John Patrick, vice president of Internet technology, is one of the driving forces behind Big Blue's Linux and e-business push. He has also been instrumental in helping build IBM Corp.'s alphaWorks Web site, the company's online research and development laboratory. Patrick, who's worked for IBM for more than 30 years, is an industry luminary and is the author of "Net Attitude," a book about making companies Web-savvy. Network World Senior Writer Kathleen Ohlson recently caught up with Patrick to talk about emerging technologies, Web services and security.
What areas in e-business software and customer issues will IBM be focusing on next year?
The big thing is integration: the plumbing, and it's not glamorous. You've got the slick Web pages for consumers and businesses as well as reliable, good performance and all that. Where you'll get the savings and efficiency is all that stuff in the background.
Integration is a powerful idea in and out of the enterprise - it allows incompatible systems to talk to each other. At times when you order something, especially promotional items, you're told to allow eight to 12 weeks for shipping. Why? It's likely sitting on a shelf somewhere waiting to go. It's because incompatible systems were involved.
When [companies] re-engineer business processes, they quickly realize integration is going to take a long time. Their competition isn't going to give them any breathing room, so they have to find a way to enable incompatible applications and systems to communicate with each other.
What about research and development?
We have a broad research program, we've invested multibillions of dollars over the years ... and we're investing [more money] every year in areas [such as pervasive computing and mining unstructured data].
Autonomic computing is the idea of the computer system becoming like the body. We take for granted our body, when it gets cold we shiver, when it gets hot we sweat. When we're at the airport and suddenly hear a gate change, we start running. You don't tell your body to have extra blood flowing and increase your heart rate. Autonomic is the same way for computers. Something may go wrong - say with the server power supply - it'll e-mail IBM, telling us the power supply may go in the next 30 days, send somebody out to fix it and please bring this part number with them.
Grid computing would enable multiple computers to act like a single computer. The idea is to increase the level by connecting clusters [of computers] together. It's IT on tap; it's an unlimited resource.
How do you define Web services and how is IBM differentiating itself from BEA Systems, Microsoft and others?
The term is misleading and occasionally there's a little confusion. The technology of Web services is a new set of standards for the Web. The standards do allow for linking together application programs without recognizing the language they're written in and the platform they're running on.
Our strong suit is the ability to pull all of this together. Hopefully the other [vendors] will follow the same standards and we won't get one company making it proprietary in some way. We have consultants; hardware, software, database; and train people; and we can operate it for them if they like. We can make Web services real for companies.
How have businesses been impacted by Sept. 11? What things are you doing differently?
It's fair to say it's increased awareness. There's a sense of urgency for Internet security and integration of systems, disaster recovery, and planning all forms of preparedness to withstand the unthinkable. It's good to ask are we ready and do we have everything in place?
Aside, individuals generally don't back up their PCs, so we need better security. You have to ask yourself how do you think about security - do you put a post-it on your desktop with your password, under your keyboard or in drawer? If you do, then no, it's not OK. We all need to be more conscious, as there is more and more data of customers and suppliers online.