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IBM backs SOA with Web services support

IBM forges ahead with its service-oriented architecture strategy and fuels Web Services with support, software and lots of consultants.

IBM today will announce an initiative intended to fuel the use of Web services, which it says has gone beyond the tire-kicking phase to real-world use. This push will include new services, software and consulting practices.

The initiative is part of IBM's effort to drive e-business on demand. IBM's Global Services unit has invested $10 billion in the effort.

With this announcement, which will be made during the Comdex conference, which began Sunday in Las Vegas, IBM is also showcasing a number of major customers that use its Web services, including Miami-Dade County, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arkansas and Visa.

Web services are a set of technologies that function as plumbing, linking companies with customers, suppliers and partners. Web services are intended to make software integration easier, faster and less expensive.

"Web services has moved beyond the 'kick the tires' phase," said Michael Liebow, vice president of Web services at IBM Global Services. "Global Services is putting its breadth of knowledge behind this with the rest of IBM. Now we're going to bring it up a notch."

This announcement is part of IBM's strategy to move to a more service-oriented architecture, one that focuses as much on business processes as it does on technology. Bottom line: The technology isn't much good without processes in place to make it work efficiently.

As part of this strategy, IBM recently announced plans to make a component of its middleware. The company is also making a component of WebSphere Application Server in a project known as "Vela."

Additionally, IBM has, according to Liebow, directed a number of services and consulting employees to work toward the goal of fueling Web services adoption. The company will offer virtual Web services centers that are staffed by IBM consultants, who will help customers in specific industries identify opportunities for Web services and help them change business processes to adapt to the technology. IBM will also add to its network of Web services design centers with new locations in Dallas, Singapore and Paris.

A team of more than 1,000 software engineers has been hired to focus on applying Web services standards across the IBM software product line, including WebSphere, which is the company's Internet infrastructure software and a key component to Big Blue's on-demand strategy.

Liebow said there are also 35,000 application management professionals working, as part of IBM's application management services group, to help customers develop, integrate, implement and host applications for Web services.

And, for the business that wants to "dabble in it" before taking the plunge, Liebow said, they can use IBM's SpeedStart for Developers Program and the DeveloperWorks Web site. IBM has 40,000 developers working in these programs.

The company also offers Web services education classes and training modules for customers, developers and business partners. These are available through IBM's IT education services unit.

Jason Bloomberg, a senior analyst at ZapThink LLC, a Waltham, Mass.-based analysis firm, said these efforts are part of a series of announcements and initiatives IBM has made to deliver a more service-oriented architecture.

"IBM has been serious about Web services for some time," he said. "This is really a step in tying Web services to their on-demand strategy and bringing it to users. This is no longer an experiment."

Every large organization has Web services, but up until now the technologies have grown through isolated efforts, Bloomberg said. Businesses have been looking to solve business problems a la carte, one problem at a time, as opposed to making sweeping change across the organization.

That's changing, said Ronald Schmelzer, another analyst at ZapThink, but it's still a hard sell. Companies like IBM have to go beyond pitching Web services and instead sell the technology as service-oriented architecture -- something that's going to improve efficiencies and reduce costs.

"There has been a mentality shift in the way companies buy technology," Schmelzer said. "Companies are resistant to making changes without guarantee. They want the solution to work."

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