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Adjoin seeks to bring pricing pressure to Web services management

A former Lotus CTO and two Palm executives have teamed up to launch Adjoin, a Web services management startup. Even though the company has a systems-management-oriented platform and some experienced development talent, The451 believes the company needs help from financiers and customers to make its mark in the nascent Web services management realm.


The first week of the New Year has seen yet another Web services management startup enter the fray. Boston-based Adjoin emerged out of stealth mode this week without the financial backing that some of its rivals boast, but it hopes to turn this into its favor with an aggressive pricing model it says has been designed to scale as customer deployments of Web services emerge from behind the firewall to connect to trusted third parties. Adjoin's SOMMA systems-management-oriented platform will be generally available in the second quarter.

Context: Adjoin's cofounders are chairman John Landry, a former CTO at Lotus Development, and two former Palm executives, CEO Dennis Kelly and senior VP of product management Leo Parker. Kelly most recently was VP of Web services at Palm, where he took charge of the Palm.Net wireless business. Kelly co-founded Internet calendaring firm Anyday.com, a company that Landry invested in before it was sold to Palm. It was while developing Palm.Net that Kelly first encountered the difficulty of managing and monitoring a service-oriented architecture, since existing management tools didn't provide any visibility into how the various components interacted with each other or whether scheduled events were taking place.

This formed the germ of an idea to build a systems management tool for service-oriented architectures. Conceptual work began in 2001, with product development taking place through 2002, led by chief scientist Jeffrey Buzen, a Harvard Ph.D. and cofounder of performance management pioneer BGS Systems, which was sold to BMC Software in 1998. Heading up the commercial side of Adjoin is COO Marc Camm, former VP of marketing at BindView.

The company currently has 10 employees and is self-funded with additional contributions from unnamed private investors. Adjoin hopes to secure some VC funding by mid-year, but admits the funding climate at present is "tight."

Business model: Adjoin's Marc Camm says the company is being realistic about corporate expenditure on Web services projects. Those organizations that are implementing Web services are currently developing small projects that are strictly behind the firewall. They will consider extending them to trusted third parties only when robust management practices and policies are in place. With this in mind, he says it is pointless to charge $150,000 for a management platform that underpins a $20,000 Web services project.

Accordingly, Adjoin has developed the first iteration of its SOMMA (service oriented management and monitoring architecture) to provide basic but essential discovery, configuration, mapping and alerting functions for Web services. Prices start at $10,000.

Additionally, Adjoin is focusing its efforts only on the systems management aspect of Web services management. It doesn't plan to play in security management, transaction management (such as guaranteed delivery and rollback) or business process management (such as orchestration, workflow, content analysis and billing). However, the company does plan to incorporate some SLA management features into SOMMA when it releases an 'enterprise' version for business-to-business implementations early in 2004.

Products: Adjoin says traditional 'platform'-based systems management products designed for mainframe, client/server or n-tier architectures don't have the capability to work in the loosely coupled environments that characterize Web services deployments. Since all the components in these traditional architectures can be defined and are relatively stable, it is possible to place API-based diagnostic agents in all associated software platforms, such as SAP, I/O operations and other system-level functions.

Adjoin contends this agent approach falls down when applications and software components are connected in a loosely coupled environment because each Web service is in effect a customized, and therefore unique, application, with each one being a potential point of failure. Additionally, Adjoin says platform-based agents are designed to work within the confines of the corporate firewall, and can't 'see' beyond their host application or operating system, which is where Web services will ultimately play.

Consequently, SOMMA has been designed as an 'active observer' system that sits in the actual transaction stream where it can see the entire Web service transaction and actively perform management and monitoring tasks, such as identifying bottlenecks, collecting data for analysis and taking corrective action both within and beyond the firewall.

Designed to work in both J2EE and Microsoft .NET environments, SOMMA comprises an observer and a management/analytics engine. Observers can run as a Web service proxy, plugged into the network data stream in front of the load balancer or application server cluster, or deployed as a server-based observer on the application server itself. Observers 'listen' for each Web service transaction and monitor, manage and report on that service using SOAP, WSDL and XML to determine details about the service.

This information is then passed to a central management/analytics engine for aggregation and analysis, where reports and alerts (such as pager alerts or SNMP traps) can be generated. It also performs 'synthetic' (or heartbeat) transaction monitoring of all Web services, so that if a service fails, it will instantly know which operation it was performing and which system it was running on.

Services include performance and usage monitoring through tracking service response times, transaction sizes and volumes, self-learning adaptive threshold and root cause and trend analysis, actionable services such as disabling transactions or redirecting traffic to improve load balancing, management tools for grouping and categorizing services, and alerting.

Sales: Adjoin plans to eventually reach customers through a variety of channels, but will focus initially on direct sales, although it is working on some strategic partnerships that may lead to an OEM or licensing deal. Current partners include Web services enablement vendors Cape Clear and Systinet, as well as IBM and Microsoft, but its early pact with Ascential could bear fruit given the ETL vendor's recent decision to rearchitect its platform for Web services standards. Adjoin is currently working with four undisclosed beta customers.

Competition: Adjoin's Camm puts an interesting spin on the sizeable levels of funding that some of the company's key competitors have secured in recent months. AmberPoint tapped $13.6 million in its second round last November, taking its total investment to over $22 million, while Confluent's last round netted it $6 million. Companies like these have recruited plenty of high-level VP's in recent months, says Camm, adding a large overhead to their businesses that has to be factored into their pricing strategy. "Others can't sell at the price point I'm reaching," says Camm. "I'm running a tight ship, and I can grow with the customer."

Additionally, Camm points out that AmberPoint and Confluence, as well as others such as Actional and Talking Blocks, are offering a broader range of services than Adjoin. In his view, this is "boiling the ocean" at a time when companies looking at Web services are taking one small step at a time.

Perhaps of greater consequence is the impact that the entrenched systems management vendors – IBM, HP, BMC and CA – will have on the Web services management market. For the time being, Adjoin points out its ability to integrate with any of the wider management frameworks that a customer might have installed. But sooner or later all these companies are going to make moves of their own, either through organic growth or acquisition. Camm believes each new architectural shift has seen the emergence of a significant new player in the systems management space (such as CA in the mainframe, BMC with the minicomputer, HP with client/server and NetIQ in n-tier), and that with Web services the major incumbents will again be caught napping as a smaller company makes waves. The issue for Adjoin is that there are plenty more beside itself waiting to take the Web services management crown.

The451 assessment: Adjoin's decision to focus only on the systems management aspect of Web services management, plus its aggressive pricing strategy, indicates the company is well aware that the task it faces in establishing a beachhead in this embryonic market will not be easy. It has no significant funding, no announced customers and no released product yet. But all companies need to start somewhere, and it boasts a seasoned management team and some experienced development talent. It's far too early to pick any winners, but Adjoin does need reference customers, and ideally some VC funding, to get on the playing field.


The451 is an analyst firm that provides timely, detailed and independent analysis of news in technology, communications and media. To evaluate the service, click here.

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