IBM’s Latest Complex Event

IBM’s announcement yesterday that it is buying Aptsoft reflects IBM’s contention that complex event processing is the next frontier of SOA. Complex Event Processing (CEP), which is sometimes confused with event processing, is the scenario where lots of things happen, and after a while, you detect that there is a pattern, and that pattern is something that you must respond to.

The problem, of course, is by the time that a human puts all the pieces together, it’s probably too late to react.

And that’s why there has been a rash of offerings that have entered the market over the past five years. There are obvious uses in areas ranging from national security to securities trading, supply chain management, public health, and retail.

Although IBM paints it as part of its SOA initiative, SOA is simply a means to an end – in this case, an architecture that makes complex event stream analyses accessible across application silos, or as a means for triggering defined business processes. In fact, a strong connection can also be made with business intelligence because of the possibilities of being able to analyze and make sense of otherwise subtle or invisible turns of events.

IBM is hardly new to this space, already having the ability to process complex streams of events through some of its WebSphere and Tivoli products. But the kicker here is that IBM gets a tool that has the kind of high level visual interface, and business process-like terminology, that can enable business people to define complex event patterns, rather than having to rely on developers.

The company they have acquired is hardly a spring chicken. We spoke to AptSoft almost exactly four years ago when they relaunched themselves as a high level integration engine. We say re-launch because the actual software came out of a defunct systems integrator, Wheelhouse, which found itself over its head when it tried to make the transition to product company.

In the past four years, AptSoft has built up a customer base of less than 20 customers, which is hardly stellar performance. The company has hardly been a pioneer either, as providers like Streambase and Coral8 claim to also have very business-user intuitive friendly approaches. Players like Tibco, Progress and even BEA (remember them?) are also contending for share. But what does distinguish the company is that unlike most of its rivals, much of its client base is outside financial services.

But its lack of market success does not necessarily tarnish the technology, and fitting into IBM’s portfolio, provides icing on the cake.