Flurry of IBM Announcements: Targeting MS Office, zSeries Development Tools, Storage Products

In just one week’s time, Big Blue takes aim at Microsoft Office, announces new COBOL and WebSphere integration tools for zSeries, and introduces storage products aimed at satisfying new compliance regulations

IBM Corp. last week unveiled an ambitious—if somewhat sketchy—initiative to displace Microsoft Corp.’s Office productivity suite in the hearts and minds of productivity workers and IT administrators alike. The announcement was part of a flurry of news out of the company's Armonk headquarters, as IBM touted new storage networking, regulatory compliance, and supercomputing initiatives.

Things haven’t slowed down much this week, either. Yesterday, for example, Big Blue announced new WebSphere tools designed to spur the development of service-oriented architectures (SOA) for COBOL-based applications.

First, IBM announced a new Lotus Workplace software offering that bundles e-mail, word processing, spreadsheet, database, and manageability components. The obvious target, of course, is Microsoft, which markets the hugely successful Office productivity suite. But IBM executives declined to discuss in detail potential target applications, platforms, or market niches for the new offering.

“We know that this environment will not be for everything. Time will tell, the marketplace will dictate where this solution fits and where a full-function client [such as Office] is required. The same goes for which operating environment, whether it will be a Linux environment or a Windows environment or a Mac environment,” says Donn Atkins, VP of worldwide sales and marketing for IBM.

Nevertheless, IBM officials argue that Workplace enjoys several advantages over today’s existing solutions, such as Office. “What it allows our customers to do is to deliver functionality to their users on a variety of client platforms, and do that in a completely server managed environment,” Atkins explains.

The software, which Atkins says will be available for Windows, Linux, and MacOS clients, addresses the headaches of application maintenance and application upgrade cycles by centralizing application resources. “We’ll have the ability for companies to deploy solutions across the range of platforms to be able to manage those clients from servers, to be able to select and update software on those clients dynamically, and to lower the TCO as well as provide a better functionality, efficiency, and effectiveness for their users,” he maintains.

Not surprisingly, the new offering draws heavily from an assortment of IBM technologies, including WebSphere, Lotus, and Tivoli. “We took advantage of a number of technologies that we have inside the software group, so you’ll see inside of this Workplace capability a lightweight Java database that came from DB2, you’ll see many WebSphere components, you’ll see management capabilities out of Tivoli,” Atkins explains.

Judith Hurwitz, president of consultancy Hurwitz and Associates, says that IBM’s Workplace offering is anything but a cobbled-together assortment of technologies, however. “I actually think that it’s been pretty well orchestrated, so I don’t think it was pulling together random pieces. I think what it is taking initiatives that have been ongoing for quite a while and bringing them together in a cohesive plan,” she argues.

Nor is Workplace an IBM-only play. In fact, says Atkins, Workplace could be attractive to ISVs as a means to simplify both the distribution and maintenance of their applications in customer environments. “Siebel has already made a commitment, as has PeopleSoft, and then we look at device suppliers like Motorola and Palm,” he says.

IBM is fast adding other names to that list as well. Yesterday, Big Blue announced that several prominent vendors—including Cisco Systems Inc., Blue Martini Software, Research In Motion, and Wily Technology have agreed to adapt their products for use with the Workplace offering.

Hurwitz sees Workplace as a client-facing extension of On Demand. “It gives [On Demand] a visual front-end environment, but it’s still very much server focused, it’s very much that the control and the aggregation of the pieces happens on the server and then is transported on the client,” she concludes.

Mainframe Integration Tools Get Booster Shots

Also yesterday, Big Blue announced incremental improvements to its WebSphere Studio Enterprise Developer and Enterprise COBOL offerings.

Version 5.1 of WebSphere Studio Enterprise Developer now supports connectivity and adapter generation for Web services and XML deployment in WebSphere, CICS, and IMS, along with new JCA support. Other new capabilities include improved support for z/OS connectivity and queue management, as well as developer support for Host Access Transformation Server.

The new version 3.3 release of Enterprise COBOL now supports the generation of outbound XML from COBOL data structures. (Previous versions supported inbound XML only.) This lets developers exploit capabilities IBM introduced last December in its Web Services Technical Preview for CICS, according to Jim Rhyne, a distinguished engineer and chief architect for IBM enterprise transformation. “[This] allowed direct SOAP over HTTP access into the CICS environment,” he explains. “So we’ve completed that circuit now by providing the outbound XML support. Previously that required some moderately burdensome programming.” Rhyne says that the next version of CICS, which isn’t expected before next year, will incorporate the technologies that IBM introduced in the Web Services Technical Preview.

Elsewhere, Enterprise COBOL 3.3 features new functions in the IBM Debug Tool for z/OS 4 and improved support for IBM DB2 for z/OS 8. Rhyne notes that the new releases of both WebSphere Studio Enterprise Developer and Enterprise COBOL also highlight a technology trend that IBM will flesh out in future versions. “We are setting a stake in the ground in the direction of supporting languages other than Java in our J2E environment, so one of the capabilities we’ve introduced in this combination is the ability to create an EJB [Enterprise Java Beans] implementation in COBOL and to deploy that implementation within WebSphere Application Server running on z/OS,” he explains.

Why would anyone want to do this? It’s a simple matter of cost savings, explains Rhyne. “We have a lot of customers with a huge investment in COBOL. They have important pieces of business logic written in the language and they don’t want to pay the cost of maintaining both COBOL and Java code.”

In future versions of both products, Rhyne says, IBM will enhance this capability still further, automating many of the procedures that must still be hand-coded.

New Compliance Offerings From Big Blue

Building on announcements that it made late last year, IBM last week unveiled new tape and disk storage products that it says address regulatory compliance requirements at lower price points.

Big Blue announced one new product—the TotalStorage FAStT100 Storage Server—and updated another, IBM TotalStorage Enterprise Tape Drive 3592, with Write Once Read Many (WORM) media technology.

The WORM update for IBM’s TotalStorage Enterprise Tape Drive 3592 was first announced in November. Thanks to the SEC’s Rule 240.17a-4—which mandates a retention period of up to six years for e-mail and other business records—and Rule 240.17a-4(f), which says that data must be preserved and maintained in a manner that guarantees its authenticity, the stage has been set for WORM storage, which isn’t just an optical medium anymore.

IBM’s TotalStorage FAStT100 Storage Server is based on SATA technology, which Big Blue says makes it comparatively cheaper than SCSI- or fibre channel-based alternatives (see http://info.101com.com/default.asp?id=4652). It’s designed to provide small and medium-sized companies with an inexpensive near-line storage solution for infrequently accessed data.

BladeCenter and Supercomputing News

Elsewhere, Big Blue notched an agreement with storage networking specialist Brocade Communications Systems to offer the latter’s fibre channel switches in its BladeCenter system enclosures. IBM’s server blades ship with support for fibre channel connectivity, and the new marketing agreement gives customers an additional option (the other being fibre channel connectivity from storage networking specialist Qlogic) for linking BladeCenter systems together in SANs.

Finally, IBM announced the opening of a new Deep Computing Capacity on Demand center in Montpellier, France. The facility is the second such facility that IBM operates (a similar facility is located in Poughkeepsie, NY) and is designed to provide customers with access to supercomputer power over the Internet. IBM says that an offering of this kind typically finds uptake in the petroleum, life sciences, digital animation, and financial services industries.

About the Author

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