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WebSphere Strategy Focuses on Tried-and-True

WebSphere Strategy Focuses on Tried-and-True

WebSphere Journal editor-in-chief Jack Martin recently chatted with Joe Damassa and the WebSphere marketing team, which features some new faces but is just as dedicated to the continued success of the WebSphere brand. In this exclusive interview the team discusses open standards, ISVs, Web services - and where WebSphere will go in 2004.

WJ: Joe, WebSphere is a mature product and is obviously the market leader. Since you're the new head of WebSphere marketing, I'd like to hear from you and your team about where the platform's been and where it's going, so our readers can understand how this new team sees WebSphere.

Joe: WebSphere is IBM's platform for the next generation of e-business computing. The application server, which launched in 1998, is the core product. The platform also includes WebSphere MQ messaging middleware; business integration software; portal and commerce software; WebSphere Studio, a set of tools that developers use to build applications; and our whole pervasive computing platform. Perhaps our greatest strength in the marketplace, and the reason for our leadership, is that we have consistently defined and evolved the WebSphere platform to meet the requirements of our customers. We have done that time after time and have watched our competitors follow.

WJ: Where do you see WebSphere going in the next year? What should people be looking forward to?

Joe: We're going to continue delivering what our customers need in the way of middleware infrastructure for on-demand computing. That means a continued focus on tooling and integration, and the simplification of the application development process. It means continuing to leverage integration technologies and provide capabilities to build solutions beyond just the tech-heavy ways of doing it. For example, WebSphere Portal enables organizations to provide their customers, vendors, and partners with a single, Web-based access point to the people, processes, and applications that are important to them. We will continue to innovate with the portal to provide easy-to-use tools to access business-critical information via wireless and voice interfaces.

I think our overall mantra has two themes. First, simplification - to try to make it easier to understand and use the WebSphere portfolio, which is very rich and broad. Also, we focus on IBM's tried-and-true value proposition, which is scalable, reliable, and robust transactional computing capabilities. WebSphere has done that for the past five years and we will continue to do that moving forward with the industry's leading infrastructure platform.

Tom: We have always focused on what our customers need in order to be successful, and how to help them implement it. In the early days we started complementary education and services in best practices that we wrapped around the technology. The next step has been to help customers take advantage of those best practices and services through IBM business partners and IGS [IBM Global Services], and we will continue with that. I would argue that our solutions services support has been a critical element in our success and we will continue that going forward.

WJ: How do you see the service strategy evolving for 2004?

Tom: I think we'll further simplify what it takes to build and deploy. It will be easier for all sorts of companies, users, and partners to do it. We will extend the solutions service capabilities to more and more partners. We will concentrate on ensuring that we have the right services in the marketplace and that they are available through the right partner network. And we will continue to make sure that our own services business, IGS - as well as midmarket services geared to partners and integrators - are working to help customers with business transformation.

WJ: What you're saying is that there is going to be a big push down to the midmarket?

Tom: We have had phenomenal success with the WebSphere Express portfolio of products. Approximately 1,400 ISVs have signed up to create applications on WebSphere Express. It's been tremendous.

Jamie: This is about creating an ecosystem. A product or a technology by itself won't win in the marketplace unless it has the right ecosystem of partners, customers, service providers, application providers, and application developers behind it. And it's not just products. Part of building an ecosystem and providing industry leadership is setting standards that help the products become successful. IBM has repeatedly done that in terms of defining approximately 80% of the J2EE spec.

Stefan: Basically, the entire IBM software portfolio leverages WebSphere as a core runtime for building out capabilities. They're doing it on top of a common layer, which makes WebSphere the operating system for e-business. I would guess that just from the software perspective, we probably have more than 20,000 skilled Java developers. That doesn't take into account the developer teams that we have in our industry solutions teams.

WJ: How do you see the open standards movement in conjunction with WebSphere?

Stefan: It's really inseparable. Obviously, we are very strong believers in open standards. Everything we do right now is centered on being open standards-based.

WJ: Like Eclipse?

Stefan: Like Eclipse. Like everything we are doing about Web services, portal technology, and IBM's next-generation integration platform. We are working together with the entire industry, not just IT vendors, but also customers, system integrators, etc., to define what these standards need to be, while obviously competing with the rest of the IT world on the implementation of those standards. I think WebSphere has become not just a gathering point for bringing together open standards, but also it's the way we drive open standards into the market.

WJ: Like what's happened with Linux.

Stefan: We see more and more implementation of WebSphere on Linux. It's a really good combination with Eclipse. One of the benefits of open source is that you know when the technical community likes something. Why have there been more than 12 million downloads of the Eclipse platform? Not because developers were told to do it. They want to do it because they believe in it.

Jamie: IBM's focus on industry standards is very appealing to a large constituency among our customer base. They are very interested in J2EE, the typical Web services standard, but they also want to understand that we support industry-specific technology like the UCCnet Standards for retail.

WJ: What are the UCCnet Standards?

Jamie: It's a set of standards that retailers use to communicate with their suppliers. So it's a common definition of how you do item synchronization - all the information that you need to acquire between retailers and suppliers.

WJ: Is that something that a Wal-Mart type of company would use?

Jamie: Exactly. UCCnet facilitates communication between a large company and all of its suppliers. Item synchronization is one of the biggest challenges within the retail industry. Another example is HIPAA and how the government defines standards for sharing information about health care records and maintaining patient privacy. HIPAA typically affects health care providers, insurance companies, doctor's offices, and hospitals. All of these standards are supported in different ways throughout the WebSphere platform. So when we meet with customers, they want to know that we support traditional IT standards as well as industry standards, which continue to proliferate as we see regulation across different industries.

Joe: We are seeing that once you have the data standards, or the IT standards, then you can define content standards. So, if a patient record is defined as having these pieces as a common standard definition, when insurance companies and hospitals send you a patient record it's not in a proprietary format, so standards facilitate the flow of information.

WJ: I never realized the flexibility that WebSphere had, that you can bend around whatever standard a customer wants.

Joe: We are heading in a couple of directions - midmarket, which we talked about, and line-of-business initiatives by industry.

WJ: Is it a team that is focused on all of those, is it broken across the whole organization where the retail folks are focused on retail, or is it coming from WebSphere?

Joe: We have a strong industry-focused team coming out of WebSphere Business Integration because that is where a lot of the industry specialization has already taken place. They focus on solutions using the entire WebSphere portfolio - and even the entire IBM software portfolio - dedicated to specific industry solutions. Increasingly, we are moving toward assembling the parts into a customer solution to address customer needs and deliver business value to customers.

Tom: We've described the horizontal technology standards that permeate the WebSphere platform. We talked about industry-specific standards - retail and health care, for example - that organizations care about to solve their unique problems more quickly. Then we talked about having a team focused on understanding the marketplace and bringing together the capabilities of technology - knowing how the services and all the partner networks can solve this problem. All together, this allows us to more quickly solve the problems of our customers.

WJ: So if a business partner was going after a midsize health care provider, they've got all the tools in this kit to be HIPAA-compliant right out of the box?

Tom: Absolutely.

Jamie: In many cases, when we offer the solutions to a midsize retailer, for example, we are going into that deal jointly with our partner network. We have quite an extensive industry-based partner network, which allows us to find the right solution for the customer.

WJ: How big is the partner network right now?

Jamie: Overall, IBM software group has about 100,000 partners.

Joe: We are taking things down to a level of application server technology, integration technology, user interface technology, and it's surfacing in a lot of places. WebSphere's transaction engine is showing up under the Lotus product in WebSphere Portal and our dynamic workplace. It incorporates DB2, so there is a componentization of these assets across IBM software group. That also helps our partners and makes customers and developers more efficient because they can reuse what they have. I can take the application server off the shelf and use it with WebSphere Portal to reach mobile workers. They build on each other and we can deliver solutions faster because we are reusing existing components and technology.

Tom: There's the horizontal integration of the technology, which is making us much more efficient and quicker to market. Then there is vertical integration. We take all these components and we deliver them as part of a vertical solution for health industries, for mobile worker force, for government applications. Now the middleware is part of a solution that's more focused on a business value problem. We are providing horizontalization and componentization of the technology, and verticalization of the value.

Jamie: If you really think about end-to-end application development, it can start with business process models. We acquired Holosofx and their business process modeling tool, which has become part of the WebSphere business integration tool portfolio. You can model an application from a business person's perspective to know what kind of result you are going to get at various steps in the business process.

WJ: So IBM's tooling strategy has gotten to the point where it's hands-down the best thing on the street?

Jamie: In effect, we took what were, independently, the best tools in their class - Rational Rose with its modeling testing configuration repository design tools, and WebSphere Studio tools that exploit the capabilities of runtime environments. We have taken the best in both instances and have an even broader solution that is the best in its class.

Stefan: And, by the way, it all gets back to our earlier discussion of open standards - and it is all based on Eclipse.

WJ: Jamie, what's your perspective on the Eclipse standard?

Jamie: I think it's been a huge asset to us. Through Eclipse and its enormous success - I think Stefan said we've had 12 million downloads over the past three years - we've created an ecosystem of developers out there with the tools that our customers need.

WJ: IBM is obviously the world leader in business integration. Where are you going with that?

Joe: That brings us to IBM's focus on helping customers become on-demand businesses. An on-demand business is flexible, agile, and can react quickly to changes in the marketplace. It is very dynamic. It is not the traditional company where I can't change my business processes because they are locked into old infrastructures. This is all about providing tools and capabilities for our customers so they can adapt their business and flexibly build new business processes. They can tap into capacity so when a Web site faces peak usage only during the Christmas season, they don't need all that capacity on their floor; they can lease it or use it as a utility function on demand as needed.

On-demand presumes that there are existing assets and capabilities that you want to take advantage of, either within your own organization or in the ecosystem or partners that you deal with. Customers don't have the luxury of rewriting software, and they want to reuse IT investments made over the past three decades.

Stefan: And there's even more involved than reusing applications or the hardware that these applications run on. Customers have made massive investments in building operational procedures around these systems. They know what to do, how to make backups of those applications, how to keep them running 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You want to be able to leverage that know-how - because if you were to take an application and rewrite it onto a different platform, it involves more than simply the effort of rewriting it; it's also the effort of making that entire set of capabilities operational around it.

One of the things that we realize is that, as Joe said, the characteristics of an on-demand business are variable and flexible when it comes to having a set of requirements for how to build out your IT infrastructure.

The notion of service choreography is that once I have all of my applications defined as business services, I can choreographically create logical flows between those different functions. I can pull from a list of functions and define how to interact and then possibly expose an entire workflow as the outer function that may be reused. Unlike a lot of our competitors, IBM understands that integration means more than building new applications as modules that can merely be combined. That's just too simplistic for most businesses today.

WJ: Instead of doing an integration job with, say, SAP - is that what you're alluding to?

Stefan: SAP typically has, say, 15 or 20 functions. Now you can obviously say, "I need something new there, so I am going to build this into SAP."

Or you can say, "I have these 15 functions defined in SAP. I can define them as Web services as a way to take something from the customer system and from the ordering system and rapidly combine them. We're going to do this by combining the services versus going in and coding a new SAP."

WJ: This is Web services as a reality, as opposed to a concept.

Stefan: Exactly. The average insurance company has somewhere between 1,500 and 2,500 applications running. Every one of those was built to support a new function. Why don't they just identify the 400-500 core services and build out new applications by rapidly combining those services and wiring them together in a visual fashion? That's what service-oriented architecture enables.

You can only do that if you also have the technologies in-house to take existing applications, mainframe applications, Unix applications, and Windows applications, and bring them into this new forum.

WJ: What about Grid computing?

Jamie: Like all of on-demand, it's based on an operating environment, which is the software and hardware that you need to deploy and exploit to become an on-demand business.

WJ: How would you define an operating environment?

Jamie: An operating environment, in its simplest terms, is a set of functions that encompasses integration capabilities across your enterprise. Think of it in three terms: integration, virtualization, and automation.

Grid computing describes one way of virtualizing IT resources. In reality virtualization can be achieved by a cluster of WebSphere services.

WJ: Can you give me an example?

Jamie: Let's say I'm a customer with a cluster of WebSphere servers, and I need redundancy and all those things that maintain a 24/7 business. I have the capabilities within WebSphere Application Server today to manage workload across those servers. IBM will continue to enhance those capabilities to allow you to do even more intelligent, autonomic workload management across the cluster of servers.

WJ: I have one final question about the WebSphere platform. Where do you see all this at the end of 2004? The economy is coming together and there is a lot of adoption of WebSphere taking place. What do you think the world will look like?

Joe: The success that we've had, the focus on where we are going in the future, and the fact that we are staying ahead of the marketplace - that's all because we have a talented team of people who are skilled in what they do. They are helping execute in the present and define the future.

As the world becomes more open, it will be easier for our customers to choose the right technology to meet their business needs. Theoretically, the cost of building applications and deploying them will be cheaper for our customers. We will continue to drive that value proposition for our customers - and we do it better than our competitors.

About Joe Damassa
Joe Damassa, vice president of Marketing in IBM's WebSphere Software division, is the chief marketing executive for WebSphere, the leading software platform for e-business on demand. He was a member of the team that defined IBM's initial Internet and e-business strategy and previously served as vice president of WebSphere Marketing Programs and Support, responsible for the definition and execution of worldwide marketing plans and programs for WebSphere, and establishing it as the industry's fastest growing e-business software platform.

About Tom Inman
Tom Inman is vice president of Marketing for WebSphere Foundation & Tools, where he is responsible for product strategy, offerings, and strategic alliances for the WebSphere Foundation and Tools portfolio. Tom developed the initial business plan leading to the creation of the WebSphere portfolio and brand and helped launch WebSphere in 1998.

About Jamie Thomas
Jamie Thomas is director of Strategy & Portfolio Management for WebSphere Infrastructure Software, responsible for strategic business plan development for the WebSphere family. Prior to this assignment she was director for the WebSphere Connectivity and Edge Solutions team, where she was responsible for the worldwide delivery and service of distributed software in the Edge and Host Access market places.

About Stefan Van Overtveldt
Stefan Van Overtveldt, director of WebSphere Technical Marketing, manages the IBM WebSphere Internet Infrastructure Technical strategy. His area of expertise includes Internet/e-business technologies and infrastructure, and client/server architectures. He has been a key contributor to the creation of the IBM Application Framework for e-business, and is the author of several IBM whitepapers on e-business technology and e-business infrastructure.

More Stories By Jacques Martin

Jack Martin, editor-in-chief of WebSphere Journal, is cofounder and CEO of Simplex Knowledge Company (publisher of Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance Journal http://www.s-ox.com), an Internet software boutique specializing in WebSphere development. Simplex developed the first remote video transmission system designed specifically for childcare centers, which received worldwide media attention, and the world's first diagnostic quality ultrasound broadcast system. Jack is co-author of Understanding WebSphere, from Prentice Hall.

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