Update: IBM buys Worklight for mobile software platform

IBM also announced a new software system for mobile device management

IBM on Tuesday announced plans to buy Worklight, a move that will give it a range of cross-platform mobile application development technologies. Terms of the deal, which is expected to close in the first quarter, were not disclosed.

Worklight, which is based in Israel, had already partnered with IBM. Its technologies include Worklight Studio, an Eclipse-based IDE (integrated development environment) and Worklight Server, described on the company's website as a "secure and scalable gateway between applications, external services, and the enterprise backend infrastructure."

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The Worklight platform is suitable for developing mobile applications for both consumers and enterprises, as well as targeted toward various industry verticals, IBM said. It includes SDKs (software development kits) for iOS, Android, Blackberry and Windows mobile devices, and "enables rich, cross-platform apps without requiring code translation, proprietary interpreters or unpopular programming languages," according to Worklight's site.

Also Tuesday, IBM announced IBM Endpoint Manager for Mobile Devices, a software platform companies can use to secure and manage employees smartphones, tablets and laptops. The software is based on technology IBM acquired through its 2010 purchase of BigFix.

Customers will be able to use the system to remove sensitive data from devices that become lost or stolen, as well as determine whether a device is meeting security compliance rules, IBM said in a statement.

IBM's close partner SAP is also trying to become a major player in mobility through its 2010 acquisition of Sybase. That deal provided SAP with the widely used Sybase Unwired mobile middleware and Afaria device management platform.

The "absolute trend" in mobile development is toward HTML5, which allows developers to write an application once and deploy it to multiple devices and mobile OSes, said Kevin Benedict, an independent analyst. Worklight has made ample investments in this area, he added.

But IBM's move to buy the company ties into a broader sea change, according to Benedict.

"Bottom line, every company that is considered an ERP vendor or has significant back-end systems is going to have to acquire a mobile platform company in order to establish that integration layer between their back-end systems and all kinds of mobile devices and mobile OSes," he said. "The desktop interfaces to those back-end systems are becoming less and less important."

Oracle "has a huge [mobility] gap that I'm absolutely expecting in 2012 they're going to have to fill," Benedict said. "IBM looks like they made that decision with the [Worklight] acquisition."

Large platform vendors can't afford to attempt to build out effective mobile platforms on their own, since they run the risk of losing customers to competitors given how hot mobility is today, according to Benedict. Mobility "takes significant investment and knowledge, even more so the knowledge," making an acquisition the best way to go, he added.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris's email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com

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