Talking Integration With IBM

The success of Big Blue’s e-business on demand initiative is dependent on its bevy of integration offerings

The e-business on-demand initiative that IBM Corp. CEO Sam Palmisano outlined in late October described a collection of software, hardware and services based largely on many of Big Blue’s existing technologies. But Don O’Toole, director of business integration software marketing with IBM’s Software group, stresses that the success of e-business on-demand will depend just as much on IBM’s ability to support industry-standard technologies, which include J2EE and Java and, O’Toole points out, the Linux operating system.

“What we have to provide is much more in terms of industry-specific expertise, with our consulting capabilities, hence the acquisition of [PriceWaterhouseCoopers consulting]. We have to change our software approach, continue on the path, really, which focuses on industry standards like Linux and create greater flexibility to adapt software strategies over time.”

Most important of all, O’Toole continues, IBM must also bring its customers’ existing applications, hardware and services into the e-business on-demand computing fold. “It really was meant to be a statement of how we can work with our customers to help them achieve this on-demand vision. We’d like them to use us for all of [their IT needs], but it wasn’t meant to be a statement that we are trying to lock those markets all across the board. We don’t expect that to be the case.”

Some industry watchers have said that IBM’s e-business on-demand initiative marks a major shift in focus for Big Blue. O’Toole says it’s actually the next and most logical phase of the seminal e-business strategy that IBM kick-started more than five years ago. That’s because most of IBM’s customers are now exploiting the capabilities of the Internet to support at least some of their business operations.

Which is to say, O’Toole points out, that IBM’s customers are increasingly doing e-business. “Probably close to 75 percent of folks are in that phase [of] using the capabilities of the Internet to access information, digital or otherwise.”

During the emergent e-business on-demand phase of computing, O’Toole says, these customers will start to integrate their own e-business-enabled transaction systems with those of their suppliers, partners, customers and—in some cases --competitors. “There’s a growing population who have moved beyond that phase [using the Web to support basic business operations] and are now building the transaction systems.”

Not surprisingly, IBM positions its WebSphere Application Server (WAS) as an integration broker for disparate transaction and other information systems. In this respect, O'Toole acknowledges, WAS forms a crucial linchpin in Big Blue’s overall e-business on-demand strategy. IBM has moved aggressively this year to flesh out WebSphere’s overall integration story, first acquiring business integration specialists CrossWorlds Software and Holosofx, and—several weeks ago—picking up development and modeling tools vendor Rational Software. “We’ve added the functionality that we brought in as a result of the acquisition of CrossWorlds and more recently Holosofx, to build out [WebSphere] for business integration. In particular, WebSphere provides that platform specific to application connectivity that MQSeries has always provided [on the mainframe], and it’s also focused on the process integration notion.”

If WAS comprises an integration broker for heterogeneous systems, then the open source Linux operating system amounts to an industry-standard operating environment for e-business on demand, O’Toole says. And while no single operating system will ever be a fit for all environments, IBM nevertheless offers Linux as an option on all of its hardware platforms, from its low-end Intel-based xSeries servers through its zSeries mainframes. “I think Linux is an example of our support of industry standards, or at least of emerging industry standards. We recognize that customers do not feel comfortable restricting their operations to a single operating system, but we think that open source software is very valuable, hence our support of Linux [across all of IBM’s hardware platforms].”

An often overlooked component of IBM’s integration portfolio is its directory services integration products, which consist of the IBM Directory Server, an LDAP server, and the IBM Directory Integrator, a product that facilitates integration between and among LDAP directories and meta-directories. According to Eric McNeil, IBM’s directory marketing manager, as a result of mergers, acquisitions or departmental independence, most enterprises maintain several different directories. “We see our customers increasingly go across environments, within a company where you’re bringing together perhaps two parts of a company, one recently acquired, and now you have to sort out a variety of IT assets and management access control, and so that kind of directory and meta-directory oriented architecture becomes really critical.”

For his part, O’Toole says that IBM’s directory services offerings are supported as part of its Tivoli brand, which—in the context of Big Blue’s discrete software brands—develops and markets management- and security-related products. As e-business on demand continues to take shape, O’Toole explains, IBM’s directory services offerings could be rebranded as Tivoli products. “We don’t have it branded Tivoli right now because we need to provide it underneath our hardware and software options, and we need that. We continue to examine the branding strategy on that, and could rebrand it before long.”

Moreover, O’Toole continues, as a result of IBM’s shift in strategy to e-business on demand, the focus of its Tivoli division must shift as well. “Tivoli has moved into this notion of business activity and business integration management much more so than systems management. They’re seeing the same trend of a kind of 'pluralization' of IT, where more and more the choices of how IT is managed and how it should be implemented involve line-of-business people, so they have to adapt their systems so that line-of-business can use the output.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.