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Rational-IBM Update

ANALYSIS - Connecting the dots that comprise IBM is never easy -- whether you are on the inside or the outside of the Big Blue Behemoth. That’s because there is so much to connect. Here, “connecting the dots” is meant both in terms of the way the company organizes its approach to the technologies of the day, and how it arranges itself as a corporation. These days, IBM’s software development plans are concentrated on its year-old acquisition of Rational Software.

On a technology level, the company managed to step deftly forward as the ground continually shifted. As mainframes seemed to recede (they didn’t, of course), as object software came to take the form of Java and as Linux began to disrupt Unix, IBM managed to grow its software business, which stood at $13.1B in 2002. In this it was helped by its quickness to pick up innovative software houses such as Tivoli, Lotus, Informix (which has become part of the DB2 Software Group) and, most recently, Rational.

IBM periodically looks at its portfolio and creates overarching marketing strategy and a comprehensive technology blueprint. The blueprints have sometimes been flawed, although they still moved the game along and contributed elements to subsequent blueprints that worked better. AD Cycle, work with Apple on Taligent’s Pink and OpenDoc, and the San Francisco component program only briefly served much purpose. But strategy has been refined at each step.

But the company was not wed to doctrine. A confused object strategy reliant on Visual Smalltalk gave way to wildly successful Java and J2EE. VisualAge for Smalltalk gave way to VisualAge for Java and WebSphere Studio. This year the company added an “LT” version of Rational’s ClearCase to WebSphere Studio, but there could be quite a lot more to come under the banner of the IBM Software Development Platform.

Software grows like weeds, and new plans are needed. This is the ongoing challenge for end users, and it is just as much a problem within IBM’s own development labs, not to mention its vast IBM Global Services consultant and outsourcing group. The next step in making a unified software development strategy for IBM, it appears, centers on Rational, which built itself up based on a unified approach to software modeling and processes, and which, not incidentally, was probably the first and primary backer of IBM’s Eclipse development tool framework. Rational will oversee sales of a unifying package the company is calling the IBM Software Development Platform. IBM appears to have made a much quicker swoop to integrate Rational than it did with either Tivoli or Lotus.

If IBM can meet its integration needs using the Rational suite in its own development labs, it feels it can better meet the customers’ emerging needs. Both Buell Duncan, general manger, ISV and Developer Relations, and Mike Devlin, general manager of IBM Rational, emphasized this at a recent press event marking the first anniversary of IBM’s purchase of Rational.

“IBM will have a more integrated approach -- not a dozen answers for a dozen questions,” said Duncan.

The drive is a practical one. Devlin wants to meet the goals Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive for the IBM Software Group, has set. “Steve Mills has a vision of componentizing all the software in the software group,” Devlin told the assembled journalists, “and that strategy is accelerating.” He said Rational integration with WebSphere was the first priority, and that Tivoli integration is next. “Connecting development and deployment is of special interest to customers,” he said, citing eBay as a special example.

According to Devlin, Mills’ goal is to reduce development costs and simplify usability and maintainability for customers. That means adherence to a common architecture, likely based on Rational processes.

Maps are well and good -- actually getting from one place to another will continue to be IBM’s greatest task. That’s a problem it shares with every other software vendor and its customers as well. Write and let us know what you think.

About the Author

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

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