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Mills: Security Issues Won't Slow Pervasive Computing

HAWTHORNE, N.Y. -- Concern over data security in enterprise wireless networks is not the obstacle blocking the adoption of pervasive and mobile computing systems, according to the director of IBM's software group.

No, the key concern for companies mulling mobile computing investments remains the same: "business model, business model, business model," said Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive of IBM's Software Group.

"At the end of the day, as much fun as [wireless] devices are, you have to be tuned into the business model," Mills said Tuesday during a briefing for reporters about IBM's new wireless middleware upgrades.

To that end, technology companies such as IBM and others "have to think through and figure out how to leverage device capability and apply it in a way that is going to deliver value to those customers," he said.

"The devices themselves, the companies that manufacture those devices, the kinds of applications and solutions that companies and partners work with, will be the key drivers to really getting the market moving around pervasive computing," said Mills.

In a bid to put some gas in mobile computing's growth engine, IBM is rolling out new versions of its WebSphere family of middleware in order to help partner software providers and developers create applications that can speak to a variety of operating systems, and switch to different wireless network protocols. Called Extension Services for WebSphere Everyplace, the flagship middleware is designed to ease the porting of applications and services to pervasive devices.

In the process, Big Blue is also staking a claim to building development tools that provide the widest support for handheld operating systems. That includes WebSphere lines that support Palm, Linux, Symbian and Microsoft's Pocket PC operating systems, which collectively represent about 90 percent of the handheld market.

Call it a mobile WebSphere line of software for Java-enabled applications that are less chatty than desktop-based applications -- but can convey much the same meaning as bigger programs.

Rather than rewriting applications for mobile devices, or calling for a mini-browser to access data or information, the WebSphere suite provides a services-oriented runtime environment that enables connection independent deployment and lifecycle management of applications and network services, officials said. In short, the environment helps push out portlets to do the job with data that bandwidth-hungry browsers do on a desktop.

Mills also stressed that authentication and security issues really aren't deal-stoppers for wireless computing deployments. Essentially, customers are forced to re-examine their current corporate security -- how many firewalls they have enabled, or who has access to what -- when rolling out mobile computing access.

In addition, IBM said its identity management software, such as Tivoli Access Manager, is already embedded in WebSphere Everyplace. Company officials said the Tivoli system helps customers automate management of security policies, whether employees are wired or wireless and regardless of what type of device they are using to access data behind a corporate firewall.

IBM also demonstrated another key component of its WebSphere Everyplace suite: its DB2 Everyplace database product for network-connected devices. Streamlined to provide enterprise-level queries for devices, but at a fraction of the processing bandwidth for industry-standard SQL applications, DB2 Everyplace includes a small-footprint database and the DB2 synchronization server. It too runs on the widest variety of mobile platforms in the industry, including embedded Linux, Microsoft's Pocket PC, QNX Neutrino, IBM said.

Independent software vendors that have integrated IBM's WebSphere Device Management software include X Point, a managed recovery software vendor. The company said it is using IBM WebSphere Device Management software to provide carrier-grade services to wireless service providers.

Another independent software vendor (ISV), Bitfone, said it plans to integrate its own identity management offering with IBM's (Tivoli-based) WebSphere Device Management software.

Voice-activated applications were not overlooked in the demonstrations either. IBM said it is Voice XML 2.0-compliant in its WebSphere Voice Server 4.2, WebSphere Voice Application Access 4.2 and WebSphere Voice Response 3.1.5 development environments.

Meanwhile, IBM said its multimode development environment for Pocket PC now allows speech and graphics to be used in the same interaction. The upgrade is an extension of IBM's already announced multimodal browser aimed at the Sharp Zaurus Linux PDA that runs on the Opera browser.

Rod Adkins, general manager of IBM's pervasive computing division, said the latest WebSphere upgrade "expands what is increasingly becoming a louder industry call-to-arms for the creation of an ecosystem that can allow on demand access to any content from any device on any network."

Indeed, he added, a key provision in the WebSphere Everyplace platform is that it can help devices navigate different network protocols they are jumping into in order to access data, such as a Wi-Fi-based or a GPRS networks. Updates reference to Opera browser