Internet strategy weaves together IBM product lines

IBM is stepping up efforts of using Internet standards to integrate different product lines in several key areas, including electronic commerce, remote network management and database systems, company executives said at an IDG editors briefing here today.

IBM's goal is two-pronged: integrate existing products into new "solution" packages geared for different industries and market segments; and enable developers of all skill levels to create complex applications that tie into back-end data sources.

"The notion of e-business is a very good umbrella across IBM," said Irving Wladawsky-Berger, general manager of IBM's Internet division.

IBM will not require customers to rip out existing products and platforms to move to the new solutions, executives promised.

"We've learned some hard lessons that nothing ever goes away," said Steve Mills, vice president and general manager of software solutions for IBM.

For example, by early next year IBM will add an Enterprise Java Beans (EJB) service layer to its CICS, IMS and TX Series transaction-processing servers. This will allow developers to write one set of Beans -- program components that can contain business logic -- which can access different transaction engines, said Alfred Spector, general manager of IBM's transaction processing systems division.

In the same vein, NetObjects' NetObject Fusion Web site-development software, bundled with various IBM packaged solutions, will work with the EJB service layer. This will let Webmasters and other application developers with no knowledge of back-end programming use Enterprise Java Beans to access underlying transaction services and create sophisticated, Web-based electronic business applications, said Mills.

In addition, IBM will announce in May that it is adding automatic routing and intelligent messaging to its MQSeries line of middleware, Spector said.

Automatic routing enables information-systems managers to create rules for routing messages based on the semantics of the message. For instance, rules could break medical bill into parts and route the individual parts to different insurers.

Intelligent messaging also can transform a message from one data type to another by looking up translation rules in a table, officials said here. For instance, a sender's name format may be first name, last name and a recipient's could be last name, first name, Spector said. Intelligent messaging automatically translates the message to the proper format, he said.

To that end, IBM will be building intelligent agents into its applications to better allow corporate users to use the Tivoli line of systems management software to centrally mange a raft of different features and functions, according to John Thompson, senior vice president and group executive for the IBM Software Group.

These functions will give network managers remote control over applications such as scheduling, performance monitoring, security, help desk functions, and events management.

Thompson said it is IBM's goal to be the leading vendor in systems management "before the end of the century," largely on the strength of its Tivoli line of enterprise management software.

According to industry estimates IBM is now second, behind Computer Associates International, but ahead of Hewlett-Packard.

IBM officials here today also discussed the upcoming HTTP-based Web server, code-named Hurricane, that will cull data from across multiple hardware and software environments, including Windows NT. The product is expected to show off Java as a key ingredient in enterprise computing (See yesterday's wire).

The upcoming server enables corporate and third-party developers to design Web applications that are distributable and that can be scaled up high enough to allow Web applications to serve as integral parts of mission-critical applications, officials said.

Big Blue will build connectors into the product that allow it to pull data residing in middleware and host-based applications across products, such as the OS/390 mainframe-based version of IBM's DB/2 database, to several different operating environments. These operating systems include Microsoft Corp.'s Windows NT; IBM's AIX, OS/400, and OS/2; Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris; and Hewlett-Packard's HP/UX.

Hurricane will work with Sun's Enterprise JavaBean specification, formally announced last week. IBM's Servlett Express, a plug-in that allows servers to work as Java-enabled Web servers, will also be woven into Hurricane.

The product will be formally announced in May with a beta process going through the third quarter, and be delivered in the fourth quarter, Thompson said. It will also come bundled with NetObjects's Fusion Web authoring tool as well as IBM's VisualAge for Java. Yet another product to be bundled is Tivoli's remote management software.

The rise of the Internet also has changed all aspects of IBM's packaging, pricing and development of its DB/2 relational database, officials said.

"The problem we're trying to solve is how to take the Web and integrate it into existing systems," said James Kelly, director of electronic commerce -- or e-business, as IBM calls it -- and Internet marketing for IBM's Internet Division.

For IBM the problem of tying new products into legacy systems is a bigger issue than it is for other vendors, given the software giant's huge installed base on mainframe systems.

To help connect DB/2 databases running on the OS/390 mainframe operating system to the Internet, IBM will launch in June a beta version of DB/2 6.0 for OS/390, said Kelly.

This version will integrate IBM's Net.Data middleware, which translates user requests to HTML pages on a Web server into SQL queries for DB/2, officials said.

One of the big quandaries the Web poses for vendors is how to package and price databases, to account for users who access the database for brief periods of times from the Internet, noted Tom Kendra, vice president of data management marketing for IBM's Software Solutions Division.

"How do you take into account all the users who are accessing the database through browsers?" asked Kendra.

For IBM, the answer was to switch the pricing paradigm for DB/2 from the traditional one, based on number of users connected to a database. Now, for example, pricing for DB/2 is based on the type of processor used by the server hosting the database, plus an additional charge per connected client -- not counting users who briefly connect via a Web server over the Internet. This way, no one needs to keep track of how many people are occasionally querying a database over the Internet.

IBM is also delivering DB/2 in various solution packages that bundle the database with various third-party software. These packages include bundles for business intelligence, e-commerce, and enterprise resource planning, said Kendra.

The Internet is also breathing new life into OS/2, according to officials here. IBM is tapping the Internet to deliver functions to the client version of OS/2, said Richard Seibt, general manager of the OS/2 business unit for IBM Network Computing Software. OS/2 will not be upgraded in the traditional sense, but IBM will offer users new functionality via the Internet-based Software Choice service.

For example, Navigator 4.0 for OS/2 clients will be delivered in October over Software Choice for those users who request it, Seibt said.

OS/2 also has a secure niche as a back-end server for Internet-based applications, said Seibt. For example, data for several airline reservation systems is kept on OS/2, and accessed over the Internet by users who want to check on ticket status, he said.

The server version of OS/2 will be upgraded at the beginning of next year, and offer a 32-bit input/ouput system as well as the journal file system familiar to users of IBM's AIX operating system.

Analysts here were impressed with the breadth of IBM's Internet-related offerings, but saw areas that are vulnerable to the competition, especially on the low end.

"Given the emphasis that leading ISV (independent software vendors) are giving application development tools, I'm just surprised that IBM hasn't shined a bright light on it," said Stephen Hendrick, program director for application development tools for International Data Corp. in Framingham, Massachusetts.

"VisualAge for Java is fine for what they're talking about, but it's high end," leaving IBM vulnerable on the low end of the market, he said.

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