Mills: IBM Has Advantage over Precarious Startups

Q&A: IBM executive Steve Mills says the company is well-positioned to dominate over open-source startup groups; he cites IBM's stability and "deep customer relationships."

Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive at IBM Software, said open-source software is changing the way folks look at the market, but that startups have to play into the scheme that established vendors have established, not the other way around.

IBMs acquisition of Gluecode Software, an open-source software service provider, last May, indicated the systems giants willingness to meet open-source competition head on. Mills sat down with eWEEK senior editor Darryl K. Taft to discuss the issue.

eWEEK: How much of that move to acquire Gluecode was a defense against the low end and JBoss, and how much of it was a strategic play in services?

Mills: Well, we dont generally think that defensive plays are all that satisfying, because they tend to be somewhat short-lived. You get myopic and you decide you have to do something thats purely defensive in nature. And I think, frankly, customers, if they get the sense that youre doing something youre not committed to and youre doing it in response to something else that tends to shine through.

Our perspective on Geronimo and Gluecode is that there were very legitimate buyer groups out there—some very centered around open source-based implementations, others just in market segments in places around the world that we could reach through having Gluecode as part of IBMs portfolio.

We recognized early on that we had to drive to where the higher value was in the marketplace. The design point for WebSphere clearly is geared toward more sophisticated uses.

You then look at the market and you say, well, there are other market segments you want to go after—we want to keep growing our business. So what about serving born-on-the-Web companies?

We think WebSphere is a great piece of technology, but along with its high-level capabilities also comes a higher level of complexity. And you reach a point where you say you want to stretch it out and go down market. Weve had good success with our Express offerings … but my view is that another play that gave us legitimacy and a code base that made us more attractive to that end of the market would give us expansion capability.

So we were not in a protect mode, we were really in an expansion mode—moving into parts of the market that were not in today. Now others compete in that market space.

BEA has got a lot of the WebLogic base sitting down there at the lower end of the market. Youve got JBoss and a variety of other offerings that offer simpler capabilities for simpler uses. So we know were going to face competition in every part of the market, no matter where you go.

But the strategy is designed to be very proactive and focused on building a new customer set. Should some of them want to move up into WebSphere, great.

But we didnt acquire Gluecode because we thought this was a stepping stone into selling more WebSphere. We bought it because we wanted to sell more Gluecode.

Next Page: Staying ahead of commoditization.