The Latest News… and a Year in Retrospect

Analysis of News Events
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While 2007 was full of surprises, it was also surprisingly predictable.

As the year winds down and dissolves into the holiday season, many of us pause to reflect on what the past 365 days have brought us. Since I happen to be one of those reflective people, I am going to do something that most industry analysts avoid like the plague. I am going to revisit the predictions that I made in my first article of 2007 to see how well (or poorly) they matched up to what really happened this year. Before I do that, however, let's look at some recent IBM announcements and consider what they could mean for the System i community.

WebSphere Gets Friendlier with i5/OS

Two weeks ago, IBM quietly beefed up support for the System i within its WebSphere family of middleware products. The company also launched a promotion to encourage companies to trade in competitive middleware for WebSphere products. The announcements give System i customers new reasons to consider WebSphere for system integration projects.

On the support front, Big Blue announced that two adapters in its WebSphere Adapters V6.1 family now run natively on the System i. WebSphere Adapters enable applications running on WebSphere Application Server to integrate with enterprise applications from other vendors. With the V6.1 release, WebSphere Adapters support Oracle's JD Edwards EnterpriseOne and SAP applications running on the System i. To use the adapters, your System i must be running i5/OS V5R3 or V5R4 along with WebSphere Application Server V6.1. In addition, your developers must use Rational Application Developer V7.5 to work with the adapters. Fortunately, you can download the development tool for free via an open beta program for the product.

At the same time that it unveiled new adapters, IBM announced that WebSphere Dashboard Framework now runs on i5/OS V5R4. WebSphere Dashboard Framework is a tool set that enables the creation of dashboards and scorecards within WebSphere Portal sites. The product is available on a standalone basis or as part of Lotus ActiveInsight V6.0. Since WebSphere Dashboard Framework now supports i5/OS V5R4, Lotus ActiveInsight does so as well.

To show that it is serious about winning new business, IBM also announced a promotion for selected WebSphere products. From now through May 31 of next year, customers can "trade up" from competitive middleware to similar WebSphere products and save anywhere from 60 percent to 74 percent off list prices. The discounts apply to WebSphere Application Server Network Deployment, WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus, WebSphere Message Broker, WebSphere Process Server, and WebSphere Integration Developer.

IBM's expanded support for i5/OS indicates that the company wants to keep making its middleware products more accessible to midrange users. At the same time, the computer giant's latest move will mainly appeal to the largest System i customers rather than smaller companies. IBM still struggles to make of its middleware functionality accessible and affordable to "rank and file" System i users.

A Year in Review

Now that we've dispensed with the latest news, let's review 2007 to see whether it confirmed or debunked my predictions for the year. Here are my predictions in their original order.


Prediction #1 —Emerging economies become the next catalyst that convinces IT vendors to focus on the mid-market. From what the vendors are telling me, this prediction is slowly but surely becoming a reality. During 2007, IT vendors reached out to mid-market companies in emerging economies through numerous initiatives. Whether it was IBM's Vertical Industry Program, Oracle's Accelerate, or SAP's efforts to recruit partners in places like Brazil and Russia , the message was clear. Growing companies in developing nations are the next hot market.


Prediction #2 —Software as a Service (SaaS) will break out of the customer relationship management space to become a cross-category delivery method. While CRM remained an SaaS hotbed in 2007, other types of services came to the fore this year. This included data storage offerings such as Amazon S3, front-office software such as Google Apps, and full-blown enterprise applications such as SAP Business ByDesign.


Prediction #3—Service-oriented architectures (SOAs) will ride into mid-market companies on the backs of SaaS solutions. To be honest, this prediction has not yet been fully realized. Then again, this really was a multi-year prediction on my part. I am still confident that over time, mid-market companies will find themselves deploying SOAs by purchasing SaaS solutions and using the Web services repositories that support those offerings.


Prediction #4 —Mid-market software vendors will focus less on acquisitions and more on competing with the "Big Three." This year, mid-market vendors such as Infor and Lawson cut back on acquisitions and concentrated on keeping their customers from switching to Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP. Many second-tier vendors spelled out how they will support and integrate the applications they acquired during the buying spree of 2005 and 2006. That reduced uncertainty levels among customers and stemmed what could have been a rising tide of migrations to bigger vendors.


Prediction #5—Industry consolidation shifts to new battlefronts. At the same time, acquisitions of SaaS and business intelligence (BI) vendors spiked during 2007 just as I predicted. Even I was surprised by the buying frenzy that swept the top three BI vendors—Business Objects, Cognos, and Hyperion—into the pockets of SAP, IBM, and Oracle.


Prediction #6 —Virtualization gains mainstream acceptance in the mid-market. This year's surveys indicated that growing numbers of mid-market firms are virtualizing their servers and storage. However, many companies are still adopting a "wait and see" stance toward the entire idea. I expect that many of them will get off the fence in the coming year as virtualization offerings from IBM, Microsoft, VMware, Xen, and other firms grow in maturity and popularity.


Prediction #7 —Spending on IT will moderate in some industries and regions but remain strong in others. A year ago, I predicted that housing and consumer cyclical companies would get significantly smaller IT spending increases during 2007 than they did in the past. Unfortunately for many of you in those industries, that prediction was on the money. I also predicted that IT spending in the U.S. would grow between 5 percent and 6 percent. While the analyst firms that calculate IT spending never agree with each other, many of them are now releasing year-end figures that are in line with what I expected.


Prediction #8 —IBM will announce a System i that runs on its BladeCenter platform. I really hate it when my System i predictions fail to materialize, but that is precisely what happened to this one. For much of 2007, sources close to IBM kept telling me that a BladeCenter-based i5/OS offering would likely be unveiled by the close of the year. Alas, it was not to be. However, I do expect an announcement from IBM on this front by the time we all gather at the Spring COMMON Conference, if not earlier.


That wraps up my review of 2007, a year that was as full of surprising IT developments as any other. It was also a year that I enjoyed sharing with all of you who read my columns. May you and your families have a joyous and peaceful holiday season. I'll be back in the new year with thoughts about what 2008 could hold in store for us.