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IBM fills in on-demand picture

Providing a glimpse into its internal technology planning, Big Blue details the products that fit its on-demand initiative for making businesses more flexible.

LAS VEGAS--IBM detailed the technical underpinnings of its on-demand initiative this week, saying growing adoption of on-demand will allow the computing giant to outpace competitors in 2004.

During the company's PartnerWorld Conference here, the computing giant on Tuesday shed light on how it has internally broken down the on-demand vision of more flexible business into its component technology pieces. Big Blue also laid out a road map describing the technology projects that companies should undergo to become more responsive and flexible.

The creation of a list of products and services that make up the "on-demand operating environment" was a response to business partners, such as independent software vendors (ISVs) and customers that wanted more clarity around on-demand computing, said Scott Hebner, IBM's vice president of marketing and strategy for developer relations.

"ISVs wanted a more prescriptive model for how to go to market with IBM," Hebner said. The on-demand operating environment is the "open infrastructure to integrate and automate business processes."

IBM CEO Sam Palmisano acknowledged during his keynote speech on Monday that the company has had trouble getting the rest of the industry to understand on-demand. "When we first rolled it out, there was a lot of confusion around on-demand," Palmisano said.

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Palmisano described on-demand as a business model that allows companies to respond to changing market conditions, such as new business opportunities or competitive threats. To achieve that responsiveness, companies need to commit to a standards-based computing environment and integrate their internal computing systems, as well as link up electronically with partners or customers.

The on-demand operating environment specifically details IBM's products that IBM asserts will help corporations become more efficient and flexible. IBM's products correspond with an "on-demand road map," or a series of technology projects which IBM recommends company undergo.

The five components are:

• Standards-based software, such as IBM's Java 2 Enterprise Edition WebSphere line, Linux, and Web services software.

• IBM's Lotus Workplace software to ease collaboration between people.

• Integration products, based on IBM's WebSphere Business Integration and DB2 Information Integrator, for connecting applications and sharing data between back-end systems.

• So-called infrastructure automation software called Tivoli Intelligent Orchestrator for better utilizing data center resources.

• IBM's hosting services, which give customers the option of a per usage purchasing model.

IBM's competitors, such as Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, Computer Associates and Vertias, have each launched similar utility computing, or flexible, computing projects, although they use different marketing terms than IBM.

Adding more detail to the company's on-demand moniker could help drive awareness and improve understanding of the term "on-demand" that--as defined by IBM--encompasses many technology areas. When it was first introduced, most people associated IBM's on-demand push with hosted services, where companies purchase power on a pay-per-use basis via the network, said Amy Wohl, an analyst and president of Wohl Associates.

"It's not that the on-demand message is wrong, it's that it's complex," Wohl said. "It will take awhile before it becomes obvious to the mainstream."

One IBM partner said that this year's PartnerWorld conference has served to focus the on-demand picture. "I thought of it more narrowly as a product definition, but it's more a philosophy of making information available on demand," said Tom Mount, executive vice president of health care company Paragon Development Systems.

IBM executives said that the on-demand plan is translating into a stronger competitive footing.

"The truth is that there is plenty of business for all of us--major, major business," said Abby Kohnstamm, senior vice president of marketing for IBM, addressing the company's business partners on Tuesday. "There is no company that won't need help to stay ahead in an on-demand world."