As I explained in my article last week, the IT industry is on the verge of an enormous battle that will determine whether most companies get their IT capacity from computing utilities and, if they do, which vendors' technologies they'll use. At this point, only a fool--or an IT consultant with an oversized sense of himself--would dare predict the outcome of this contest. No matter who wins, however, it is safe to say that mid-market IT professionals will be doing more of the following two things over the next several years.
- Working with software that has Web services built into it. Nearly all of your software vendors will introduce releases with new features that rely on IT services that are delivered via the Internet. In many cases, vendors will support those services through their own data centers or those of a contracted service provider. Other services will be provided by the vendors' business partners; these partners may be software vendors themselves, but they may also be systems vendors like IBM, large enterprises, or self-styled computing utilities.
- Connecting to and supporting Web services. Initially, your company may resist the temptation to use the new Web services. Eventually, however, the business benefits of some service will exceed the perceived risks, and you'll be asked to deploy and support a connection to that service. Just as PCs slipped into companies in the 1980s and forced IT departments to learn how to manage client/server networks, Web services will slip into your company and force you to learn how to manage distributed Internet computing.
As a growing number of firms connects to Web services via their enterprise software, the providers of those services may become the giant computing utilities that IBM dreams of controlling. Then again, those providers might remain relatively small and numerous, as Microsoft envisions. Either way, you will have to learn a substantially new set of skills to remain viable as an IT professional. If you anticipate being in this business five to ten years from now, you need to take the following three actions.
First, learn how to work with at least one of the major middleware platforms that supports Web services, as well as the development tools that support them. These middleware platforms--be they from IBM, BEA, Microsoft, Sun, or others--are the primary delivery vehicles for Web services. In choosing your middleware platform, consider which platforms your software vendors are favoring. These should be at the top of your "to learn" list.
Since most of you work with vendors that have significant partnerships with IBM, WebSphere will probably be your first middleware priority. That makes the next several months extremely important for you, as IBM will be making significant WebSphere and Web services announcements during the fourth quarter. Most importantly, IBM plans to ship WebSphere Application Server Version 5, the first version to include extensive support for Web services technologies. IBM sources indicate that the iSeries will support two of the products in the Version 5 family: the standard WebSphere Application Server and WebSphere Application Server - Express. The latter product will come with a price tag that makes it significantly less expensive than WebSphere Application Server 4.0, though it will not offer the Web services support of more robust products in the WebSphere family. Look for IBM to offer specifics about these products soon--perhaps as early as this fall's COMMON Conference.
Second, become proficient in Linux and/or Windows, as these operating systems will host the vast majority of Web services over the coming years. It would be wonderful if middleware could totally insulate IT professionals from having to know about the underlying operating system, but that is not the case. Middleware interacts with operating systems in surprising ways that those who support Web services will have to understand. That will especially be the case for Microsoft's .NET middleware, which will be tightly integrated with the Windows operating system. However, even application servers that strictly comply with the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) standard will run differently on various Linux distributions and Windows releases.
Finally, keep yourself current on the evolving systems management tools of the middleware platforms and operating systems you're studying. These tools are going to evolve rapidly over the next several years because they will have to communicate over the Internet with systems that are delivering Web services. They will also become far more intelligent and self-managing than they are today. As such, the next generation of systems management tools could make your new job of supporting Web services much easier.
That concludes my article series on IBM's mid-market strategy. I hope it has given you a better understanding of how IBM's various product and marketing strategies fit together and where they could take us. Just as importantly, I hope these articles empower you to develop your own IT strategy for your company and your professional career. I'll be back next week with news and analyses to help you achieve that objective.