IBM rolls three developer shows into one

IBM Corp. kicks off its annual developer conference in San Francisco this week where it will emphasize new products and technologies that should help improve the level of integration among its broad software catalog.

Called DeveloperWorks Live, the conference combines three IBM events that in past years have been held separately: Solutions, WebSphere and Lotus DevCon. Economic cutbacks were at least partly behind the decision to merge the shows, said Bob Timpson, general manager of IBM’s developer relations group.

“We’re pleased in the current environment, when others are canceling events, that we’ll see about 4,000 attendees and 100-plus software companies,” he said. That’s below the combined number who attended the three conferences last year, but that’s “hardly surprising” given the state of the economy, he said.

Given the news from Hewlett-Packard Co. last week, IBM customers might think themselves lucky to have a show at all. HP pulled the plug on its worldwide developer show scheduled for later this month in Las Vegas, saying not enough of its customers could afford to attend.

Aside from economic issues, pooling the three shows reflects a move toward tighter integration among IBM’s products, Timpson said.

“The overarching theme (of Developerworks) will be the challenge of integration,” he said. “We’ll have hard news announcements in almost all of our product areas — WebSphere, Lotus, Tivoli – which in many ways will relate to integration and how things connect.”

“As the product lines become more integrated, and as customers and ISVs (independent software vendors) take on responsibilities that aren’t confined to a single product area, it becomes not just a case of how does this product work but how does it connect to other products,” he continued. Merging the shows means developers working with WebSphere, for example, will be able to learn about Lotus Domino at the same event.

He declined to discuss specific announcements planned for the show. Analysts said the integration theme will address two areas: products that are used to bind applications and data together, such as the integration tools in WebSphere Studio, as well as enhancements to existing IBM products that should make them easier to integrate.

Customers can also expect to hear more about how IBM is using integration products that it acquired last year with its purchase of Crossworlds Software, as well as an update on its Web services and development tools strategies, analysts said.

A chief criticism leveled at IBM by rivals is that it has too many products with overlapping functionality that are not well integrated, and that customers wind up paying IBM Global Services a hefty bill to put them all together. IBM counters that its broad product catalog allows it to meet the unique needs of each customer. The truth lies somewhere in between, analysts said.

“The problem is that they have so many products and so many different divisions that it’s hard to keep them all in synch and to present a coherent story for developers,” said Shawn Willet, a principal analyst with Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Virginia.

For example, he said, if a customer needs messaging capabilities they have to choose from at least five MQSeries products on offer, as well as the messaging features available in WebSphere and new products acquired from Crossworlds.

“That’s always been the case with IBM; they have duplicate products and technologies to solve the same problems,” Willett said. At DeveloperWorks “they’ll try to come out with a coherent vision to achieve integration, which is what they need to do.”

Another analyst agreed that IBM’s products could be more tightly integrated, but said the company makes up for that with the breadth of functionality.

“Up and down the platform stack you’ll get deeper functionality than from Microsoft (Corp.) even though the products aren’t as tightly integrated,” said Randy Heffner, a vice president with research company Giga Information Group Inc. in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

IBM has a few important things in its favor when it comes to enterprise software, analysts noted. For starters it has an important foothold with its WebSphere application server, which leads the market alongside BEA Systems Inc.’s WebLogic Server. Application servers are a strategic win that help vendors sell related products such as portal and e-commerce software, as well as services, Heffner and other analysts said.

Big Blue is also in a good position because it can offer steep discounts on its software to customers who also buy servers or services, Willett noted. And in times of economic uncertainty, customers are more comfortable dealing with an industry giant like Big Blue than with smaller vendors, he said.

“IBM is a safe choice in times like this, when other companies are having financial troubles,” Willett said.

Still, IBM admits it has some work to do. The company isn’t well known for selling “out-of-the-box, distributor-friendly, packaged applications,” Timpson acknowledged. “We have a focus on that and, while the world will not turn upside down this week, you’ll see some shoes dropping” in that area, he said.

More information about DeveloperWorks is on the Web at