XML, Integration, and more

IBM has extended its embrace of Internet standards into the area of development repositories. With Unisys and Oracle (an arch-enemy on the database front), the company proposed using XML Web technology to represent repository data. The hope of the companies is to avoid past pitfalls; in IBM's case, the AD/Cycle effort.

At IBM's campus in Somers, N.Y., Application Development Trends' editors discussed repository futures with IBM's John Swainson, general manager of the Application Enabling and Integration Unit of the Software Solutions Division. "People's perceptions of repositories and what they are good for has changed. Going back 10 years, most of the discussions were about how repositories were going to save the world -- if you could just get everything in the repository," said Swainson. "Now, the role of the repository is seen as one, a place where coarse-grain elements -- the source, the screens, the documents -- can be brought together to store and manage in a consistent way; and, two, a place where fine-grained elements of the applications can be stored for tool access. We've come to the notion of a federated repository -- fine and coarse."

Added Swainson: "It's important to realize that the problems that AD/Cycle was trying to solve were important problems. That's not saying we executed right, because we didn't," he said. "But one of the things we learned is not to try to do everything in a single, monolithic model. And that there are two grains, and that for fine-grain [components] you need fast execution."
Who are the competitors in repositories? "Oracle is a competitor. Microsoft is a competitor -- but not because they have the ability to do this in the enterprise space," responded Swainson. "Microsoft has a strategy to [attack] the ring of applications around the core enterprise applications," he maintained.

"Those that have tried that so far have failed. Data sharing and system management tradition tell us that isolating apps finally forces you to move [to consolidation]. Today, people are asking us about NT application consolidation across '390s,'" added Swainson.

Despite such inroads, re-establishing its enterprise development throne is not a done deal. Analysts and users will press IBM for timelines. When, for example, will IBM package its San Francisco object componentry via Enterprise Java- Beans? For now, the answer is IBM is working with Sun to support EJBs, with some important evidence of progress expected in the first half of 1999. How effectively can IBM and Sun work with each other over time? That is one of the biggest unanswered questions in computing today. Swainson, for his part, takes a practical line: "We have a pragmatic relationship with Sun based on our mutual needs."

To date, Java and San Francisco have been visible examples of IBM cooperation. Within the company, the vision has spread. "There's a cultural difference in dealing with IBM than just a few years ago," said Ed Horst, vice president of marketing, Forté Software Inc., Oakland, Calif. Forté worked with IBM on RS/6000 programs in the early '90s and, more recently, with IBM's OS/390 division to create a Forté application server for that platform. "The recent experience has been very different in a positive way," said Horst.

Is IBM's leadership important in driving EJB and Java standards? Very much so, said Paul Harmon, editor of Arlington, Mass.-based Cutter Information Corp.'s Component Development Strategies newsletter. "Sun simply doesn't have the skill sets to do it for enterprise computing," said Harmon.

Mid-tiers IBM's integration story is often compelling. It has to be. As the long-time leader of the corporate computing world, the company brings a lot of luggage to the party. AS/400, OS/2, AIX, MVS ... the list of IBM systems is extensive, and Big Blue has committed itself to service most all of them into perpetuity. And it offers connectivity for these diverse systems. Now, its disparate middleware offerings are slowly finding cover under the "WebSphere" family umbrella.
"There are a lot of competitors here," said IBM's Mills. "BEA, for example, has been aggressive in building a middleware portfolio. Microsoft is a middleware competitor, but it is not a cross-platform middleware player. It is uniquely in its own world -- leading with the desktop and bringing on the middleware as a drag phenomena."

In the future, middleware presents a special challenge. It is healthy for IBM divisions to compete against one another. But in middleware this can add to the confusion. This issue was addressed in a recent product line re-organization that IBM describes as a 'rebranding.' In September, IBM announced the integration of its transactional server technologies into one WebSphere family. The word is that Lotus Domino, DB2, CICS, IMS, OS/390, OS/400, Component Broker, MQSeries and WebSphere application servers will be able to share componentry. How this affects sales channels was still not clear at press time. These moves will affect tools.

Said Mills: "The significance of merging those [elements] together is that the 'run time' and 'build time' have to be linked. Also, we were doing more things of a transaction nature beyond traditional transaction types. We needed it to be unified from a branding standpoint." Another issue: His code teams might be duplicating their inventive efforts.

"One thing that has become increasingly clear is that tools are really an extension to the middleware and applications environment," said Scott Hebner, program director of application development at IBM's Software Group. "Several years ago, people would buy tools as an independent decision. The purchasing decision has shifted to where people buy tools optimized for the application server and the middleware infrastructure they will be building to."

As the merging of tools and middleware continues, so will the enhancement of tools' visualization capabilities. IBM has been coming at the visual development market from the opposite direction of Microsoft, said Dave Kelly, vice president, Hurwitz Group Inc., Framingham, Mass. "IBM's problem has been that its tools have been complex and aimed at large organizations," said Kelly. "IBM's challenge has been to make its tools more consumable by a broader market. I think they are making good progress in that."

DB2 Universal Server
While IBM has cooperated with Oracle in network computing, Java and recent XML repository efforts, it has competed tooth-and-nail in the RDB field. It has had to.

More than a decade ago, IBM's unveiling of DB2 began a steady decline for the first independent vendors of DBMS systems. Today, Computer Associates International Inc., Islandia, N.Y., owns two of those systems -- IDMS, from the former Cullinet Software; and Datacom, from the former Applied Data Research. The third big player, privately held Cincom Systems Inc., Cincinnati, has struggled to survive through the years.

Though IBM can claim it was a very early player in the object-relational database world, the company also grants that few DB2 Universal Database users utilize its object-oriented capabilities. But IBM was the first vendor to offer object technologies in a relational database -- before Informix Software Inc., whose tale of object-relational woe is well documented; before Oracle Corp., which still has to ship the bulk of its object technology; and before Sybase Inc.

IBM contends that the database market has shrunk to three key players: Oracle, Microsoft and IBM. IBM officials concede that DB2 is still installed mostly on IBM systems, despite a longtime effort to extend its reach to other hardware platforms. "We do have a growing NT business and Solaris business," said Jeffrey Jones, program manager for IBM data management marketing. "But DB2 does still run predominately on IBM platforms.
"The Universal [object-relational] Database is now the standard IBM database," added Jones, noting that the new version is replacing the DB2 relational database system at many sites. Universal Database capabilities were last added to the OS/390-based DB2 version in May 1998.

"The object-relational capabilities will enable the next generation of applications. Right now, the object-relational capabilities aren't the reason that people buy DB2, so we are still rolling out plenty of enhancements to the relational technology," said Jones. "There are still raw performance and scalability issues with object technology." IBM developers are working to resolve those issues in the next Universal Server generation, code-named "The Garlic Project."

Jones said many large sites are using some of the object technology as they slowly start building next-generation applications. "The goal of the Universal Server is to try and make it easier to build these applications," he said.
IBM expects the changing database landscape to boost the company's position in the data warehousing world, just as arch-rival Microsoft enters with the Plato online analytical processing (Olap) engine. Microsoft is quickly knocked as a desktop-only supplier, but observers note that the threat to the Olap community is real.

"To Microsoft, data warehousing and Olap is a desktop thing," Jones said. "What Microsoft is doing is good for the market. This brings Olap [up] the market, but there is more to it than just the desktop." IBM's strategy is to utilize best-of-breed partners -- which include Brio, Cognos, Business Objects, Evolutionary Technologies, Vality Inc. and Hyperion Software -- and tout itself as a supplier of tools for warehouses serving multiplatform hosts.

About the Authors

Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.

Mike Bucken is former Editor-in-Chief of Application Development Trends magazine.