Big Blue Cooks Up A Storm in Big Easy

By Clint Boulton

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IBM this week announced a number of new software and services aimed at bringing its Linux, on-demand and autonomic computing strategies to the fore.

Perhaps the most eye-catching of the slew of news at its DeveloperWorks Live! 2003 show in New Orleans, was Big Blue's strategy to help developers cope with ancient spaghetti code that has been fiddled with so much, it appears a tangled shadow of its former self. The Armonk, N.Y. firm Thursday launched an attack plan consisting of software and services to curb the problems of gnarled programming code that dates back 20, or even 30 years.

The objective is to help businesses cost-effectively manage classic software applications that still run about two-thirds of the world's business operations, including most major credit card transactions and stock trades. Such legacy applications, as they're called, handle about 30 billion transactions daily. While a favorable feat for businesses, IBM is looking to cash in by integrating proprietary systems with its Web services products, an area where most industry experts recognize IBM as the market leader.

IBM's argument for the move, and one that probably won't meet much opposition given the current economic climate, is that enterprises can't afford to rip and replace legacy software. Though it might be the latest, it's hardly the first; other major systems vendors such as HP have worked on similar projects.

IBM Global Services, which is leading this strategy, is offering Application Portfolio Management Services and Legacy Transformation Services. The former allow IBM consultants to gauge a company's applications and make recommendations on which applications to retain, alter or throw out based on a company's business strategy. The latter includes modular services that can be used to rework and shift applications on the Web. IBM's technical team will make the changes to an organization's legacy applications.

To be sure, IBM will steer customers toward its "pay as you go" model, part of its overarching e-business on-demand computing push. Big Blue stands to benefit greatly from established, well-heeled businesses, such as investment firms and banks, who will be shelling out cash for IBM's services and software.

Stephen Lane, research vice president in the IT services group at Abderdeen, said IBM's move to sew antiquated legacy applications up for major investment, insurance and retail firms is a great opportunity.

"Its not just the CICS applications that will be affected, but those for ERP and others written in COBOL as well," Lane told internetnews.com. "It's like the old saying, when you buy a new car and drive it off the lot... the same can be said for applications once they are up and running and prove they are stable and maintainable -- they become legacy systems with thousands or even millions of lines of code."

One practical example of such an application is one used to access and check frequent flier miles of a major airline, such as Delta, Lane said. Applications drive that data from a mainframe to the end user.

However, rather than focus on the sexy, but forward-looking Web services issue, Lane said the greater immediacy for firms considering IBM's new strategy is cost reduction. "This isn't going to be the Big Bang, every one get on the Web services truck issue."

"Companies that have done a lot of mergers and acqusitions may have a lot of legacy systems," Lane said. "A CIO might say, 'how do I reduce cost?' IBM is proposing they migrate to lower-cost systems that don't rely on .NET or J2EE. They Web-enable it through a portal or Web browser. That way they can make it readily available to their business partners."

Lane said the incremental, A to Z price scheme is especially attractive to cost-conscious CIOs looking to save. "You don't have to go to Z, you can stop at M and still get benefits."

There is software in the mix as well. In concert with the services, IBM is offering new applications from its WebSphere brand to help developers bridge the gap between old and new applications by making them more suitable for an on-demand computing environment.

Jim Rhyne, legacy applications architect at IBM, told internetnews.com earlier the firm has crafted new development tools that can create applications that integrate traditional software such as IBM's own 35-year-old CICS transaction processing software, which is used by customers to handle billions of transactions per day.

Rhyne said developers may also transform "green screen" applications running on IBM zSeries servers to a point-and-click interface piped to Web browsers, helping mainframe developers cut development time from weeks to hours.

Lastly, IBM has created a new visual builder to help construct Web applications that conform to open standards for IBM's iSeries server. Software "wizards" make it easy to build e-business applications that reuse existing programs, data and programming skills.

In related news, IBM Thursday also rolled out a new Linux-oriented hardware/software combination package for developers to build software on, and sell applications to, their customers. As promised, the firm also made good on publishing an XQuery tool, called XML for Tables, which uses the XQuery interface to tap structured data in relational databases and present it as XML data.

Wednesday the giant vendor unmasked new management software from its Tivoli line equipped with new self-managing features to help find and fix bugs in systems before they become network-wide problems.