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
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,"
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.
Mike Bucken is former Editor-in-Chief of Application Development Trends magazine.