IBM goes for simplicity

When times are tough, it isn’t always possible to pay close attention to fine details. Sometimes, finesse has to be put aside for the sake of practicality.

This is why Jonathan Eunice is impressed by Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM’s approach to Web services.

“It’s the right time for a very pragmatic take,” said Illuminata’s principal analyst and IT advisor in Nashua, N.H.

With stock prices plummeting and many a dot-com company going belly up, now is not the time for sophisticated high-tech solutions that are long in installation and short on skilled labour that can understand them, he said.

“The problem with Web services to date has been that they’re couched in terms of new business models and fantastic business-to-business opportunities. It’s being couched in this very futuristic and abstract language which is absolutely not right for today,” Eunice said.

IBM has set itself apart from Microsoft Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. by offering simple connectors between trading partners, he said.

“It’s very much restricted in scope, and very much more cut and dry. So, technologically, the same grand vision is possible. But I think they (IBM) put it in terms that are much more appealing (and) immediate in an environment where you can’t spend a billion dollars on chasing the future.”

IBM recently announced some additions to its Web services offerings, announcing support for open Internet standards and increased connectivity between applications.

IBM’s WebSphere Application Server Version 4 will be available at the end of June and it will support the Universal Description Discovery and Integration, Simple Object Access Protocol, Java 2 Enterprise Edition and Web Services Description Language standards. Big Blue also announced new DB2 database software that is designed to allow it to connect to a wide array of sources.

“We want to see the entire IT industry adopting standards and structures,” said Steve Mills, IBM’s senior vice-president and group executive, software group. “It’s beneficial to the whole industry.”

With the new Web services offerings, IBM’s goal is to get applications to talk to each other. The early stages of the Internet was about getting people connected to applications, Mills said. Now companies need to concentrate on getting applications connected to each other.

The vendor claimed that its software offerings allow users to take advantage of the new Web services capabilities without having to do any major restructuring.

“It’s about telling our customers that the assets they’ve developed so far will be reusable,” said Jocelyne Attal, vice-president, AIM (application and Integration middleware) marketing in Sommers, N.Y.

“Even in an economic downturn, (companies) have to look for a way to cut down costs,” and that’s what IBM said its Web services solutions will do, she said.

IBM has more to offer its customers today than its rivals, she said.

“They (Microsoft) are already behind…We’re talking about deploying Web services. It’s about (being) ready for prime time.”

The problem with Microsoft’s approach is that it’s thinking in terms of a revolution in a market that’s not ready for revolutions, Attal said.

“The story of the revolution is not going to work. It has to be something that will make sense for customers. The new hype is not going to work. This is about how you can continue to do what you’re going to do.

“There is no revolution in what we’re announcing. It’s a very small technology step,” Attal said.

Eunice believes that HP’s solution, e-speak, is revolutionary, but he agrees with IBM that its not time for a revolution.

“E-speak, is very sophisticated – much more comprehensive in scope than what IBM has been talking about. It’s architecturally beautiful. The problem is it’s very hard for people to wrap their heads around those multi-level concepts,” he said.

What differentiates IBM, said Amy Wohls, editor of Opinions in Narbeth, Pa., is that many of its Web services offerings are currently available or will soon be available, whereas the other vendors only have small pieces available.

IBM’s solution will mainly benefit large companies looking to increase their revenue, she said.

“I think [IBM’s] announcement is mainly for established companies that already have investments in IT and want to create an e-business environment where they can include supply chain and customers.”