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Easing Integration Pain a Big Blue Challenge

Ratcheting up its battle with Microsoft in the mid-sized business space, IBM launched a new business integration server Wednesday geared to help smaller companies get business processes tapping in time with IT.

WebSphere Business Integration Server Express, (WBI-Express) is the new keystone of IBM's business process integration strategy for small and medium business (SMB).

The idea of the new middleware is to make it easier for customers to integrate IT systems, business processes and applications at a time when IT managers are growing frustrated by the daunting task of patching disparate applications together.

Microsoft, which makes its own BizTalk integration server, IBM and other integration providers have been competing to garner market share by sewing up customers beset by integration woes. Forrester recently said the SMB space is hot in terms of growth.

Noting that integration dovetails nicely with Big Blue's company-wide on-demand strategy to help customers procure resources automatically and (hopefully) easily, Mark Ouelette, vice president of worldwide SMB sales, IBM Software Group, addressed the challenge on a conference call.

"Customers do not want to rip and replace legacy applications," Ouelette said. "They are looking, consistent with the theme of being an on-demand business, to integrated both internally and externally depending on what market place requirements and mandates exist."

Ouelette pointed out that among the challenges facing midmarket companies is that the majority of businesses employ heterogeneous environments, paving the way for integration projects. "Today over 40 percent of the medium business market place has moved into the integration phase; and that's a dramatic increase from just a year ago," he said.

Getting disparate products to communicate with one another, the primary goal of Web services , is difficult but necessary as the industry is faced by a number of stringent government regulations such as HIPAA, Sarbanes-Oxley and supply chain mandates, Ouelette said.

To wit, he said IBM is looking to simplify the integration process for the mid-market, comprised of 100 to 1,000 employees, a sector many analysts have said is experiencing significant growth compared to larger enterprises.

Joining Ouelette on the call, Scott Cosby, program director for WebSphere Business Integration at IBM said WBI-Express, uses special adapters and pre-packaged templates to tie IT environment together. It covers customer relationship management (CRM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, Web-enabled product catalogues, e-commerce sites and employee portals.

WBI-Express is the latest in a broad line of miniaturized versions of IBM's Java-based software products that fall under the Express moniker. Starting at $5,999 per processor, the software will offer support for Windows, Linux and IBM OS/400, as well as Web services and service-oriented architectures (SOA) .

Available May 14, it also serves as the driving engine behind the three packages, which have existed quietly in the market since late 2003: WebSphere Business Integration Express for Item Synchronization, WebSphere Business Integration Connect Express and WebSphere MQ Express.

WebSphere Business Integration Express for Item Synchronization helps midsized businesses link supply chain information to UCCnet services, which enable B2B item registration and data synchronization transactions across the Internet.

This package is valuable to retailers who have implemented UCCnet services, such as giant Wal-Mart. The solutions include a process integration collaboration that sends and receives data to the third party registry.

WebSphere Business Integration Connect Express lets customers engage trading communities. Lastly, WebSphere MQ Express is messaging software that can deliver secure real-time and asynchronous messages.



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