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IBM Beefs Up SOA Play

UPDATE: IBM officials introduced new distributed computing software to take information out of the department and on to the corporate network.

The tools will include three new WebSphere-based applications that handle service-oriented architecture (SOA) , through Web services , from design implementation to monitoring.

The Armonk, N.Y. vendor's SOA move -- a combination of software, services and partnerships -- is designed to help companies derive better interoperability and productivity gains from enterprise information.

"What in the past was a need for technology that helped [businesses] with functional automation of different tasks and activities has clearly shifted in recent years to process-driven, horizontal, integration of their business," said Steve Mills, IBM software group senior vice president and group executive, during a conference call with reporters Tuesday.

The new tools include WebSphere Enterprise Service Bus (ESB), a kind of message broker that connects and integrates Web services-based applications and services. A new version of IBM's WebSphere Message Broker will also be available to provide advanced ESB functionality.

The Integration Developer, based on the open source Eclipse platform, lets developers view composite applications as services and connect them into one comprehensive business process. IBM has also crafted a WebSphere Process Server, which aims to ease the movement of data from application to application.

Also on tap are enhancements to the WebSphere Business Modeler, which will help programmers model and design process flows before deployment, and WebSphere Business Monitor, which gauges business process performance.

Officials said a Tivoli-based management tool for composite applications will be available later this month.

For industry watchers, the ESB is the crown jewel of the new WebSphere applications.

Ron Schmelzer, a senior analyst at research firm ZapThink, said customers have been looking for an ESB component even though IBM officials consider it a design pattern, not a software product.

He said IBM has re-packaged its enterprise messaging capabilities with some business process capabilities and added standards-based interfaces to create an entry-level ESB.

In the end, Schmelzer said, companies need to sift through the various vendor offerings and determine what they really need to make their SOA deployment work.

"At the end of the day, companies looking to implement SOA should ask themselves what infrastructure they are missing to implement loosely coupled, composable, standards-based services, what they already have that simply needs to be re-purposed, and what they need to buy to expand their capabilities around metadata," Schmelzer said.

Rob LeBlanc, IBM WebSphere Software general manager, said that while the company does indeed look upon ESB as a design pattern rather than a product, it's something customers have been asking for in feedback.

"Customers needed an entry point to be able to do very basic service-oriented architecture based on a set of Web services and that is what [WebSphere ESB] is intended to address," he said.

The net result, LeBlanc said, is that once customers get comfortable with the basics of SOA and Web services, they will eventually move to software providing more functionality and scalability, such as IBM's Message Broker and Process Server.

No major IBM offering would be complete without a consulting component and the SOA initiative is no different.

In the future, IBM will launch a Common Services Delivery Platform (CSDP) that provides templates for certain business processes like inventory management and claims processing. The CSDP will collect data stored throughout the network, integrate the information with IBM and third-party software, and output a completed business process.

A large part of IBM's strength comes from its ISV partnership program through the PartnerWorld Industry Network. Big Blue means to get those independent developers onto its SOA initiative track as well, offering resources designed to make it easier for those companies.

IBM already has an SOA Business Partner program but officials are expanding the tools and services available to let developers create SOA-enabled applications. These tools include documentation, tech support help, discounts, advertising help and the like.

Today's initiative expands on IBM's SOA strategy, which it has been championing for some time. Earlier this year the company plotted an integration course with its Business Integration Adoption Model tool.

The modeling tool came little more than a year after the launch of the company's first SOA tool, the WebSphere Business Integration Server Foundation.

According to Mills, IBM's Message Broker, Integration Developer and Process Server will be available by the end of September, with the rest appearing later this year or early next year.

(Clarifies new and enhanced WebSphere offerings and adds comments from IBM officials.)