IBM Feels Your Integration Pain

Thursday May 6th 2004 by Clint Boulton
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Big Blue trots out a new piece of integration software for midmarket customers. With WBI-Express, IBM says it will help small businesses tie together disparate applications both internally and with suppliers, vendors and partners.

Regardless of the size of your business, you are most likely running a variety of applications that need to share data. It's also probable that you have vendors, suppliers and partners using yet another set of applications. For optimal efficiency, all those applications should be able to share information. Replacing all your applications definitely isn't an option, so it all comes down to integration. More specifically, it's all about integration without programming.

This type of service-oriented integration is becoming increasingly important for small and mid-size businesses (SMBs), so it's no surprise that the major players are anxious to help. IBM yesterday launched WebSphere Business Integration Server Express (WBI-Express), which it describes as the new keystone of IBM's business process integration strategy for small and medium business.

The idea of the new middleware is to make it easier for you to integrate IT systems, business processes and applications at a time when business 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.

Integration on Demand
Noting that integration dovetails nicely with Big Blue's company-wide on-demand strategy to help customers procure resources automatically and (hopefully) easily,

"Customers do not want to rip and replace legacy applications," Mark Ouelette, vice president of worldwide SMB sales, IBM Software Group, said. "They are looking to integrated both internally and externally depending on what market place requirements and mandates exist."

Ouelette pointed out that among the challenges facing 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.

No Programming Required
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. Cosby said the needs of smaller businesses are different from those of larger customers. While the core technology may the same as that used enterprise offerings, WBI-Express is tailored for SMBs that need a complete solution, Crosby said. "It's like heart surgery. We pulled out the heart and put it into a new body to serve small and midsize businesses."

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.

Dan Muse contributed to this article.

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