IBM paints clearer B2B integration picture

Sporting an entry-level price point that goes head to head with Microsoft Corp.’s BizTalk Server, IBM Corp. this week clarified its business process integration strategy around the release of WebSphere Business Connection.

To be offered in three versions starting in September, WebSphere Business Connection will be pushed as Big Blue’s flagship business process integration engine, for use both inside and outside of the firewall, according to Scott Cosby, manager in the WebSphere business process integration group, in Somers, N.Y.

In doing so, IBM is hoping to unify its message around process integration and put an end to user confusion over several products that can be perceived as overlapping. Two of those existing integration products, Partner Alliance Manager and Trading Partner Interchange, will now take a backseat to the more feature-rich Business Connection package, Cosby said.

“We will continue to support those earlier products, but unlike Business Connection they do not address Web services among other more advanced technologies,” Cosby said.

And unlike its earlier brethren, Business Connection treats both private processes within the enterprise and public processes with partners as one process to manage, “so they don’t need to be duplicated for each environment,” he added.

Business Connection Express, the entry-level version of the product, is a lightweight variation that supports B2B connections based solely on Web services standards. It is aimed at smaller companies that want a low-cost option for hooking into their partners, according to Cosby. The price starts at US$5,000 based on CPUs, which is in a similar range to Microsoft’s recently announced BizTalk Server Standard Edition. For that price, IBM users get 10 partner connections.

The other versions of Business Connection build off Express, but move up the capabilities chain for more complex and varied B2B interactions.

Business Connection Standard offers partner profile management and richer document exchange management, along with tools to tailor to multiple partners’ needs from the single integration environment. Beyond Web services-based connections, Standard supports more traditional protocols such as EDI, RosettaNet, and XML. It is priced starting at US$28,000 with as many as 50 Web services connections and one traditional connection.

Lastly, Business Connection Enterprise adds support for EDI transformation, which will enable EDI files to be translated into different formats, according to Cosby. Enterprise is priced starting at US$87,000 for as many as 100 Web services connections and one traditional connection.

One analyst said the product clarification inherent in Business Connection is a move in the right direction for IBM.

“In general, IBM needs to settle on one b-to-b integration platform and concentrate product development and marketing on it,” said Shawn Willett, principal analyst at Sterling, Va.-based Current Analysis Inc. “It also needs to continue to include pre-built features, especially for vertical markets to lessen professional services costs.”

Willett highlighted several features of Business Connection, including its lightweight footprint, scalability, partner management capabilities, and EDI and vertical industry support.

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