Users hope IBM/Ascential deal yields software updates

IBM's US$1.1 billion purchase of Ascential Software has users hoping that IBM will continue investing in that company's data integration and management technology.

Ironically, Ascential was created in the aftermath of IBM's 2001 acquisition of the Informix database from the former Informix Corporation. IBM also bought the Informix name, so the remainder of the firm -- consisting mostly of the data integration technology -- was renamed Ascential.

IBM said it hopes to use the Ascential technology to extend its existing WebSphere data integration offerings. The joint portfolio will make it easier for customers to integrate, format and manage information for business intelligence, performance management and other operations, the company said.

Ascential will be folded into the IBM Information Management software unit, headed by general manager Janet Perna. IBM said personnel and management moves related to the acquisition will be disclosed once it's completed. The deal is expected to close by midyear.

A couple of Ascential users said they aren't yet sure how the acquisition will affect them.

IBM at the very least brings great size and breadth to the smaller company, whose product portfolio will also likely be enriched by IBM's technology, said Danny Siegel, a senior manager in the finance business technology unit of Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals.

"This couldn't be anything but a plus from a client perspective," he said.

However, Siegel also noted that he wants IBM to make clear its plans for continuing development of the Ascential product line and to assure customers that the move is indeed a "true strategic acquisition." The Pfizer unit uses Ascential's DataStage 7.5 to enable data integration.

Another Ascential customer, Stephen Zander, vice president of enterprise business intelligence services at health care provider McKesson, said: "I think we need to see some product direction announcements in the next 90 days before I'll be comfortable."

He noted there is overlap in some products, but none that will likely affect Ascential's core customers.

Although IBM left Ascential on the table with its 2001 acquisition of Informix, the two companies formed a strong partnership and today share some 550 joint customers.

In an e-mail, an IBM spokeswoman explained that in 2001, IBM was focused primarily on buying a database and its installed base. Since then, IBM has started a major initiative around information integration.

"They are a fit for us today because now Ascential Software has far more customers and offers richer capabilities for customers at a time when we are focused on providing integration middleware," she said.

Why IBM didn't buy out Ascential in 2001 isn't clear, but apparently IBM's management believed that integration could be achieved by the Web server or database management system alone, suggested Curt Monash, an analyst at consultancy Monash Information Services and a Computerworld columnist. "Or maybe they just couldn't agree on a price," he said.

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