Metadata Repositories are the ''New Black''

Among infrastructure vendors, metadata repositories are the must-have SOA technology of the moment—they're the ''new black when it comes to implementing a service-oriented architecture,'' writes Ovum analyst Laurent Lachalas.

BEA Systems' purchase this week of metadata repository management provider Flashline is the latest in what I think it is fair to call a trend. About a week ago, webMethods purchased Cerebra, adding that company's semantic metadata management technology to its Fabric product suite. Last month, Hewlett-Packard acquired Mercury Interactive and its Systinet Web services registry technology (which MI purchased earlier this year) to complement HP's SOA Manager. And in May, IBM added Unicorn Solutions' metadata management capabilities to its data management software portfolio.

Managing the piles of metadata generated by a service-oriented architecture has emerged as one of the knottier challenges in the brave new world of SOA. We're talking service definitions (WSDL), policy definitions that control security and other access to services (WS-Security and WS-Policy), models and business process definitions (BPEL, UML, WS-CDL), schema for data (XML Schema), and more. The registries provide a means of discovering, locating, and binding the metadata; the repositories store it and support change and version management.

That's how ZapThink's SOA maven Ron Schmelzer explained it to me. ''Registries (like Infravio, Systinet, and Software AG) emerged when Web Services required them through UDDI and other access mechanisms,'' he says. ''Repositories (like those offered by Software AG, LogicLibrary, and Flashline) were first used by developers to manage all their assets, but once those assets became services, it all started to get mushed together.''

Today, infrastructure vendors seeking to offer a complete SOA platform need both a registry and a repository. BEA acknowledged back in May, when the San Jose, CA-based company launched its AquaLogic Service Registry, that a complete SOA infrastructure needs both technologies, and that acquiring a repository was high on the company's to-do list. When I spoke with him about the acquisition yesterday, BEA's chief architect Paul Patrick beat me to the obvious question:

''Someone asked me the other day, if this was part of the plan back in May, why wait until now to get the repository in place? The reality is that the marketplace and people's experience with SOA had to reach a certain maturity level. I think most of the analysts will agree that last year was the year of people experimenting and kicking the tires. This is clearly the year of deployment. Now they're beginning to feel the pain of what happens when they start building these services. How do I find them? How do I get my arms around them? And how do I reach in and bring my existing assets together so I can leverage them, so that SOA can be real?''

BEA plans to incorporate the Flashline repository into the BEA AquaLogic product line, where it will complement the AquaLogic Service Registry (UDDI). The Flashline technology gets re-branded as BEA AquaLogic Enterprise Repository, but BEA intends to sell the repository and the registry as stand-alone products. ''We feel that the registry and repository need to be unique and separate,'' Patrick says.

Cleveland-based Flashline was founded in 1998 as an online marketplace selling software components. The company later shifted gears to focus on code reuse, and in 2003 recast its flagship Component Manager Enterprise Edition (CMEE) product as the Flashline Registry.

Flashline's CEO and founder, Charles Stack, will be joining BEA, and will continue to lead the Flashline group in Cleveland. When I spoke with him about the acquisition, he was excited about his new role. ''We share two things with BEA that you hope for, but don't always see in acquisitions,'' he said, ''a shared culture—despite the size difference—and a shared vision.'' Stack was also sanguine about the typically daunting integration challenges that accompany an acquisition. ''We've always spent a huge amount of our engineering resources making sure that our product is widely interoperable,'' he said, ''so we've really got a leg up on the integration with the rest of the AquaLogic suite.''

Schmelzer views the acquisition as a positive move by BEA, one that fills key gaps in the company's SOA portfolio. ''Flashline addresses part of the overall metadata management problem by tracking, governing, and managing liquid assets in a common repository,'' he says. ''This is not specifically service-oriented, but rather across projects people build and deploy with BEA technology.'' But gaps remain: ''[The acquisition] leaves BEA lacking with regard to service metadata management and the registry,'' he says. ''[V]endors like Infravio and LogicLibrary have a more comprehensive offering for the market for SOA metadata management, registry, and governance than the Flashline offering. And Systinet, Infravio, and LogicLibrary still maintain significant market share in the industry for those capabilities... BEA will have to play catch up to add those capabilities or maintain their relationship with Systinet.'' (BEA OEM'd Systinet last year.)

Neil Ward-Dutton, Research Director at Macehiter Ward-Dutton, agrees: ''Flashline sells a general-purpose, software-asset-management product,'' he says. ''It's a very sophisticated one, but not one that dovetails with the nuanced requirements of managing service network lifecycles. To really support SOA, you have to have a set of tools that work together across all the stages of the lifecycles of individual services, because at the end of the day a 'service' is not only something you build; it's something you experience. Doing this means sharing metadata and functionality from design time to runtime—linking QoS or security specifications that you might set out at design time with runtime enforcement points embedded in third-party middleware and management tools.''

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at [email protected].