IBM Demos Its Future, And It’s SOA Plumbing

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Hidden away in the southern section of this city, surrounded by little more than farm fields, 2,200 researchers are building technology ideas into reality at the largest of IBM’s  seven West coast labs.

During a tour yesterday, IBM Research demonstrated some of those technologies under development, and provided a peek at its own future in the process.

One project is IBM’s Request Driven Provisioning technology, which provides a framework for offering business services in a Service Oriented Architecture  environment. Another is Sonoma, a Web-based capacity planning tool, and Koala, a social engineering Wiki that would allow non-programmers to easily collaborate. Fringe, an internal directory for IBM, has been transformed into a corporate social networking site.

Dan Wardman, vice president of DB2 database and Internet Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) Tools at the lab, downplayed any perceived role of IBM as an applications vendor. “We made a conscious business decision that we’re not in the applications business,” said Wardman. “Other people build apps. We’re in the business of making the infrastructure that enables that, because we think our job is to put the technology in place for business value.”

And he made it clear that the building isn’t a cloister. “IBM has made a cultural change in that everyone who comes into our company as an engineer or tech writer or any technology role, they come in and see right away the way to progress within the company is to engage with the customer and drive those changes into the product.”

The first demo of the afternoon, a multi-lingual speech-to-speech translator, is being tested in Iraq. Another demo showed streaming news feeds from all over the world, including Arabic news network al-Jazeera, which were translated in real-time to English subtitles.

Most of the solutions IBM demonstrated focused on the systems and data that often define, as well as challenge, a company’s ability to leverage its own information. As the saying goes, too many companies are data rich, and information poor.

“There are often so many technical needs in a company and they accumulate over time,” Wardman said. “There’s often a tight link between data and an application, so the data can’t be used elsewhere. We’ve got major initiatives on that.”

IT analyst Charles King of Pund-IT Research saw IBM’s own strategy on display at the event.
“They really are positioning themselves to be the infrastructure company of choice,” he told

“Notice that they sold off anything that’s become a commodity [PC division, hard drive division]. They see service oriented architecture as the wave of the future and they will be the servers and infrastructure company behind it.”

Jeremy King, vice president of engineering and application architecture for eBay, helped tell one of IBM’s infrastructure stories.

The online auction giant acts as a mediator for $1,590 in sales each second, he said. It serves up one billion page views per day with over a billion images and two petabytes  of data online. At any given time, eBay is hosting some 105 million items for sale or auction. Its datacenters plow through three billion application programming interface  calls per month and 26 billion SQL transactions per day.

King attributed eBay’s growth, with less than 50 seconds of down time per month, to its relationship with IBM, which involved Java, Tivoli, Rational development tools, hardware testing, grid computing and the use of WebSphere. “In the end, what really made the difference was IBM’s understanding of the services that we would need.”

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