Ascential Is Essential to IBM

Opinion: The Ascential acquisition fits well with IBM's broad ambitions in the middleware category.

If I were working for a company that I wanted IBM to acquire, Id hire Peter Gyenes right away. His win/loss stats are 2-0 with last weeks $1.1 billion acquisition by IBM of Ascential Software, headed by Gyenes.

For record keepers out there, he was the president of Informix when IBM bought the database company for $1 billion in 2001. And the similarities dont end there: Both companies were based in Westboro, Mass., and IBMs general manager of data management solutions, Janet Perna, played a key role in both acquisitions.

There is a reason for the similarities. Back in early 2000, Informix bought Ardent Software (headed by Gyenes). Under Gyenes, Informix sold its database business to IBM and remade itself as a business process software company under the name Ascential Software. It was that remade company that was sold to IBM last week. Sounds complicated, but still a 2-0 count in my book.

The Ascential acquisition certainly fits well with IBMs broad ambitions in the middleware category and is continued evidence of IBMs long-standing goal to acquire companies that support its strategy of data management, data integration and enterprise information management.

It also adds to IBMs list another Massachusetts company, following Lotus Development, Rational Software and the Mainspring consultancy. (Note to Sam Palmisano: While we here in Boston are willing to sell you one Big Dig tunnel—slight repairs needed—we will not part with either the Patriots or the Red Sox.)

In an interview with Lisa Vaas, an editor, Perna outlined why the Ascential acquisition fits well with IBMs strategy. "Our platform has been pretty much focused on enterprise information integration," she said. "If you look at the whole area, theres enterprise application integration, with WebSphere; enterprise information integration, which is around data federation and aggregation of information; and theres ETL [extraction, transformation and loading]."

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read about IBMs objections to a usability study suggesting that .Net provides more developer productivity than WebSphere.

The necessity of building an information integration platform that is easy to implement and manage—but also capable of handling large, high-speed transactions in a secure manner—has meant that even IBM has been willing to admit it cant develop the entire platform. It has had to use partners and acquisitions to reach its goal. And its long-term commitment to the strategy has meant that the company is a lot further ahead in the game than most competitors.

The strategy is difficult to articulate and will be more evident in applications that are only under development rather than in current releases of integration tools or development suites. IBM might want to call on Gyenes to help describe where this data integration business will lead.

I remember when I had breakfast with Gyenes in 2003, he was the first executive Id met who could really describe what Web services would mean for the enterprise.

"It is the ability to take components of software and reuse them in multiple applications," Gyenes said, adding that at the business level, reuse and data availability address "the monumental dependencies companies have for information that is accurate, current, nonstop and at fire-hose speed." Still not a bad definition and way ahead of many PowerPoint presentations Ive suffered through.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read a Q&A with Janet Perna, general manager of data management solutions for the IBM Software Group, on the purchase of Ascential.

Acquisitions in the technology industry are always the stuff of gossip and news. As IBM was out buying companies to bring broader integration to enterprise technology, Microsoft, by purchasing Groove Networks, was buying a technology that disperses corporate information. Of course, the biggest integration company that would fit with IBM is SAP; such an acquisition would be a very big undertaking, even for the likes of IBM.

IBMs superior track record of acquisitions is based, in large part, on trial alliances that become deeper partnerships; IBM doesnt try to acquire the hot company or technology of the moment.

And while companies such as SAS and BEA (why do all the potentials have three-letter names?) would be good fits, joining IBM would require a big change of heart by those companies management teams.

And while were considering possible acquisition targets, why not put Oracle in the mix? Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has been very aggressive about saying the software industry is due for a big consolidation. Hes done his part; maybe the next acquisition target could be his company. Or you could always take a look at IBMs current partner lineup or follow where Gyenes goes next and place your bets on that company.

Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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