IBM executive touts promise, challenges of e-business

E-business is experiencing growing pains that will require technologies to meet the challenges now facing it, IBM Vice President Irving Wladawsky-Berger said during a keynote address at the eBusiness Conference and Expo here on Tuesday.

Wladawsky-Berger, who is IBM vice president for technology and strategy in the company's server group, declared that e-business has "moved forward to a much more serious period," with much growth potential unrealised.

"For the foreseeable future, we see more and more connected people and devices that need to be served," he said.

"More and more businesses do business with each other, leveraging the Internet and leveraging e-business," Wladawsky-Berger continued. The company recently surveyed businesses in several countries around the globe and found that more than 90 percent of them were using e-business in some fashion, he said.

But for e-business to reach its potential, the challenges of providing self-managing systems, integration and flexibility, and access to expertise must be met, Wladawsky-Berger said.

In the area of self-managing systems, Wladawsky-Berger cautioned that the need for improved management, affordability, and scalability in systems will only grow larger. When customers ask about this need, "We have to look them in the eyes to tell them that five years from now, your problem will be 10 times larger," he said.

The answer, Wladawsky-Berger said, is to provide inexpensive and powerful technology for self-management. To this effect, IBM is working on an effort called the Oceano Project, which would group inexpensive technologies and processors in a cluster to provide a single point of system management.

The project would provide the capability of a gigantic systems farm for hosting many applications from different customers, he said. A concept he called "virtual fences" would be used to provide partitions to separate applications using a VLAN.

IBM also is working on a project it is referring to as self-healing processors, Wladawsky-Berger said. Currently, IBM has this in mainframes, in which instructions are retried if they at first fail, he said.

"The answer is that more and more of the circuitry is devoted to making sure you are staying alive," in the face of hackers, denial-of-service attacks, and software glitches, Wladawsky-Berger said.

The second major challenge, integrating all the technology pieces, will be met by standards, he said.

"As the infrastructure keeps growing, connectivity and integration are more important than ever," Wladawsky-Berger said.

One standard technology IBM is embracing for e-business is Linux, he said. It is modular, elegant, and multi-platform, Wladawsky-Berger explained.

"In fact, Linux is the only OS that I can safely predict will run on microprocessors that have not yet been invented, let alone designed," Wladawsky-Berger said.

Another point of integration involves Web services and accompanying standards such as HTML and UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration), he said.

The third challenge, finding skills, also will be met, Wladawsky-Berger said.

"We believe what will happen over the next few years is that many more services will be available everywhere," including training, consulting, and outsourcing.

"To conclude, e-business is alive and well," said Wladawsky-Berger. "The hype stage may have finished, but that's how it has to be if you want to go on to the next stage of work."

A conference attendee said he found Wladawsky-Berger's comments impressive, especially the idea of self-managing systems.

"The prospect that our systems would be able to heal themselves and self-correct, that's fantastic," said Kevin Verville, information systems administrator for the city of Oro Valley, Ariz.

"It's sort of a glimpse into the future, something you wouldn't have considered five years ago," Verville said.

Wladawsky-Berger also attempted to refute the notion that business-to-consumer e-business is dead.

"I know that common wisdom says business-to-consumer is dead," Wladawsky-Berger said. "Well, maybe it's dead if you don't have a good business model."

He detailed examples such as Lehigh Valley Safety Supply, a safety shoes sales company in the Northeast that now makes more than 90 percent of its sales outside its native sales region, thanks to the Web.

Wladawsky-Berger also cited a business-to-business venture by a European freight trading company that has been auctioning off empty space in trucks returning from freight drop-offs.

"As a result of that, they did US$118.09 million worth of business," Wladawsky-Berger said. "The percentage of trucks riding empty is going down," as a result of bringing the community together via e-business, he said.

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