Once you discover the unique thing you’re great at, stick with it and play nice with others, and things may work out as well for you as they have for Paul Butterworth, co-founder and CTO of AmberPoint. Of the dozens of Web services companies that sprang up six or seven years ago, AmberPoint is among the very few that have neither imploded nor been devoured by a software giant. In fact, the company is reinforcing its solid position by forming ever deeper partnerships with household vendor names in the SOA realm.
Butterworth is something of an unsung SOA hero. When the Web services trend began, he instantly saw the value of it, mainly because the development tools created by the company he worked for at the time – Forte Software, which he also co-founded – had roughly parallel capabilities. “The basic system was designed to build distributed applications,” he says, “and the key concept that developers used in building their applications was something we called the service object.” And at a high level, service objects were quite similar to services in an SOA world.
As do other IDE vendors, Forte (bought by Sun in 1999) could create SOAP interfaces to services. But at Forte, Butterworth focused a whole lot of attention on developing application management for distributed applications, to a degree few others in the industry could touch. “Most of the vendors didn’t really have any experience in the application management space,” Butterworth recalls. “It felt like…we could build a defensible lead based on the experience we had.” And Forte customers were beginning to rave about those features, as the increasing complexity of their implementations made them realize their strengths.
So in 2001, Butterworth and co-founder John Hubinger formed AmberPoint, a company that essentially defined Web services management. And from the start, Butterworth emphasized collaboration rather than direct competition. “We had a lot of experience and we knew a lot of people. So when we got started, it was very easy for us to get an audience with pretty much anyone. When we started developing these ideas, it was really easy for us to take them to … folks like IBM and Microsoft and say: What do you think of this? And to their credit, they were great, because they’d go: ‘We’re doing this, no we’re not doing that, we’ll probably do this someday, but we’re not doing that right now.’ ”
Such give and take guided the strategic direction of the company – and in many cases earned AmberPoint the entree to customers that it needed. “When you’re out talking to a customer [then] they’re out talking to a customer, they’re willing to recommend you, because you help them. It’s a lot easier to do a deal with a customer if some big guys are recommending you than if they’re either against you or neutral.”
As the years progressed, Butterworth led the development of other complementary functionality, such as exception management and automated discovery of services and their relationships. The latter, he says, is a particularly popular feature of the product.
Recent technology advances include so-called agentless management, which, thanks to the increasing proliferation of standard protocols, is enabling AmberPoint’s technology to delegate enforcement and other low-level tasks to other systems. “The [SOA] infrastructure is maturing,” Butterworth says. “Now we’re at the point where it’s possible for the management software to exploit the infrastructure rather than trying to work around it.”
Under Butterworth’s leadership, the company continues to push into other areas, such as application validation – a task that, in an ever-changing SOA, must be done dynamically, rendering QA attempts at validation more or less pointless. “You need specialized tools to, on a continuing basis, convince yourself that everything’s still working correctly,” Butterworth explains. “It’s an advanced problem that customers are just starting to feel. Hopefully, we’ll be talking about that next year and saying, 'Wow, wasn’t that a good idea?' ”