As general manager of marketing and strategy for IBM Corp.'s new Application and Integration Middleware Business Unit, Alfred Spector has one of the most challenging jobs at Big Blue. Middleware tools such as CICS and MQSeries are at the very core of what gives IBM its competitive edge in transaction processing (TP) applications. But with the advent of Internet commerce, a wave of application servers is giving IBM its biggest challenge in this space in years. In his new post, Spector talked with InfoWorld Executive News Editor Michael Vizard about IBM's strategy for integrating its transaction processing tools with its application servers.
InfoWorld: Electronic commerce seems to be bringing the whole area of transaction monitors into the spotlight again. In fact, I believe that demand for mainframe MIPS is at an all-time high largely because of this trend. Is that right?
Spector: E-business is driving new applications and transaction loads on the Internet because it brings to everyone on the Net the ability to invoke a transaction. Our S/390 business has been growing rapidly in transaction processing -- in part, we believe, because so many new transactions are being initiated out on the World Wide Web, whether it's at stockbrokers, or banks, or manufacturing companies, or virtually anything.
InfoWorld: What kind of impact is that having on demands for the transaction processing software?
Spector: We see that there is a broad unification in technologies. A convergence of Web technologies and traditional transaction processing technologies in component or object technologies are all coming together.
InfoWorld: So what are the next big things coming down the pipe for transaction processing software?
Spector: We think we have to truly make good on the promise of Enterprise Java.
IBM is implementing Enterprise Java on all its application servers, providing new customers with a terrific component-based development environment in Java and giving existing customers the ability to use their current systems with Java programmers and Java technology. We think that's an enormous advance that will provide productivity and connectivity throughout the many systems that are coming together on the Net. You'll see us begin to roll out Enterprise JavaBeans-enabled product this year. The services that TP monitors provide today will be made more usable by being encapsulated within Enterprise Java; hence, applications written using Enterprise JavaBeans as the interface and environment will be more portable.
InfoWorld: In terms of poster children for the new age of Internet commerce, who does IBM count in that set as its customers, and why should these types of companies look to IBM?
Spector: Charles Schwab and Fidelity are two customers in the transaction processing domain that are customers of our high-end distributed transaction processing product. We think that we are offering an enormous amount of value for Internet start-ups because we can solve the problems they will very quickly have in integrity, security, and manageability. This is the type of scalability of these environments that we've done so many times before for large customers, and with the convergence of these technologies, it's natural that we do that in the Java framework for these customers.
The scalability concepts of what we think are necessary on the Internet to handle the enormous number of users are very similar to the largest mainframe systems that are out there that support thousands and thousands of transactions per second on a single system.
InfoWorld: One of the issues that people have with IBM is that there is a perception that it takes 10 people in lab coats to run CICS, MQSeries or the TXSeries middleware applications. Is there anything going on to make those types of tools easier to deploy and manage for companies that don't have that kind of huge IT infrastructure to support them?
Spector: We have tens of thousands of customers using CICS, using MQSeries, and using TXSeries. So there are a very large number of customers that have successfully deployed these systems. On the other hand, it is true that with the Web, there are an increasing number of small businesses that need to support transaction loads on the Web. For them, we have much simpler technology called WebSphere, standard and advanced editions.
InfoWorld: WebSphere is an application server. What's the relationship between application servers and transaction processing monitors?
Spector: We've unified those in our recent product family called WebSphere. WebSphere has a standard edition, aimed at small businesses. We have an advanced and enterprise edition aimed at successively larger businesses.
And the enterprise edition is particularly noted for very high performance, very strong connectivity to existing systems, in support for a variety of different programming styles.
I think there's a unification between the Web application server and the traditional transaction processing marketplace. We see the Web application server as the category that will have primary value to customers because of its ability to provide transactional and data integrity guarantees, security guarantees, and the ability to materialize content as appropriate for the Web user.
We've been focusing on transactional Web application servers, but we believe Web application servers will also be very relevant to the domain of workflow and the domain of group activities and mail and messaging. Of course, our Lotus Domino product is the product that we think is by far the leader in that category.
InfoWorld: How much of a challenge are companies, such as BEA, that promote a similar model based primarily on Unix platforms?
Spector: We think that in a distributed computing model, one needs application servers and one needs business integration software that integrates application servers. We think that because of our presence in both of those spaces we have the most complete line of software in the world.
And we have an enormous presence, not just in the mainframe, but in the distributed world as well. More than half of all of the brokerage transactions on the Web use our high-end distributed transaction processing products, now called WebSphere Enterprise.