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Big Blue receives 'A' for effort, leads the pack

A report card issued by a Massachusetts research firm has IBM out front with a sizeable lead infrastructure software space.

IBM is head of the class when it comes to infrastructure software vendors. Over the past year, Big Blue has been able to widen its lead over its nearest competitors, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems Inc. , according to Boston-based Summit Strategies Inc.

IBM remains the infrastructure software pacesetter when it comes to dynamic computing.
 Dwight Davis
vice president and practice director Summit Strategies

Although IBM has accumulated a sizeable lead over the competition, Sun has laid out a very clear roadmap of how it intends to compete in the dynamic utility computing market, and has established what one analyst said is "arguably the best technology vision about how it can attack this market."

Infrastructure software is generally defined as that middle layer of software within an application environment that allows for two separate programs to communicate and operate. The key word is integration, and middleware is often embedded into the application software. Much of IBM's software portfolio is made up of middleware, including WebSphere and Tivoli Content Manager. Other infrastructure software products include Sun's Java Enterprise Suite and N1 Grid Portfolio.

Dwight Davis, vice president and practice director at Summit Strategies and author of the report, which was issued last week, said although Sun is slowly moving up the list, IBM remains the "vendor to beat."

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IBM increased its lead in the market because it has aligned its entire company in terms of vertical solutions, as well as partnering with its ISVs, said Mary Turner, vice president and practice director at Summit.

"What's happening every day more and more is that they are able to talk with partners about business transitions, as well as the business technology side of things," Turner said.

This approach differs from the four other vendors evaluated in the report: Microsoft, Sun, Oracle Corp. and San Jose, Calif.-based BEA Systems Inc.

"These other folks we looked at are more grounded by infrastructure roots," Turner said. "In general, Sun and BEA are very infrastructure-structured companies."

In his report, Davis lists the four most important efforts from IBM in relation to a dynamic computing perspective, including the launch of a business-process management initiative aimed at linking a business-process view of the infrastructure to the IT systems; an ongoing series of announcements intended to help corporate customers accelerate the move from point-to-point Web services to service-oriented architectures; a vertical go-to-market strategy ; and the launch of its virtualization engine, which is a mix of provisioning and management tools.

"Thanks to these and many other initiatives that share the on-demand theme and objective, IBM remains the infrastructure software pacesetter when it comes to dynamic computing," Davis said.

The key for Sun when it comes to catching up to IBM may lie in its subscriber licensing ideas, Turner said.

"Sun is certainly being very creative," Turner said. "It's sort of a per-employee per-year subscription model for the job enterprise system, and there is certainly some potential in that they can attract a different kind of customer base. Sun is positioned to really take a serious position in the global markets."

The subscription model mentioned by Turner is a $100 per-employee per-year subscription license that lets customers deploy any or all of the more than 12 products in the JES suite in any configuration during the term of the license.

Turner said China is a good example, because that market is positioned for the next wave of computing beyond computers running Windows where the vast majority of the world will be using phones, PDAs and more stripped-down computing devices.

"That vision of Sun's is very powerful, and it is obviously at a very early stage, but they've realized you can't take on an imbedded player at their own game," Turner said. "It's quite exciting to see what they're doing."

Turner said one thing Microsoft appears to be doing is increasing its level of investment in the area of infrastructure software. The recent hiring of former IBM Global Services vice president Dev Mukherjee to lead marketing for the Windows Server group could also be a shot in the arm.

Microsoft was ranked No. 2 on the report card, and has made progress on its Dynamic Systems Initiative core foundation, the Systems Definition Model. However, Davis said that the company remains reluctant to promote sweeping initiatives on par with IBM's On Demand or Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Adaptive Enterprise, and instead has focused on narrower technologies and products that address more immediate needs.

"By bringing in an IBM executive, Microsoft may be poised to present a more unified face to the market, but right now they really don't have a coordinated set of offers. [Meanwhile] IBM has worked very hard to offer solutions that reach across all the pieces like insurance and processing systems." Turner said.

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