Web services tools get a new home

Merrill Lynch & Co. has sold a mainframe Web services tool set that processes 1.5 million transactions per day to SOA Software Inc., a service-oriented architecture management and governance vendor.

SOA Software, which announced the deal last month, has rebranded the products and plans to market them as tools that allow mainframe applications to expose and consume Web services, according to officials at the Santa Monica, Calif.-based company. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Eric Pulier, SOA Software’s chairman and founder, said the acquisition will help its users solve a vexing problem: folding the 35-year-old CICS Transaction Server, which provides high-volume transaction processing for mainframes, into an SOA.

“Getting these CICS mainframes to become part of the new infrastructure has been problematic for us to deliver to our customers, and some of the largest companies in the world have been struggling with this,” Pulier said. “While people call it ‘legacy,’ it is very much alive and very much the bedrock of corporate America.”

Merrill Lynch began designing what it called the X4ML Mainframe Web services platform in 2001; it’s currently running the third version of the tools, which expose and consume more than 600 Web services. SOA Software plans to rename the technology Service Oriented Legacy Architecture (SOLA) and begin selling it immediately both as a stand-alone product and integrated with its other tools. Four Merrill Lynch employees who developed the tools have left the company to join SOA Software.

Andrew Brown, chief technology architect at New York-based Merrill Lynch, said the tools were first used in the company’s private client division. They’re now also used in its institutional and asset management businesses.

The company, which is one of the largest mainframe shops in the world, developed the tools internally because it couldn’t find a commercial product four years ago that could scale in its environment, Brown said.

With a runtime written in assembly language and Cobol, the platform was developed for mainframe programmers to use to expose mainframe Web services, he added.

Brown said it took six months to persuade executive management to part with the platform.

“Executive managers are often uncomfortable with divestment, and often they don’t understand the technology that well,” Brown said.

“Our management ended up very pleased with the transaction. The opportunity on the open market was such that [Merrill Lynch developers] needed to be able to take their idea and test it.”

William Mougayar, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc., said that while several other vendors offer tools to enable mainframe applications to become services, SOLA also provides the ability to manage, secure and govern the services.

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