IBM gets back to basics

At IBM Impact 2011, the company talks business transformation for customers but touts core WebSphere products and services

IBM Impact, the big annual IBM software event in Las Vegas, can't help but remind you how huge the company is. This year 8,000 customers, partners, and IBM employees are here -- most of them crowded into one cavernous megascreen auditorium for the keynote, kicked off by a rock 'n' roll number that saw three musicians soloing on iPads. It's a feel-good show that typically comes with significant product announcements.

First and foremost this year is the release of WAS (WebSphere Application Server) version 8, an upgrade to the company's vastly extensible integration platform. According to IBM, the new version offers improved performance, security, and availability, along with broader support for programming models and standards. The new Feature Pack for Web 2.0 and Mobile extends the reach of WAS to mobile devices.

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The emphasis on an application server may seem quaint, but WAS is actually the foundation of an endless portfolio of related products -- many of them obtained through acquisition -- including Lombardi for business process management, DataPower appliances for Web services integration, and iLog for business rules management.

More to the point, integration seems more and more to be IBM's mission in life. And with its three-year-old Smarter Planet marketing campaign, the company very much wants you to know that the exchange of data and integration of processes extends way beyond the data center to every corner of the world, from Netherlands railway ticketing to Italian fishermen selling their catch at sea via smartphone. The lead customer keynote speech at Impact was by Dr. Jeffrey Burns of Children's Hospital Boston, who spoke of IBM's efforts to develop systems that exchange diagnosis and treatment information across international borders.

In its mission to connect the world, IBM has not abandoned SOA (service-oriented architecture), as just about every other big software company has. Up there on the megascreen, a basic architectural diagram had SOA in the center, which shows the company is still committed to the idea of applications built from shared services -- and the optimization of business processes via that architecture. As usual at such conferences, the emphasis was on our era of business transformation and breakneck change, but many of the tools and concepts remain the same.

This article, "IBM gets back to basics," originally appeared at Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog, and for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.