s were supersets of the first ESBs in many respects but their lack of web services support meant that Tibco had a subset of an ESB in some respects. Now, of course, Tibco’s Businessworks product family has web services support so it is a pure superset of an ESB."
With a raft of companies including Cape Clear, PolarLake, Fiorano Software, Iona, SeeBeyond and others recently joined by BEA, IBM, Oracle and Tibco in espousing the benefits of ESB technology, competition is getting stiffer by the day. With ESBs thought to play a key enabling role as the foundation for service oriented architecture or SOA – which is itself expected to be one of the most important trends in enterprise IT over the next decade – it is not surprising that vendors are talking up their ESB credentials, or at least downplaying their lack of them.