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IBM Takes the Enterprise Mobile

Eyeing enterprises' rapidly growing mobile workforces, IBM Corp. Tuesday took the wraps off WebSphere Everyplace Access (WEA), which allows enterprises to deploy applications to multiple devices from a single platform.

Building on Big Blue's pervasive computing initiative and the WebSphere platform, WEA offers a core set of capabilities -- including synchronization technologies -- that address a wide range of connectivity modes (including disconnected, always-on and intermittently connected devices). Without having to rip-and-replace their IT infrastructures, enterprises can use WEA to provide employees with tethered and untethered access to e-mail, personal information management applications, CRM, sales force automation and supply chain applications.

The software leverages the rest of the WebSphere suite, including WebSphere Application Server, WebSphere Portal, DB2, Lotus and Tivoli, and IBM said it provides the core services necessary to build, deploy, manage and extend existing e-business and core line-of-business applications to mobile devices. The tools component of the software -- Everyplace Tools -- is built on IBM's WebSphere Studio Workbench, and consists of a set of tools for expanding existing applications for WEA and developing new applications. It provides a common programming model and features that enable ISVs and developers to deliver integrated solutions.

Letina Connelly, director of Worldwide Pervasive Enterprise Strategy for IBM, said WEA is designed to handle any device -- including PDAs, mobile phones and other appliances -- and any network, from CDMA-based digital cellular networks to 80211-based wireless local area networks. IBM also plans to deliver customized mobile access to data and applications supporting both voice and visual access that will isolate the characteristics of these devices, as well as providing the capability to support users' unique information requirement needs.

"This is a natural extension to e-business and a significant step toward the holy grail of any device, any network, any time," said Rod Adkins, general manager of Pervasive Computing at IBM. "As they did with the Web, enterprises are now looking for ways to leverage their existing technology and data with the onslaught of pervasive computing devices in order to get to market quicker and move information around the organization more efficiently. Having a flexible infrastructure built on technology like we're announcing today protects the assets they already have in place and doesn't limit what they'll be able to do tomorrow."

Connelly said the initial focus of engagements is likely to be business to employee, as companies test the waters, learn the technology and seek to improve the efficiency of their mobile workers.

"Enterprises want to be able to deploy applications to multiple devices from a single platform, and the resulting ease of deployment that will come with being able to do that can dramatically increase the adoption of mobile devices and applications for business purposes," said Scott Ellison, IDC's Wireless Program Director. He noted that the ability to initially extend the technology to specific user groups for specific applications and then begin broadening deployment as the value proposition proves itself is likely to appeal to many businesses.

"It should give potential clients a high degree of comfort with IBM's solutions," Ellison said.

Combined with what he termed the "comprehensiveness" of the product, Ellison said IBM stands a good chance of turning itself into a market leader in the space.

"I think its actually a highly articulated view and strategy toward wireless enterprise deployments and how that's going to carry forward," he said.

The initial Q2 general availability release is expected near the end of May, and will support the Windows platform. Connelly said releases in Q3 are expected to support various UNIXes and Linux. The Q3 releases are also expected to push new capabilities, like wireless roaming. Wireless roaming would allow users to seamlessly and transparently move from cellular networks to 80211 networks without downtime. Other planned additions include intelligent notification and calendaring, device management and location-based services.