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WebSphere Takes On Telcos

Continuing its efforts to enter industry-specific -- or vertical -- markets, IBM rolled out its bundled WebSphere Everyplace Service Delivery (EDS) family of software Tuesday.

There's no new technology; it's a conglomeration of existing technology: Mobile Portal, Device Management, Subscriber Management and Telecommunications Application Server.

Put together, though, Everyplace Service Delivery fills a void in many telcos today by creating an application environment that allows third-party vendors to provide applications for telephone and data subscribers.

Since it's WebSphere, developers can create applications on the Eclipse IDE for J2EE , though Letina Connelly, director of strategy for IBM's pervasive and wireless computing division, said anyone with Web services knowledge can get it to work on other IDEs.

With the ESD sitting on the servers, telcos can then get independent software vendors -- or even in-house developers -- to create applications that keep customers happy.

"We think this raises the bar for service providers, they've got a new level of technology base on a flexible and standards-based architecture," she said.

Many service providers, especially the wired phone companies like SBC Communications and Qwest Communications , use legacy systems with specialized hardware and software primarily focusing on transport, not content.

IBM's software family provides a first step towards application development and deployment, though it isn't the silver bullet that will lead to instant applications just by slapping the middleware onto a server.

According to Jerald Murphy, senior vice president of infrastructure strategies with the META Group, even though wrapping the software components together into ESD is helpful, telcos will still need to focus on integrating the software within the network.

"The reality is, especially for large service providers, is that these legacy systems aren't just going to disappear, but as the market changes and the target of the market changes, the thing service providers are going to have to be is more flexible and adapting to what new services may need to be offered," he said. "The piece parts pulled together will help, but I think integration will still be required, either through the service provider or with consort with a systems integrator."

He does think the software is getting released at a good time, however. Telcos, facing competition from not just other telephone companies but cable and satellite providers, are looking at new technology to provide more applications (content) that will retain and keep customers.

ESD is just one example of IBM's efforts to grab market share within verticals. With the generalized enterprise software sector largely accounted for and industry-specific companies clamoring for software that doesn't require significant overhaul by system integrators, IBM has retooled much of its software division to reach individual industries. Earlier this year, Big Blue rolled out a similar service for the energy and utilities companies.

The first telco to sign up with IBM's middleware is Sprint , which will use the software mainly as a portal within its wireless phone division.

"Customers are increasingly looking to bring the desktop portal to mobile devices remote information access and the Sprint Business Mobility Framework allows for this timely exchange of information," said Paget Alves, Sprint president of strategic business markets group. "This middleware allows the developer to concentrate on the value added portions of the solution and not spend valuable development cycles managing the over-the-air connection."