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J2EE Journal: Article

WebSphere Journal Exclusive Interview: What's Happening in WebSphere

Jack Martin Talks to Tom Inman of IBM WebSphere Software

Last month, Jack Martin, editor-in-chief of WebSphere Journal, and Tom Inman, vice president of product management and marketing, IBM WebSphere Software, talked about the differences between WebSphere and WebLogic. This month, they look at what's happening in WebSphere now, and plans for the future.

Jack Martin: What was your background? What did you do before you did this?
Tom Inman: I joined sales and marketing right out of college and have been here ever since.

JM: What school did you go to?
TI: I went to Michigan State University, where I earned a Bachelor of Science in engineering and an MBA in marketing and finance. I needed money to pay for school and I landed an internship with IBM just outside of Michigan State in Lansing, Michigan. I hit it off with the branch manager and the sales manager very well. They tried to hire me before I finished school and they were going to pay for the rest of it. I thought the opportunity to work for IBM made sense, but I wanted to get out of Michigan, having grown up there. It is a great place to call home, but I was young and needed to explore more of the world. I coerced them into helping me find a job in San Francisco because I wanted to move to the West Coast. This was back in the mid-'80s.

I spent a number of years in San Francisco, but I have been here in the New York area for 8 years.

I have spent my career mostly between sales and marketing. I had a short stint as the executive assistant to Dr. Irving Wladawsky-Berger, IBM's head of technology and chief visionary.

Tom Inman - Vice President of Product Management and Marketing, IBM WebSphere Software

JM: I've met him twice. They were both enlightening conversations.
TI: He is a visionary who actually is quite grounded in reality. In my experience working for Irving, there was some technology developed by IBM for the 1996 Olympics and the Web site. Irving asked me to take a look at this technology to see if we could actually make a business out of it. To make a long story short, the ideas and technology used for the Olympics became the seeds for what became WebSphere. We set up a small group of people with business and technology backgrounds and built the initial business plan.

JM: Were you involved when Don Ferguson first got involved?
TI: Yes. Don was working on an initiative, which I'm sure he talked to you about, called IBM Component Broker. Don's ideas, which went into Component Broker, in many ways became the reference architecture and design that shaped most of the major technology specifications that went into the creation and development of J2EE.

There were some great ideas behind Component Broker and some challenges. One of the challenges, quite frankly, was that it was too complex for what the general market was seeking. I pushed very hard for a more basic, simpler technology and product to introduce into the marketplace.

At that point, the predominant customer need was for a simple, standards-based Web interaction server. This would enable self-service applications to be built and deployed on the Web and would enable connectivity to some back-end systems and applications such as CICS, DB2 databases, Tuxedo, Oracle databases, or whatever back end the customer might have. In that, we needed a product that was properly suited for the market and so I helped push the design for what became the first WebSphere products. Those were WebSphere Application Server and WebSphere Studio, which we introduced in May of '98.

So, did I work with Don? Absolutely. And we have worked together to translate various engineering ideas into appropriate offerings designed to meet the needs of the market over the years.

JM: I didn't know that you were one of the original WebSpherians until just now.
TI: I like to keep a pretty low profile.

JM: I've heard from a few people that you're an enormous advocate for your clients. How do you go about actually advocating, inside an enormous company like IBM, for a specific customer?
TI: That's a good question, Jack, one that I appreciate because our clients' needs and their satisfaction with IBM as a provider of technologies and solutions is why IBM exists. My first priority is to spend enough time with the clients and the business partners to learn first hand what it is they need. The good news about customers and business partners is that they're pretty vocal when they have a problem they're trying to solve. They are not shy about telling people about it.

I think those companies that can actually step forward and solve their problems are those that are going to get the business. So, lesson number one is to listen closely and, especially, to understand what it is that the client is seeking to do.

I use my position in the organization to be an advocate for the client's needs. I work closely with the product managers, the lead architects, and the lead development managers on those particular requirements to make sure that what we are creating meets the needs of the real world clients.

JM: Are you saying that if you had a customer that said, "Tom, listen, we've got this problem and it's Problem X" and the product didn't currently support it that you could potentially have those types of features brought forward?
TI: Absolutely. We do that regularly. That is, we ensure that we are listening to what the client needs and we ensure that we're confirming our understanding. We also need to be careful that we're addressing the needs of the general market and not simply the needs of a single customer. In the software products business, we're trying to build products that capture 40+% market share, like our WebSphere Application Server business, or 70+% market share like our WebSphere MQ messaging portfolio does. To capture this level of market share, you need to focus on client needs that represent the general market and then do a better than your competitors do in meeting the clients needs.

JM: Repeatability of sales is key.
TI: Repeatability of sales is key, so you need to make sure you are addressing the more general marketplace. Having said that, if you can find the early adopter customers that reflect the general market and partner with them, that's a very good way to accelerate delivery of products and we do that regularly. If you go back to the very first seeds of WebSphere, we put an engineering team in place in a financial services customer in the Northeast so that we made sure that what we were building reflected their needs as opposed to what we thought we might need at the development lab.

The same holds true for the first versions of the portal product. We had a good prototype, we had good designs, we said to our clients, "Okay, talk to us. Let's get out of the lab and go solve a real problem within the market." We rolled up our sleeves with a large automotive company and helped them establish an employee portal and then a customer and supplier portal. Again, we did that because we knew that their problems represented those of the broader marketplace. We figured if we applied the technology to their problem, we'd accelerate our learning. We're doing that again today around the whole space of Web services, helping clients to design and deploy their service-oriented architectures. We are rolling up our sleeves with clients and using the experience to help find and then iteratively fill the gaps we might have in our products. We use these experiments to help develop capabilities and then grind those requirements back into the core engineering and product development process. It helps us get our offerings right and accelerate time to market. I call it market development.

JM: I knew that IBM was doing that. I didn't realize that, at the sales level, someone like you was getting involved. I thought that was more of a research and development area.
TI: You know, much of the understanding comes from a background in sales, but my current role is vice president, product management and marketing, WebSphere. In the product management area, the responsibility is, in fact, to help craft the product portfolio. Working with various development teams across the various products and the portfolios to ensure that we are building the right products and then bringing them to market. As you might expect, clients typically need more than one of those products, so the question becomes how to make the client's experience with our portfolio exceed the value of the sum of the products.

One of the things that I'm very intently working on now is how we ensure that the products in the client scenarios that we're targeting, those where the client needs span more than one part of our portfolio, are well integrated and work well together to solve actual problems. So, it takes some sales background, with understanding clients' wants and needs, and then translating that into product road maps and product development and product packaging decisions and that's what I spend a majority of my time on.

JM: You're still regularly out there seeing customers?
TI: Absolutely. Last week, we held our WebSphere Inner Circle event, which is our top 200-300 customers and we had them together for three days in Las Vegas. At the Inner Circle we host a three-way information sharing - IBM to our clients, our clients to us, and our clients with each other. Topics such as best practices, what works, what doesn't work, feedback, you know, about our product road maps. I recently spent time with many of our top customers and, at the same time, we also had about 40 of our top ISV partners out there. We held different meetings, but with a similar structure, sharing our direction with them and capturing their direction back to us, and providing a forum for them to share their experiences with each other.

JM: Was it right around then that you announced a new spec that IBM just achieved?
TI: Yes. IBM announced and published its results for something called the SpecJ AppServer 2004 benchmark. We announced our support for that as well as being the first vendor to deliver published results that, by the way, are very impressive.

JM: Could you explain exactly what this performance benchmarking is and what it means?
TI: First of all, in order to help the marketplace make informed technology decisions, the industry often agrees to measurements, or vehicles, to be able to compare and contrast offerings. One of the important characteristics or attributes that clients expect out of their technology infrastructure, to support their business, is performance. The industry mobilizes around performance benchmarks. SpecJ AppServer 2004 is a benchmarking vehicle to be able to compare performance models and metrics across various application server infrastructure technologies. What we like about it at IBM is that we think it properly reflects the typical customer application patterns rather than some artificial situation. It reflects this better than its predecessor environment and forms a decent performance model for clients to use when evaluating performance as a variable in the technology decision.

The performance benchmark was collaborated on by multiple parties across the industry to reflect a real world application. The fact that IBM was the first to announce performance benchmarks, and with very impressive results, is a testament to IBM's leadership in performance.

JM: Where can we expect WebSphere to go in the next 12 months - from your perspective?
TI: The first thing to recognize is that what guides us is our clients, and our clients and our business partners' needs. More and more what we are finding are clients needing increased business flexibility and responsiveness. That requires increased IT flexibility and responsiveness. So, first, you will see us continue to build out the principles of a service-oriented architecture continuing on from the announcements we made in April. This will include enhanced technology and enhanced best practices and services offerings. We'll also be showcasing more and more proof points. Clients value seeing others adopt our technology so that they can learn from their experience. Second, more and more of the business community, as opposed to the IT community, is taking a greater role in overseeing the direction in where their business spends their money on IT.

JM: That's absolutely true.
TI: Therefore, you'll see us do more and more to position our capabilities to line up with the business problems that we see, industry by industry. Such as, how does WebSphere help enable and streamline a supply chain? If that supply chain is in retail, we help track item movement from the point of sale all the way back through the supplier network. This is called item synchronization and is an area where we, along with our partners, already have a solution. Another area is how we help telecommunications clients streamline their business support systems and their operational support systems. We help them implement an OSS/BSS integration hub to enable the integration of the various applications and business processes required to streamline their operations and help them to be serve the needs of their clients.

So, you'll see us deliver more and more solutions and solution building blocks to solve the problems that the line of business has. This gets us back to the prior question of the business partners and their role. You will see our application ISV partners playing a role here in terms of their applications being "integration ready" or their having pre-built adapters or portlets into their environment. Doing so enables their products to be more easily and cost effectively integrated with our applications, systems and processes in an enterprise or a medium business

The third area in which you will see WebSphere investments is around the tremendous momentum we have built in the mid-market by continuing to build out our Express offerings and to build out the supporting partner ecosystem. With this investment, we will enable mid-market companies to realize profit from enabling business flexibility and responsiveness from their use of our WebSphere software. Recently we introduced WBI Server Express to enable process and internal application integration for mid-market companies. This offering was really built from the ground up to meet the needs of mid-market customers and the needs of their solution providers.

The bottom line is that we will invest in continuing to lay out the building blocks and best practices for SOA enablement, to generate more and more solution capabilities, along with our business partners, that are relevant to industry-specific business problems across all major industries, and to continue to build out our relevance in the mid-market by way of Express offerings and in the thriving ecosystem of partners we have there.

JM: So, we've got a lot to look forward to. The best is yet to come!
TI: Absolutely.

JM: What do you see with the emergence of a new market in open source with JBoss?
TI: You need to be careful in equating JBoss with any of the other popular open source efforts out there. JBoss is a company that is taking standards-based application server software and introducing a different business model around it. The business model is to make the software "free" to the "purchasers" of the software and then to offer service and support around that free software. So, it's really a different business model for a commercial software company that's actually going to make its money off of service and support licenses. Services for a fee.

Do I think there's a place for a model like that in the marketplace? Yes, I do. I think it will appeal to folks who would like a lower-cost point of entry from such technology, but will require a level of service and support poured around that. It's questionable, in my mind, how long JBoss can remain that model provider because they are a very small business. They don't have a tremendous reputation for being world-class in the area of scalability or service and support, unlike somebody like IBM with a strong brand identity for service and support.

Do I see them gaining some share? Yes, I do. I see them gaining share, frankly, largely at the expense of somebody like BEA.

JM: Why is that?
TI: Because, as you know, we at IBM are just gaining the overall momentum. Second, when a buyer thinks service and support in the IT industry, one of the first companies they think about is IBM. BEA doesn't necessarily have a long-standing reputation for being capable of providing world-class service and support, and neither does JBoss. I should also note that JBoss will be seeing some competition in the open source area once Apache Geronimo comes along a bit more, so we'll see how it weathers that.

Tom Inman is vice president of product management and marketing, IBM WebSphere Software

More Stories By Jacques Martin

Jack Martin, editor-in-chief of WebSphere Journal, is cofounder and CEO of Simplex Knowledge Company (publisher of Sarbanes-Oxley Compliance Journal, an Internet software boutique specializing in WebSphere development. Simplex developed the first remote video transmission system designed specifically for childcare centers, which received worldwide media attention, and the world's first diagnostic quality ultrasound broadcast system. Jack is co-author of Understanding WebSphere, from Prentice Hall.

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