Earlier this month, IBM formed an alliance with iSeries vendor Lawson Software that could prove to be the first of many such ventures for Big Blue. Under the alliance, IBM will help Lawson develop a new generation of applications that provides users with a flexible and open service-oriented architecture (SOA) based on IBM's WebSphere middleware. Through the Lawson alliance and similar agreements, IBM could make it much easier for medium-size companies and iSeries users to reap the benefits of SOAs. At the same time, the computer giant may find itself competing with the world's largest application vendors that are promoting their own SOAs to mid-market firms.
There are good reasons why IBM wants to work with software vendors to create SOAs. Over the last couple of years, SOAs have become central to the plans of hundreds of application vendors, middleware providers, and large enterprises. In the eyes of these firms, SOAs could help them to create the holy grail of computing: highly flexible IT infrastructures in which all applications and information resources can seamlessly communicate with each other. In such infrastructures, companies could finally break down the barriers between scattered silos of data to get a single, consistent view of their customers and suppliers. They could redesign their business processes and have their applications instantly support the changes. They could integrate their systems with those of their partners--regardless of the applications they use--in days rather than months.
As these companies see it, SOAs would deliver such benefits by replacing proprietary, monolithic applications with smaller components that embody more granular business process functions. Such components would be designed using industry-standard tools and would be invoked by multiple applications via industry-standard protocols. Since the interfaces between these components would adhere to open standards, users could intermix components from multiple vendors, easily modify them to meet unique requirements, and rearrange them on the fly as business processes change. By using Web Services standards, companies could extend these capabilities not only across their organizations, but also across the world to customers and partners.
If SOAs deliver on their promises, they could make it far easier for companies to realize IBM's vision of the On Demand enterprise. This is perhaps the greatest reason why Big Blue has put a top priority on becoming an SOA leader. If the company can create a body of middleware, services, and intellectual property that makes it easier to deploy SOAs, it could wield considerable influence over the next generation of enterprise applications.
IBM's SOA Gambit
With these thoughts in mind, IBM asked some of its brightest minds to spend much of 2004 developing middleware functions, best practices, and architectural models for creating SOAs. Many of the middleware functions made their appearance in software releases that IBM announced during the second half of last year, including WebSphere Application Server 6.0. The new release incorporates SOA capabilities such as support for Java Message Service (JMS) and WS-Transactions, a protocol for ensuring transaction processing integrity across multiple systems.
In 2004, IBM also announced services to help software vendors and their customers build SOAs. In the middle of last year, for instance, IBM Global Services (IGS) offered services to help organizations assess their IT assets and develop strategies for migrating those assets to SOAs. Last month, the organization announced services to help organizations design and implement SOAs. This month, IGS unveiled a Business Integration Adoption Model that creates a roadmap for how organizations can implement SOAs over time. At the same time, IBM announced the SOA Integration Framework, a prescriptive architecture for using the company's WebSphere, Rational, and Tivoli products to deploy SOAs.
While IBM understands that few mid-market customers would ever deploy SOAs on their own, it believes that they will embrace SOAs in the form of packaged applications. This is something that Lawson Software also believes, which is why the two vendors have joined to build an SOA into Lawson's next-generation solutions suite. The suite, which Lawson calls Project Landmark, will use IBM's middleware and architectural models to create an SOA from J2EE-compliant components. Through Project Landmark, Lawson intends to dramatically reduce the coding needed to modify business processes, enabling companies to respond rapidly to business changes.
It is highly likely that IBM will forge similar alliances with other mid-market application vendors in the near future. Through such alliances, IBM could establish itself as a thought leader in the deployment and use of SOAs. If it succeeds in doing so, IBM's middleware could find its way into hundreds of enterprise applications and thousands of companies. Moreover, since most mid-market companies do not have the skills to migrate to SOAs on their own, IBM and its Business Partners could become valued service providers to these firms.
As IBM seeks to become an SOA leader, it will likely find itself competing with some of the world's biggest application vendors who also happen to be IBM Business Partners. These vendors--particularly Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft--want to establish their own middleware and development tools as the standards for building SOAs. In future articles, I will examine the SOA strategies of these vendors and consider what they mean for iSeries customers, so stay tuned.
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