Integration help has arrived, says IBM

Integration is a top concern of enterprise IT managers according to IBM Corp., and it says the recent refresh of its enterprise software reflects that trend.

Up to 40 per cent of current IT spending – an estimated US$12 billion – is devoted exclusively to addressing business and application integration, said Steve Mills, general manager of IBM’s software group, quoting industry statistics. He made the comments during an address at IBM’s recent developerWorks Live show held recently.

Over the years, organizations have adopted a variety of proprietary and shrink-wrapped solutions, creating islands of infrastructure that hamper the effort to enable e-business across the organization and drive up the costs of maintenance.

In response, Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM announced a number of enhancements to its line of software, based on its four product lines: the flagship WebSphere middleware suite, Lotus workgroup solutions, its data management offering DB2 and its Tivoli management software.

“We’re evolving the direction of this software family to be a complete infrastructure platform…to help solve the integration problems,” said John Swainson, general manager of application and integration middleware at IBM.

Foremost among them was the unveiling of WebSphere Application Server Version 5, designed to help companies link applications across internal and external systems. To address security concerns, Version 5 ships with an embedded version of Tivoli Access Manager. It’s also designed to help users seamlessly deploy Web services -the processes by which data and applications are made easily accessible over the Internet – a feature first made available in WebSphere 4.0.

Alister Sutherland, director of software research at IDC Canada Ltd., said integration is a priority in the enterprise, especially when it comes to human resource, customer relationship management and supply chain applications. “(Those are) areas where there can be some immediate cost savings,” he said.

Sharon Spriggs, senior program analyst, administration systems at the University of Ottawa’s Computing and Communication Service, said she attended developerWorks in hopes of learning more about WebSphere Studio Application Developer 4.0, and to get some hands-on education. She said IBM’s integration message hit home for her – Spriggs and her staff have run into problems in the past trying to integrate WebSphere Commerce Suite with IBM’s SecureWay LDAP.

But another show attendee, who is also just now deploying WebSphere Version 4, said integration isn’t a concern. “For a fair number of customers down there it was a big deal…it’s not a big issue for us right now,” said Chris Pentleton of Toronto-based Pentleton Consulting.

Currently Pentleton is working on a data mining project with Toronto Police Services called eCops (Enterprise Case and Occurrence Processing System) which allows TPS’ staff of 7,000 to search and share information on the road or at the station.

Web services also dominated the developerWorks agenda – IBM executives repeatedly stressed its enthusiasm for the technology. “We support the fundamental, open standards of Web services. We’ve been making that happen,” said Bob Sutor, IBM’s director of e-business standards strategies.

Sutherland said the often-misunderstood Web services, with its message of interoperability and utilization of current assets and resources, is gaining a foothold in the Canadian market. “Recent research is showing some improved traction compared to a few months ago,” he said.

IBM’s strategy of spreading the Web services message to developers, who don’t typically make strategic corporate decisions but do have influence over the harried executives who do, is a “clever” strategy, Sutherland added.

But Spriggs said any talk of Web services is far too premature, from her point of view. “We realized we’ll have to watch it, but it’s not something we’re going to dive into,” she said. “We’re barely keeping up with what we got.”

Although Pentleton is helping eCops interface with several external agencies, including the RCMP, he said the notion of Web services isn’t likely to concern him anytime soon. “There’s not a whole lot of this talk about going all out with Web services,” he said. “It’s probably going to take about another year”

Despite some appealing features in WebSphere 5, both Spriggs and Pentleton said they’re still working with Version 4, and don’t anticipate any migrations to the latest versions in the near future. WebSphere 5 is not scheduled to be available until the third quarter of 2002.

Other new products announced at developerWorks include: WebSphere Business Integration Version 4.1, which integrates technology from CrossWorlds Interchange Server, WebSphere MQ Integrator Broker and MQ Workflow to let customers speed the process of business integration. It runs on AIX, Windows 2000/NT and Solaris; A number of additions to WebSphere MQ, in particular MQ Event Broker, which lets companies deliver personalized information to users based on their pre-set preferences.