IBM and Rational get a little closer

According to one industry observer, the recently announced partnership between IBM Corp. and software tool vendor Rational Software Corp. is a win-win situation.

The companies are taking advantage of each other’s technology to give developers full life-cycle functionality, according to a joint statement.

As a result, Rational now supports Application Framework for e-business – IBM’s methodology for building and deploying e-commerce Web sites. The Lexington, Mass.-based tool vendor will also devote more resources to tightening integration of its Rational Suite development software with IBM’s middleware and application development tools.

IBM, meanwhile, will use Rational technology to plug holes in its development arsenal. Observers said IBM lacks tools to help IS shops unify scattered in-house development efforts. Further down the road, IBM will also use Rational know-how to help integrate tools with its runtime environment.

As well, Rational and IBM will gain access to each other’s sales and marketing forces.

The companies wasted no time in giving users something to work with. Two days after announcing the partnership, the companies made available new beefed-up integration between VisualAge for Java and Rational Rose via an XML Metadata Interchange (XMI) bridge. XMI is a set of XML tags developed by the Object Management Group. With it, UML models built with Rose can be exported directly into VisualAge for Java — what both companies call “round-trip” engineering.

“Both parties are claiming it’s a shared 50-50 relationship. And I wouldn’t argue that. I think it’s beneficial to both,” said Dick Heiman, research analyst with International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass.

“(There’s) benefits for Rational. There’s a pretty big IBM install base and sales force out there, so I certainly think that’s an advantage for Rational. On the IBM side, it fills in some holes in their tools lineup.”

But the ultimate success of the partnership depends on how quickly the companies can deliver products, Heiman noted. “How will it work out over time? Like all of these things the real proof is in the execution. The idea’s good – we’ll just have to wait and see.”

IBM and Rational are hardly strangers; IBM was an original investor when Rational was founded in 1981. To this day, an IBM executive sits on Rational’s board of directors. And the two companies have been involved in informal efforts in the past: IBM’s San Francisco, for example, ships with Rational Rose models.

Eric Schurr, vice-president and general manager of corporate marketing and suite products for Rational, admits Rational users, many of whom also use IBM development tools, have been pressuring the company to tighten its integration with IBM. Still, he said the partnership should be viewed as part of a natural evolution.

“The people that we work with are typically not small companies, they’re companies where software is critical to the business. And typically they have large teams building that software, and that’s the kind of companies IBM works with. So we already have a common focus on the kinds of customers that we deal with.”

Schurr won’t speculate on release dates for other joint IBM-Rational efforts, but said Rational likes to carefully consider its product upgrades. “We have synchronized all of our products…so that once or twice a year we put out major releases of all of our products, and they all come out at the same time.”

Joe Damassa, vice-president of application development marketing with Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM, said trends in the e-commerce market suggested to IBM that it was time to fill out its e-business offerings.

“There’s a whole new set of applications where you can get into various existing and new systems so that you can really present a user with an audience-of-one kind of scenario,” Damassa said.

“Now you’re dealing with development efforts that aren’t simply throwing up a Web page that does a query to a relational database. You’re dealing with pretty sophisticated integration of legacy systems with new (applications) and you’ve got to really apply the discipline of enterprise application development to those things to make sure they work. And it has forced us to look at our whole runtime strategy and tooling strategy.”

The VisualAge and Rational Rose XMI integration is available as an add-on to VisualAge and can be downloaded from