IBM's $10 billion 'on-demand' gamble, part two

In this second part of a two-part column, we'll look at IBM's Web services products that form the foundation of IBM's massive "on-demand" computing initiative.


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Continued from Part One

IBM has bet the farm on its $10 billion "on-demand" computing initiative, which it claims will transform the way that IT works and that enterprises use computing resources. In this second part of a two-part column, we'll look at IBM's Web services products that form the foundation of IBM's massive project.

Where Web services fits in
IBM's view of on-demand computing treats computing resources as if they were a utility like any other — in essence, turn on a virtual tap and you get computing power on a pay-as-you-go basis. Additionally, on-demand computing includes autonomic computing, in which computers and networks are "self-healing" and can manage themselves without human intervention. Also included is grid computing, in which network devices and computers function as a seamless grid, and any network resources can be used for computing tasks when they otherwise might be idle. Finally, IBM defines on-demand computing so broadly that it encompasses managing a business and IT departments as an integrated whole.

Bob Sutor, IBM's director for Web services technology, says that in order for on-demand computing to become a reality, "we have to clean up the plumbing" in the way that companies and network communicate across the Internet. He explains that "Web services is one of the concrete technologies for doing that…you have to make heterogeneous systems look more homogenous." In short, he says that Web services are at the core of IBM's on-demand computing strategy.

WebSphere and On-Demand computing
In practice, IBM's strategy for on-demand computing is very much a work in progress. There is no single, overarching coherent roadmap detailing the ways in which Web services products fit into the structure. To a great extent, the products are scattered throughout Big Blue's vast portfolio. But not surprisingly, at the center of the strategy is IBM's WebSphere family of products, which is also at the core of its Web services lineup. Two members of the product family in particular are important. The WebSphere Application Server Enterprise is a Web services-enabled, J2EE application server and development environment that in IBM's words "addresses the essential elements needed for an on-demand operating environment." And the WebSphere Portal offers ways to access a variety of other IBM product lines, including Lotus, Tivoli, Rational and DB2. (For more details about WebSphere, go to www-3.ibm.com/software/info1/websphere/.)

But it's not today's products, as much as products currently being developed, that will form the core of the new computing initiative. Central to it will most likely be a technology called Allegro, which is slated to be released some time in 2003 as an add-on to the WebSphere Application Server. Allegro will allow for provisioning and metering of Web services. It will allow Web service suppliers to set authentication and security for services, track Web service usage, charge for the Web services, and handle billing and related tasks. So, for example, it will allow a company to create a new revenue stream by selling Web services on a subscription or usage basis. Think of Allegro as a sophisticated water meter and set of plumbing. Just as a water meter and related hardware lets utility companies supply water and charge for it, so will Allegro allow companies to supply Web services and charge for them.

IBM wins not only by supplying the platform on which all this runs, but by supplying hosting as well — if companies don't want to host the Web services, they can contract with IBM's Global Services to do so.

Other products for On-Demand computing
Grid computing is another component of on-demand computing, and IBM has a set of products for that as well. The IBM Grid Toolbox (www.alphaworks.ibm.com/tech/gridtoolbox) runs on AIX and Linux and includes a set of software and tools for creating grids and grid-based applications. As with many other IBM products, though, the product line for grid computing is vast and sprawling, and so it's worthwhile to check out IBM's grid computing site at www-1.ibm.com/grid/, and its grid site for developers at www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/grid/ for more details.

A variety of products are available for those wanting to look to the future of autonomic computing, including a tool called Log and Trace Preview for Autonomic Computing, which is an Eclipse-based tool that lets you analyze log files created by WebSphere Application Server, IBM HTTP Server, and Apache HTTP Server. For information about that tool and others, go to www.alphaworks.ibm.com/autonomic.

The best single place to go for tools that will work with on-demand computing is to the Emerging Technologies Toolkit at IBM, at www.alphaworks.ibm.com/tech/ettk. The toolkit offers an environment for running IBM's emerging on-demand computing initiative, and includes information, background, and tools for getting familiarizing yourself and getting started with autonomic technologies, Web services, and grids. Included are architectural overviews, sample programs, and a variety of tools, including a fully functional SOAP engine (Apache AXIS), and grid (Globus ToolkitTM) infrastructure.

Where we go from here
These tools are all still somewhat in their infancy, and to a certain extent, some of them are more for proof-of-concept that for building on-demand computing services today. But all of them make use of Web services one way or another. So the best way prepare yourself for IBM's on-demand future is to work with real-life Web services tools available today, notably the WebSphere product line. That way, you'll be ready for working with IBM, whether on-demand computing turns into a reality or ends up being not much more than a branding slogan.



About the Author

Preston Gralla, a well-known technology expert, is the author of more than 20 books, including "How the Internet Works," which has been translated into 14 languages and sold several hundred thousand copies worldwide. He is an expert on Web services and the author of a major research and white paper for the Software and Information Industry Association on the topic. Gralla was the founding managing editor of PC Week, a founding editor and then editor and editorial director of PC/Computing, and an executive editor for ZDNet and CNet. He has written about technology for more than 15 years for many major magazines and newspapers, including PC Magazine, Computerworld, CIO Magazine, eWeek and its forerunner PC Week, PC/Computing, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Dallas Morning News among others. As a well-known technology guru, he appears frequently on TV and radio shows and networks, including CNN, MSNBC, ABC World News Now, the CBS Early Show, PBS's All Things Considered and others. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including from the Computer Press Association for the Best Feature in a Computer Publication. He can be reached at preston@gralla.com.

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This was first published in April 2003

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