IBM acquires Lombardi to reinforce its BPM solutions

contractIBM has agreed an acqusition of Lomardi, one of the few remaining pure-play BPM suppliers, with target of closing the deal in 2010.

IBM has reaffirmed its position of strength in the burgeoning Business Process Management (BPM) space with this acquisition. Lombardi has three assets that IBM is particularly interested in; its human-centric BPM capabilities, its extensive professional services resources and its reputation and success with BPM at the departmental level.

For the uninitiated, business processes tend to span some or all of three distinct areas of usage – human-oriented processes, document-oriented processes and prorgram-oriented processes. Human processes involve such aspects as task lists that people use as they carry out their assigned tasks, document processes upgrade traditional paper-oriented models and program-based processes involve the dynamic interaction of applications. IBM has always been most experienced at dealing with program-to-program interaction, delivering its own WebSphere BPM offering. A few years ago it also acquired FileNet, a major player in document-based processing that had document-related BPM products. Now it is making the Lombardi acquisition to strengthen its human interaction BPM capabilities.

This is an exciting acquisition, closing out the weakest areas of IBM’s BPM solutions. However, the challenge for IBM will be to properly integrate the new product set with its existing BPM offerings. Frankly, IBM has not done a good job to date on this with its previous BPM acquisition of FileNet – IBM marketing collateral exhibits confusion over what are essentially two differnent product solutions that both claim to be BPM. Hopefully it will handle the Lombardi acquisition better.


Did Teilhard’s JuxtaComm patent wipe out IBM, Microsoft and SAP?

US_Patent_coverOver the past two years, a little Canadian company called Teilhard has been suing IBM, Microsoft, SAP and many others over a data exchange patent it acquired from JuxtaComm, but all parties have now settled.

I have occasionally blogged in the past on this case, regarding a patent from a company called JuxtaComm (now owned by Teilhard which is in turn owned by on a ‘System for transforming and exchanging data between distributed heterogeneous computer systems’ (US patent number 6,195,662). Legal activities were leading up to a November 2009 trial date. Many people have contacted me recently to try to find the current status, since there is little information available in the public domain and what is available in the blogosphere seems terribly polarized one way or the other. In answer to these frequent contacts, I thought I would post an update.

Firstly, the trial is off. All parties reached mutually acceptable settlement agreements, and these agreements included protection for all parties from future legal action. It should be noted that no information has been released by any party yet on the terms of these settlements. Settlements are exactly what they say – the dispute has been settled between the parties, for good. The only other point to note is that settlement amounts reflect the confidence and risk for each party in continuing to trial – therefore settlements can be large or they can be small or even zero. It all depends how strong each party thought its case was, and how much each was prepared to risk in terms of legal costs and potentially unexpected trial outcomes.

Secondly, as part of the pre-trial legal process, the judge involved formalized definitions for the terms involved in the patent, for example ‘script’. By choosing unusually wide-reaching interpretations for these terms which programmers would find highly eccentric, the result was that the patent applicability was increased dramatically from what it had originally covered, that is ETL (extract/transform/load). In the ‘script’ example, for instance, while the defence argued that a script was “a series of text commands’ that were interpretively run sequentially by the script processor”, the judge decided that a script meant “a group of commands”! However, the reason this is important is that subsequent to these definition rulings, the US patent office is now re-examining the patent for validity based on the new definitions. This work should be finished in the new year, and will have a bearing on future legal actions against new perceived infringers.

The big question to some, particularly those who own shares in the private Canadian company owning the patent now,  is how big or small the settlements are. As I said, this will be determined by a combination of risk, confidence and desire to avoid burning legal costs unnecessarily. On the plus side for the patent holder, the judge’s definitions strengthened the case substantially, making it far more wide reaching and therefore widening the impact on potential infingers. On the negative side there were an awful lot of examples of software that seemed to do the same thing as the patent describes which predated the patent, although in legal terms this sort of prior art does not necessarily invalidate the patent or law suits, apparently. But in the end, the truth is no-one knows whether settlements were huge or miniscule.

The only trustworthy sources for this settlement information in my view would be any formal announcements from any of the parties involved. For example, if a company has had to make a large payment for settlement, then depending on how much this payment is as a percentage of its turnover it might be legally required to make a statement about it in its SEC filings. Similarly, if the patent holder announces any substantial dividends then that would be another indication of settlement sizes, since the patent-holder makes very little revenue in software sales and therefore any significant profit would have to have come from patent settlements. Perhaps the next six months or so will make things a little clearer, but don’t hold your breath; as a private company, the only people is required to keep informed is its own shareholders – it is not required to make any statements at all to the wider public.


TIBCO 1Q09 earnings will make interesting reading

In a week’s time, TIBCO Software will release its earnings figures for its 1Q09 quarter ending March 1st.

These earnings should make interesting reading, and will start to indicate how well the company is standing up to a number of squeezes on its business. TIBCO has been caught recently in a two-way fight with both traditional and new-wave vendors. On the one hand, it sees a key growth market as the general area of SOA, BPM and wider business integration where it is having to cope with the IBM steamroller, while on the other its ‘traditional’ market of core messaging for financial services front-office needs is coming under attack from new market entrants with radical shifts in technology.

IBM goes from strength to strength with its SOA / BPM WebSphere product suite, claiming throusands of deployments, and was always going to be a hard fight for TIBCO. The new TIBCO ActiveMatrix architecture is an attempt to fight back, but it remains to be seen how effective this approach might be. Perhaps more worrying for TIBCO is the surge of new competition in the high-speed financial messaging marketplace, where companies such as 29West and Solace Systems have emerged with messaging offerings that outperform traditional TIBCO Rendezvous messaging. The TIBCO response has been to partner with Solace Systems to produce a messaging appliance that implements Rendezvous software in hardware, since it recently claimed that

Software has reached its limit in ultra-low latency messaging, focusing increasing importance on the hardware “plumbing” to deliver future performance increases.

This brings TIBCO into competition with appliance offerings from Solace Systems, Tervela and IBM (DataPower). However, other vendors have taken a different approach to the performance issue in these highly demanding financial messaging markets, instead revolutionising the messaging architecture to generate the necessary high performance figures through software. Offerings have appeared from companies such as 29West, who pioneered this approach, and latterly IBM (LLM), with even NYSE promising to get in on the act.

So this set of TIBCO results are likely to be even more closely scrutinized than previously. Is the TIBCO strategy working, or is the company getting more and more squeezed? Technologies such as BPM seem to be riding out the recession particularly well, but will TIBCO show similarly resilient figures? Has TIBCO’s admission that Rendezvous software is out of steam carried its customer base across to the idea of appliances, or is it going to open the door to competition? It certainly looks like 2009 will be an interesting year for TIBCO.


Linux v z/OS on IBM mainframes

Five or ten years ago, this sort of question would have been unthinkable, but now mainframe users are increasingly facing a choice between whether to use Linux on System z or z/OS to host new mainframe workloads.

These new workloads may be the result of a consolidation project, or simply taking advantage of flexible architectures like SOA to utilize spare mainframe capacity, but the decision is not an obvious one in either case.

On the one hand, long-time mainframe guys will say that z/OS has grown up with the mainframe and therefore must be the best choice. But IBM has done a lot to its version of Linux for the mainframe, and Linux bigots will be quick to point out that the license costs will be cheaper and there are strong advantages in standardizing on a portable and flexible operating system enterprise-wide. Worst of all, given the polarized nature of IT in general, the decision makers find it hard to get unbiased advice on such a divisive question.

In the end, the answer to the question of whether z/OS or Linux on System z is better is not surprising – “it depends”. This subject is discussed in much more detail in a free Lustratus report, “Choosing the right SOA platform on IBM System z”, available from the Lustratus web store. While this paper focuses particularly on developing or moving SOA workloads onto System z, the analysis applies to any new mainframe workload. Summarizing the arguments in the paper, the major differences that affect the decision are that Linux is designed to offer a common environment across many platforms, and is thus less attuned to individual platform capabilities by definition, and that whereas Linux has been designed for the ‘server’ model where it is used to operating one type of workload, z/OS has been built to handle multiple subsystems from the start.

The common environment aspect of Linux offers flexibility, helps to drive license costs down and leverages widely available skills. The multi-system capabilities of z/OS combined with its close linkage to the System z platform offer the greatest exploitation of System z facilities. But as always the devil is in the details.