Interview: Rational’s Devlin touts merger with IBM

Exec co-founded company, is now an IBM official

Mike Devlin is general manager of Rational Software as part of the IBM Software Group. Prior to IBM’s February 2003 acquisition of Rational Software for $2.1 billion, Devlin was Rational CEO and was a co-founder of the company in 1981. InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill talked with Devlin about the merger with IBM, open source trends, and other issues in an interview at the Rational Software Development User Conference in Grapevine, Texas, earlier this week.

InfoWorld: Talk about the genesis of Rational.

Devlin: Software technology was moving very slowly. So we wanted to bring to market support for software development for using modern ideas, like what today you would call component-based development or object-oriented design, which was a bit ahead of the market. Our early customers were mostly aerospace and defense and some large telecom companies that were adopting [the] technology early. So they were more technical customers

InfoWorld: Where does object-oriented development stand at that point? Has it simply morphed into component development?

Devlin: Yes, that’s very common. An object-oriented technology is sort of given at the moment in terms of how you build software. So there are strengths and weaknesses, and in fact you have to learn how to not go overboard in using [inheritance], for example, which is one of the key features of object-oriented. The basic ideas of encapsulation, abstraction, [etc.], have been very successful and widely used. Some of the capabilities, such as inheritance from object-oriented technology, [are] very excellent in the analysis phase [but] you have to be a little careful in the implementation phase to not go overboard with it. But most of the frameworks we use are built in C++ or Java, or other languages with object-oriented programming. Component-based technology has been very successful, that’s the way all of our products are built.

InfoWorld: How has acquisition played out 17 months after the fact? Was there any resistance similar to the PeopleSoft/Oracle battle?

Devlin: No, that was a friendly acquisition. I think the motivation on the IBM side was that IBM had a very close partnership with Rational, there was a recognition that developers are a key constituency in driving the full middleware platform, and Rational had market-leading products and by acquiring Rational it would be a great addition to the IBM middleware portfolio, both as a business itself, the tools business, but also [through] enabling the rest of the products.

InfoWorld: You didn’t see any problem with redundancy in the product lines at all?

Devlin: There was virtually no overlap or conflicting products between the two companies because we had been working together already. The only place there had been an overlap is that IBM had had a product -- I forget the name of it -- that was a configuration management product that competed a little with ClearCase. It was a couple years before the acquisition. [IBM] discontinued that product and began to ship] ClearCase as the IBM offering [via OEM arrangement]. ClearCase was a product that we bought back in the 1996 or 1997 timeframe from a company called PureAtria, which, combined with our modeling products that we had developed, gave us leadership in both the modeling and the configuration management and change management [stages]. Our customers were telling us back then, this was the mid- to late-1990s, that they wanted a single life cycle solution. So we drove the consolidation of the industry by acquiring the market-leading companies in a number of areas, including requirements management, configuration management, and testing, and then integrated those into a Rational suite.

InfoWorld: It was mentioned in one of the speeches this morning that there was some pain in integrating IBMs' and Rational’s products. What was that pain about, and how have you overcome it? Or are you still experiencing it?

Devlin: Most of it was the normal kind of pain you go through in switching systems. You know, the field [sales force] has to learn new systems for managing customer leads, for placing purchase orders, new contract vehicles for our customers, for support agreements, and so forth. Most of it was the normal stuff that you would run into doing integration. The good news is from a team point of view, the integration went smoothly because we had similar cultures. Both companies were very focused on customer success, on technology and innovation, and on building high-performance teams. Cultural integration of the teams [worked pretty well].

InfoWorld: So when IBM acquired Rational, you went from being CEO of Rational to a general manager at IBM?

Devlin: Yes.

InfoWorld: And you didn’t have to relinquish any control or anything like that? Were there any issues with that?

Devlin: Running of the Rational business and major parts of the IBM tools effort were moved into this business. So Eclipse, for example, is now part of this business. In terms of that responsibility, in terms of the motivations of doing it, the primary motivation is to accelerate our business so we can go faster in two dimensions. One, the access to technology. It’s certainly a lot easier to work with the IBM technology as part of IBM than as a separate company. And second, access to a lot of customers that it was very difficult for Rational to reach. We’ve definitely seen that with whole industries where IBM has a very a strong presence, Rational has [had] limited presence.

InfoWorld: Such as which ones?

Devlin: Well, for example, in retailing and distribution and packaged consumer goods, IBM is much stronger there, in the financial services industry, while Rational had a lot of customers there, it’s nothing compared to IBM’s presence in that market.

InfoWorld: What does Rational think of Eclipse, which is kind of a give-away-the-store kind of IDE where you get it for nothing? How do you make money off of that if IBM’s giving it away?

Devlin: The way we view it is that Eclipse is a framework for building tools as well as a Java IDE. And it’s in our interest for Eclipse to be widely adopted throughout the entire development community, the academic community, and so forth because if those developers are mature in their needs for what they want from a development environment in the more scalable, more sophisticated environments, they naturally [feed up] to our full-scale products. So it’s both a common technology that allows us to collaborate with partners and customers and it’s a great lead-generation vehicle for us because as people use that technology and they need more capability, they come to us.

InfoWorld: Does Rational offer any of its own products through an open source format at this point?

Devlin: None of our full products, but we’ve contributed a number of things to the Eclispe.org organization. So the configuration management support in Eclipse we contributed some time ago [and] the UML 2.0 metamodel that is the core of our UML 2.0 implementation. And then [in] the next release of our products, we’re contributing that also to Eclipse. So we are contributing substantial intellectual property.

InfoWorld: This has been kind of beaten to death, but you mentioned again this morning that IBM is in favor of open sourcing Java. Sun would respond that IBM does not open source WebSphere. How would you respond to something like that? Maybe you will open source WebSphere?

Devlin: I’m probably not the right one to comment on it. In general, something like Java is very different than WebSphere. WebSphere is a product, Java is a language. People [get] languages like C++. That was an ANSI standard, and then eventually an ISO standard. So I think we would be fine with some kind of [language] standardization through ANSI or ISO or whatever, or open sourcing it. The main thing is that [a language] is not a product that you sell. You don’t sell Java per se, you may sell app servers or databases or whatever. But the specification, the basic language, we believe should be [in the domain of the] community.

InfoWorld: Now some have said that IBM is doing more with Java these days with Sun. Does IBM have a problem with Sun having this stewardship of Java? Do you think you could do a better job or do you think the industry in general just wants open source?

Devlin: Well, we’re mostly responding to what our customers want, and our customers want to be able to use Java, but they want to know, one, if it’s not going to be a fragmented language, that it’s going to be a shared standard; and two, they want to know that we can innovate quickly as there’s new capabilities and platforms and functionality and so forth. And I think that’s the concern with the current process. It’s hard to achieve that.

InfoWorld: It takes a while, but it is achievable, you can add a lot of technologies to Java.

Devlin: And we’ve done it. And as you said, IBM has contributed an enormous amount of technology.

InfoWorld: How does IBM view competitors such as Compuware or Borland [Software] or even Microsoft with Visual Studio?

Devlin: As I mentioned in the session earlier today, my view of competitors has always been [that] it’s good to have other people in the market, it keeps you on your toes, but primarily we focus on customers and what the customers want. So we’ve historically been the market leader. I view that we want to look ahead, meet customer needs, and then the other guys are reacting to us. So when we acquired PureAtria and all these other companies and built a full suite, it caused the other companies to have to enter this market and try to put together a life cycle suite because they had no choice. I mean we had, in effect, to find the market.

InfoWorld: What is the main goal of Atlantic version of the IBM Software Development?

Devlin: There’s a couple different goals and the one goal is to integrate a number of our tools that weren’t fully integrated into Eclipse, into the Eclipse platform. So a lot of the new products are fully integrated into Eclipse at this point. Second, taking advantage of that is to provide better integration between our products because they’re now fully in the Eclipse platform and then of course a lot of new functionality. UML 2.0 was an example we talked about earlier.

InfoWorld: Atlantic won’t be offered as a single CD with the entire software platform, will it? It’s going to be a variety of products, correct?

Devlin: It maybe one CD, but yes, there’ll be more than one packaging [option]. In particular, you may remember the picture that had the different roles: the tester, analyst, architect? So there’ll be packaging of the technology aimed at each of those roles.

InfoWorld: Now, is Rational pretty much a Java tools company, or .Net, or both? How do you see yourselves? Borland sees itself as everything to everybody.

Devlin: We don’t see ourselves as everything to everybody. First of all we see ourselves as providing this full life cycle that I talked about this morning, from the very early business end through to operations and deployment, back to the business and [in the] development again. A lot of that is independent of the implementation language and platform. Secondly, in terms of languages and runtime environments and so forth, we support all the ones that are important to our customers. So that does include C++ and Java, etc. And from a platform point of view, it means our tools need to run on a wide range of platforms, you know, AIX and Windows and so forth, but also Solaris and HP-UX and other platforms. But we have large ClearCase users that are very focused on HP servers or some server, [such as] Solaris servers, so we support all those. So in the sense of having support for heterogeneous platforms for development, targeting heterogeneous runtime environments, that is our business and a lot of it’s independent of language

InfoWorld: Has Linux been an opportunity or more of something that you had to recast [your] product line to accommodate? What has Linux meant to Rational?

Devlin: Well, Linux is an opportunity in a couple dimensions. It’s been fairly straightforward to support Linux as one of the platforms that our tools run on because we run on these -- either because our products were already there in several cases or by becoming part of the Eclipse framework. It’s also a business opportunity as customers are adopting Linux. It creates an opportunity to provide an environment for them for developing Linux applications. Or where we see a lot of this is people building systems with Linux in the embedded world. Telecommunications, aerospace, and other embedded systems are being built with Linux.

InfoWorld: OK, we’re almost out of time here. Anything you wanted to touch on that I haven’t thought to ask about?

Devlin: I talked a little bit about this, this morning, but I mentioned this notion of a software development business platform, and we’ve had increasing response to that from our customers. For those customers that are sort of in a product business, like the automotive companies or the telecom equipment guys, they understand that very easily and adopt that pretty quickly. For some of our other customers, it takes them a little longer to fully understand that idea, but that’s becoming adopted pretty widely. The key thing is that once they recognize the business process they have to invest in, they understand that standardizing across their different departments and different organizations so they can share assets, move people around, and so forth to have a common process, so that’s been working pretty well the last 12 months or so.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.