IBM takes aim at .NET initiative

IBM Corp. this week will take major steps to bolster its Web services offerings and provide a clear alternative to Microsoft Corp.'s efforts in this arena.

Through its Global Services division, IBM will launch a service dedicated to helping corporate users build Web services applications, officials said. Big Blue will also announce across-the-board support for open Internet standards in updated versions of its key middleware products.

Big Blue's WebSphere application server and its flagship DB2 database as well as its Tivoli Systems Inc.'s WebSphere management offerings and Lotus Development Corp.'s Domino products will all ultimately support Internet standards including SOAP (Simple Object Application Protocol) and UDDI (Universal Discovery, Description, and Integration). In addition, WebSphere will embrace Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) and the WSDL (Web Services Description Language).

Industry analysts said these wide-ranging announcements will put IBM in direct competition with archrival Microsoft and its .NET and HailStorm Web services initiatives. IBM will also be drawing closer to rivals offering J2EE infrastructures, including Sun Microsystems Inc./iPlanet E-Commerce Solutions, BEA Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Oracle Corp., analysts said.

Analysts also said corporate users typically choose between .NET or J2EE, primarily based on the platform first and the vendor second. The analysts added that IBM's strategy appears to be more than just product-deep.

"IBM is offering a direct alternative to .NET in terms of a platform for both developing and deploying Web services," said Dwight Davis, an analyst at Summit Strategies in Kirkland, Wash. "It goes well beyond just products, which are central to IBM's Web services strategy, and IBM is also relying heavily on its Global Services."

Davis said that, although IBM offers security and authentication, it does not offer a set of services comparable to the consumer-oriented HailStorm. "There is some degree of overlap, but comparing the two is a stretch," he said. "IBM has not marketed services along the lines of HailStorm that people incorporate into their daily lives."

Officials of the Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM said they hope that delivering products to back up previous pronouncements will boost the company's credibility against competitors such as Microsoft and Sun, which IBM believes are months behind.

"We think the value Web services can deliver for IT [shops] is profound," said Scott Hebner, director of marketing for IBM's WebSphere Software group in Somers, N.Y. "We think the real value is giving them the ability to integrate applications and business processes, particularly in heavy-duty transaction-based environments where we are long on experience."

Some analysts said they are impressed with IBM's quick delivery of such a wide variety of applications laced with open-standards support but note that many users will need the help of Global Services to fully exploit these updates.

"IBM usually delivers wonderfully elegant but overly complicated products," said Sally Cusack, software analyst at IDC in Framingham, Mass. "If [IBM is] hoping users will create Web services, [users] will need Global Services' help, which could turn out to be expensive," Cusack said.

IBM officials believe that aggressively promoting open standards in its middleware will lead to tighter and more sophisticated integration capabilities from IBM and its competitors. This will send sky high the number of possible online transactions, IBM officials said, pointing to a recent report by Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research that predicts such integration will drive up by 50 times the number of Web-based transactions during the next four years.

"If you think about 50 times growth [in transactions], that will expand infrastructure opportunities for everyone," IBM's Hebner said.

With this development, Hebner said that hardware now used for Web-based functions will become "integration servers" for the delivery of Web services.

IBM'S arsenal

Big Blue has decided to deliver Web services in several ways.

-- WebSphere will support UDDI, SOAP, J2EE, and WSDL.

-- DB2 Version 7.2 will support UDDI and SOAP and will provide access to other databases.

-- Tivoli will support a single point of control for distributed environments.

-- Lotus will combine collaboration, knowledge discovery, and e-learning in Web services applications.

Source: IBM

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