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Q&A: Mike Devlin, IBM Rational GM

December marks the one-year anniversary of IBM's announcement to acquire software tools developer Rational Software for $2.1 billion.

The deal is seen helping IBM add more depth to its work developing service-oriented architectures (SOAs) to deliver Web services. SOAs define how computing entities interact to enable one entity to perform a unit of work on behalf of another entity.

Such interoperability, as well as reliability, security and management, are cornerstones of building and delivering successful Web services systems.

Rational, along with such companies as Microsoft and Borland, is looking to facilitate SOA development with its tools. XML and Web services research firm ZapThink recently estimated SOA-based products would top $43 billion by 2010.

After the deal closed in February of 2003, one of the chief questions for Rational was: would the division continue to support Microsoft .NET given that it was more closely aligning itself to IBM's Java-based WebSphere platform and the open Eclipse framework?

Mike Devlin, co-founder and general manager of Lexington, Mass.-based Rational answered that question and many others in a recent meeting with internetnews.com.

Q: How will Rational's methods, message and concepts spread throughout IBM? And how does Rational maintain its platform neutral stance, while at the same time help position IBM for competition in building service-oriented architectures?

Rational is the brand that's driving the overall vision and execution of the software development platform for IBM. That means we'll be responsible for the core tools, which includes both Rational tools and the core parts of Eclipse and WebSphere Studio but we don't expect to build all of the tools.

Many parts of IBM and many business partners and customers will build additional tools, so we will strongly influence the architecture, the marketing messages, and be the primary driver in the field of this solution. However, that will be part of the overall software group architecture, so the other parts of the software group can build on the same development platform for additional tools, or technology.

As for service-oriented architectures, part of what we're doing, first with the WebSphere team, and then with Tivoli and the other brands, is making sure the Rational Unified Process [Rational's approach to software development] is defined as an important development process for the different IBM technologies, such as the WebSphere app server, supporting among other things, SOAs.

We've been building those capabilities into our initiatives. For example, an asset-based development demonstration that we gave at our user conference was built on top of an SOA example using WebSphere Application server and Websphere Studio. We're integrating with Tivoli as a way to deploy and monitor and manage an SOA, and give visibility both to the operations people and the developer people as we do that. We're a focal point from a development point of view for driving SOAs. The platforms, such as WebSphere, will implement those.

Q: What will happen to Rational's Microsoft-oriented products such as XDE and interoperability with the .NET platform as Rational becomes more closely tied to IBM products?

Our customers typically have a mixed environment, which includes Microsoft technology, and also includes a server environment that may include servers from Microsoft and other operating systems. We're committed to supporting all of the platforms that are important to our customers.

The most visible example of this is our XDE product, which is fully integrated into [Microsoft development environment] Visual Studio, as well as into Eclipse. We are moving both of those products forward. This year we introduced substantial new capabilities for supporting .NET in XDE as part of VS .NET. We continue to have an engineering team in Redmond so we can stay close to Microsoft.

We remain a Visual Studio integration partner and Microsoft continues to be very good about giving us early visibility to the technology and access to the technology so we can provide support. And Microsoft continues to support joint marketing activities, including events such as TechEd and PDC. As long as the Microsoft platform is important to our customers, we'll continue to invest heavily there and that's at least as long as we'll be around.

Q: How will the company continue to innovate and what will be its competitive message, given that software company Borland is arguably one of the only platform-independent SOA vendors left on the market?

Innovation is driven by a couple of different things. Like it or not, it's in part driven by investment. I don't know what the total number is, but Rational was spending north of $150 million on R&D in this area.

Now that we're part of IBM, the total R&D investment for innovation is much, much larger. So, we're investing an enormous amount on innovation on all of these products. That doesn't even include IBM Research, which is also innovating a couple years beyond. We're looking at the two- to three-year timeframe. They're looking at the three- to five-year timeframe and so we have both short-, medium- and long-term investments.

The other part of innovation, which is the more pragmatic side, is being exposed to a large set of engagements and customers where being part of IBM and being the market leader, we can see the creative things the customer do with the technologies. We learn a lot directly from our customers. Many of the acquisitions that Rational did when we were an independent company were small acquisitions recommended by leading customers. We thought there was new, interesting companies that we might not otherwise have picked up and I expect that to continue although today we have a much larger purview with IBM. You will see a faster pace of products because we are spending more money and we have a better platform to innovate from.

Q: What do you do to maintain competitive advantage in an Eclipse-based tools world?

Whenever you take an open standards-type approach, you do two things. You enable your competitors because they can leverage your technology to build competitive products and you accelerate the pace of commoditization.

It's always the case that the low-end tools -- things that are primary revenue drivers today -- three or four years from now those things will be low-end commodities. So, you can take a proprietary approach of controlling that. We've always taken an open approach.

We want to set the agenda in this business, so we invented UML [Unified Modeling Language], we did lifecycle suites, we did the Rational Unified Process, we're driving asset-based development and SOAs.

With the UML, many analysts and our competitors were surprised we were driving that to be an industry standard because that meant all of our competitors could support of it. But our view is, when you're the market leader, this is a good strategy. We want to drive it to be an industry standard -- yes, it enables our competitors, but the main thing it does is give customers confidence and accelerate growth of the market.

Q: It sounds as though you align with IBM in that way.

Yes, this is a common part of our cultures. Our belief is open standards, open source. Yes, it enables our competitors, but it enables customers and makes our market grow more quickly and accelerates innovation.

Q: Let's talk about model-driven development. What is the next set of tools we can expect to see from Rational?

One of the key initiatives we have going forward is in the model-driven development area where we're trying to do a number of different things. We're trying to support people that want to build an enterprise architecture that's a service-oriented architecture and maintain the integrity and testability of that over time, automate as much of that as possible, allow them to leverage patterns, but also enable people to do rapid development on top of those SOAs for new applications.

So, you can have corporate developers that know the business logic very intimately building applications. But they don't need to know all of the distribution, synchronization, security and all of the issues that underpin SOAs because your architects have built up the enterprise architecture and made those decisions. Your corporate developers can build on top of that and still have applications that are modular.

So, that is a key area for us. It's still early in terms of adoption, but we are seeing quite a few examples of customers moving in this direction and deploying accordingly. There will be some excitement, I'm sure, as some of these big applications roll out.