The two oldest major software products companies may well both be German – SAP and Software AG. They’re both a little older than CA (which, directly, or indirectly, has bought most of the other pioneers), Information Builders, or SAS, none of which – if I recall correctly – was founded before 1975-6.
In its current configuration, Software AG is based in Germany, publicly traded, and divided into two divisions:
- ETS (Enterprise Transaction Systems), perhaps better thought of as “Software AG Classic.” This is a 350 million Euros business, solidly profitable and still growing, albeit slowly.
- WebMethods, a SOA/integration division named after the biggest of the acquisitions it’s built from. This is a 100 million Euros business growing Very Fast.
The ETS folks briefed me last week. Highlights follow. I also posted about Software AG’s history over on Software Memories, which may provide some useful detail and context.
Software AG’s ETS business is built around the venerable mainframe DBMS ADABAS and its associated application development tool, the fourth-generation language (4GL) Natural. ADABAS has over 2000 active, maintenance-paying users, 5-600 of which have “very large” databases. How large? Software AG thought 10s or even 100s of terabytes of user data were typical, but didn’t sound sure enough of particulars for me to emphatically attribute that claim to them. Why do customers keep using the product? Big databases; great uptime; and, as a negative factor, of course it’s tough to switch.
Software AG is still enjoying 8-10% revenue growth in the ETS division. Why? Two reasons, its seems. First, there are license fee increases as databases grow larger, which fuel both license and maintenance revenue. Second, add-on modules are a big business. A lot of now-standard DBMS features were separate modules in the old days. And Software AG has no incentive to switch to more modern practices, since it sold perpetual licenses to the core DBMS long ago. It’s also likely that some recent product releases have spurred uptake of new modules. Again, add-on modules spur both license and maintenance revenue. There’s a professional services component to revenue as well, but I have no particular theories about its rate of growth.
ADABAS is not as fully-featured as leading OLTP RDBMS, in terms of management tools, replication*, etc., but Software AG has been pushing hard to play catchup. Similar things can be said about Natural, which now boasts an Eclipse IDE and a lot of SOA-friendliness.
*Actually, Software AG had a deal with Magnuson to bring out replication-based high-availability systems back in the early 1980s, which fizzled. I guess some things just take a while …
One interesting technical point behind all this: ADABAS is an inverted-list DBMS. That means indexes have been at its core from the get-go. Inverted-list is also the architecture that dominates the text search world. Thus – notwithstanding my snark right above — many innovative ideas in modern data management have at least the potential of being retrofitted to ADABAS, should the payoff be sufficiently high.