IBM sews up the middle

IBM Corp. is counting on its partners to bolster the fortunes of its key messaging middleware and application offerings, and will strengthen these connections with a series of agreements and initiatives to come at the PartnerWorld gathering in Atlanta this week.

With an eye toward helping users do a better job of linking their e-business initiatives to other facets of an enterprise, IBM will detail this week its Business Process Management (BPM) initiative, intended to help Big Blue and its partners clear new paths between its messaging middleware and WebSphere application server offerings.

Underlining the strategic importance of IBM's various partner initiatives is the presence of IBM Chairman Lou Gerstner, who is expected to give the conference keynote and talk about IBM's vision for the next generation of e-business.

Gerstner will outline the company's stance on e-sourcing, e-business enterprise innovation, and the next-generation e-business infrastructure, said company officials.

The BPM infrastructure strategy affords both IBM and its selected partners a chance to pursue more opportunities to sell integration solutions involving its middleware products and services to business analysts at larger accounts.

Technically, the strategy revolves around a tighter marriage between the shining stars of IBM's software portfolio, the MQSeries family of messaging middleware and IBM's WebSphere application servers.

The company will make a series of three announcements this year in April, July, and September that will manifest a strategy designed to make it easier for analysts to automate business processes. The goal is to produce the equivalent of a Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet in terms of automating and combining components for middleware integration.

"We are building on what we know about integrating WebSphere and MQSeries, and to then put across the top of them a dashboard that can be controlled by the business analyst," said Rob Lamb, director of business integration for IBM's software group in Somers, N.Y. "This [dashboard] allows them to exploit the power underneath like quickly choreographing business processes from the bits of logic and data they have."

To provide additional e-business choreography of the Web services variety, IBM will present a demo of the offerings from Velocigen.com, a San Diego-based maker of data wrapping technology.

Velocigen.com officials say their technology enables users to wrap data from any source and link it into e-business meta applications. From there, users can then run the data over the Web and wireless networks. The wrapping mechanisms are layered on top of WebSphere, said Tony Darugar, president and co-founder of Velocigen.com.

"No one has put together the full picture for Web services yet," Darugar said, adding that his company is attempting to bring process flow capabilities to Web services. IBM is "seeking a lot of partnerships" to help customers ramp up faster than their competitors, he said. Velocigen.com's products will not become available until the spring of this year or later.

The BPM push is a sign that IBM has been swift to identify the pressing need for integrating its middleware products and those of its competitors at the mainframe and midrange server levels, said observers.

"Global 2000 clients are finding it difficult to execute effective IT projects in the face of pressing e-commerce initiatives where they must package implementations of CRM [customer relationship management] and ERP [enterprise resource planning] with their legacy environment," said Melinda Ballou, an analyst at Meta Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn. IBM understood what was happening before its competitors "about these issues at the enterprise level," Ballou said.

Although governing these disparate systems might imply greater usage of enterprisewide systems management, that hasn't panned out for IBM.

Systems management is one of the soft spots in the IBM software arsenal, particularly the higher-end versions of its Tivoli systems management applications. Once growing at triple digits in the mid-1990s, sales of the software have plummeted.

Top IBM officials explain Tivoli's nosedive as similar to that of chief competitor Computer Associates International, as saturation of the high end of the market occurred faster than either anticipated. Customers for the high end "number in the thousands and not the tens of thousands. It just wasn't a sustainable rate of growth," said Steve Mills, senior vice president in charge of IBM's software group. Rapid management changes and too many strategic responsibilities during the last two to three years have also hurt, observers said.

In the ISV realm, IBM's redoubled efforts to build up its business and technology partnerships could help Big Blue make headway against archrival Microsoft in those lower-end markets where the two often collide, particularly as Microsoft's competitive stake falls under closer scrutiny following its acquisition of Great Plains Software.

IBM could find itself in the enviable position of re-establishing itself as a nonthreatening ISV platform provider, said John Madden, an analyst at Summit Strategies Inc. "No matter how Microsoft would like to spin it, I think [the Great Plains Inc. acquisition] signals a shift in their ISV platforms," Madden said. "Peachtree, Sage Software ... those [companies] may be saying, 'am I next to get scooped up?' "Through its ISV Partner Program, Madden said IBM should be able to capitalize on development efforts abandoned two years ago and attract loyalty by appearing as a strong integrator and brand name in the enterprise space.

IBM's reputation and its continued wooing of partners are likely to help the company maintain its dominance in the enterprise-level messaging middleware and related software markets, even as key offerings hit air pockets and threaten to stagnate the growth of its $13 billion software business, said observers.

For instance, IBM generated approximately US$700 million in sales from last year's Strategic Alliance initiative, which attracted 50 application vendors such as Siebel Systems Inc. and PeopleSoft Inc., said one IBM official.

Staff Writer Brian Fonseca contributed to this report.

A cornucopia of IBM goods

IBM will show off an abundance of new middleware and software offerings at its PartnerWorld show in Atlanta this week.

* IBM will introduce the Business Process Management strategy centered around the tighter integration of its MQSeries of messaging middleware and its line of WebSphere application servers. The company will also lay out the details of related announcements to come in April, July, and September.

* IBM's Tivoli Systems Inc. group will announce its North American Web Integrator designed to attract Web services companies to provide consulting, architecture, and design infrastructures. The first members of the initiative include CommerceQuest Inc., answerthink Inc., and Computer Horizons Inc.

* Tivoli will also announce multiple agreements with a collection of ASPs (application service providers) and MSPs (managed service providers) including 90east, Argo 21, and Entropy.

* IBM's AS/400 (iSeries) group will announce a Domino-specific AS/400 server, or "Domino Appliance," designed to help corporate users better manage a Lotus Development Corp. Notes-Exchange mixed environment of mail clients.

* IBM will introduce new software programs to make Linux work on its iSeries (AS/400) of servers, as well as new technology that will allow the iSeries to be partitioned for both the OS/400 and Linux on the same machine. The company is also expected to spell out plans to do the same for its pSeries (RS/6000) servers.

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