Rational, IBM Model a New World

IBM using rational technologies as base for enterprise strategy.

IBMs $2.1 billion acquisition of rational Software Corp. this month not only gives IBM a big feather in its software development tools cap, but it also changes the landscape of the software development industry.

IBM will use Rationals modeling tools as the foundation of its enterprise strategy, built around the software life cycle: design, development, deployment and maintenance.

Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive of IBMs Software Group, in Somers, N.Y., said Rational, of Cupertino, Calif., will keep its brand name under IBM and will join Tivoli, Lotus Software, WebSphere and DB2 as the fifth unit in the group. Rational CEO Mike Devlin will remain with the company, working under Mills.

The Rational deal allows IBM to keep pace with Borland Software Corp.s recent acquisitions of BoldSoft MDE Aktiebolag, of Stockholm, Sweden, and TogetherSoft Inc., in Raleigh, N.C., and strengthens IBMs position in Web services and in the promotion of modeling and design methodologies, which, developers said, is Rationals specialty.

"IBMs decision to buy Rational is a key commitment to software developed by design, specifically Model Driven Architecture," said Richard Soley, CEO of Object Management Group Inc., of Needham, Mass. "Compared with Borlands recent purchases of BoldSoft and TogetherSoft and Microsoft [Corp.s] support for OMGs [UML, or Unified Modeling Language] and XML Metadata Interchange in their Visual Studio .Net suite, its clear that the major commercial integrated development environment vendors—and the open-source ones, too—are moving to model-driven systems."

Ron Schmelzer, an analyst with ZapThink LLC, a Cambridge, Mass., market research company, said, "Rational has a great grasp on design-time modeling and business process representation. What Web services and service-oriented architectures introduce is the notion of run-time modeling and run-time business process configuration. This is a new area, and Rational and IBM have yet to produce anything for this area. ... Maybe we can expect some serious progress in working to move UML and other modeling concepts closer to support the run-time nature of SOA/Web services."

However, Rationals UML and overall approach may be too heavy for many developers, according to some.

"Its not at all clear that UML or the Rational approach in general maps well to Web services," said Eric Newcomer, chief technology officer of Iona Technologies Inc., of Waltham, Mass. Rationals development life-cycle tools, such as ClearCase, may become more valuable to IBM than other technology in Rationals entourage, Newcomer said.

"These are pretty heavyweight tools to use for a lightweight solution like XML. There are a lot of XML tools out there, commodity-level tools, very cheap or open source. Web services developers are more likely to use these kinds of tools than they are to find the Web-services-applicable parts of the bigger tools like Rational, that provide lots and lots of functionality that may or may not be related," Newcomer said.

Others are worried about what perhaps too much consolidation is doing to the development tools competition.

"This is going to be an interesting one to watch," said Ferdy Khater, director of application development at Continental Airlines Inc., in Houston. "Microsoft with its Visio strategy versus IBM and its latest $2 billion hammer. Remember, with software development, its not always how; its the end product that counts."

"The software development tools platform competitive space appears to be consolidating around three major vendors: IBM, Microsoft and Borland, with additional vendors such as Computer Associates [International Inc.], Oracle Corp. and Sun [Microsystems Inc.] working hard to crack the top tier," said Brent Carlson, co-founder and vice president of technology at LogicLibrary Inc., in Pittsburgh. "I expect all of these vendors to continue to look for opportunities to differentiate themselves with ... products that can give their particular platform a competitive advantage," Carlson said.

But Ionas Newcomer said a lot remains to be seen. "This seems a bit like IBM looking to get itself into a better position with respect to competing with Microsoft," he said. "With Microsoft being a very large reseller of Rational technology, this would seem to put these two giants into a big fight. But its not at all clear that the fight is going to be very meaningful to the rest of us. Rationals development tools definitely represent the high end of the market, and the IDE market is subject to constant change and upheaval. The new generation of developers may or may not respond to the high-end tools."

Newcomer said grass-roots efforts in the developer space could take off and change things further.

"They have the potential to completely revolutionize the software industry," Newcomer said. "Its even possible that Web services will obsolete application servers. Its clear IBM is betting that the future will be based on the past, and Im not convinced that it will be. The software industry is still somewhat immature compared to other industries, and the key driving factor remains the cost of labor in developing applications and systems, and there is still a lot of room for improvement, which is unlikely to come from established vendors trying to consolidate their position like this."