How well will IBM modularize its vast management portfolio?

* A look at IBM, process architectures and reusable parts

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IBM’s analyst conference in late November was an eye-opener, partly because I rarely have a chance to get as far a field from my more mainstream network and systems management areas as I did there. I got a chance to give almost equal weight to service-oriented architecture, business flexibility, application lifecycle management, and information management, as well as some core discussions around the Tivoli portfolio, management standards and IT governance.

The event focused on process management from both business and IT contexts, and how to construct software architectures to better automate and support those processes with maximum efficiency and minimal redundancy. As a result, I was trying to connect the dots between a variety of business and IT processes, and software architectures - a mental game that I suspect is already being mirrored by at least a few of you in IT.

At the heart seemed to be the notion of reusable or extensible parts in combination with process architectures. It became a way of envisioning not only how isolated technologies might evolve, but a new, all-embracing landscape for understanding how IT software and business and IT processes might effectively evolve together.

“Reusable parts” is my term, although it’s often applied to what SOA is about - and SOA was a big part of the IBM discussion, so let’s start there. SOA allows businesses to deconstruct existing services into components that can be reused and reassembled to provide multiple values. While beneficial within a single business where - just as in IT – there are duplicate processes for inventory, sales support, accounting, or basic HR services, it’s especially valuable in the Internet age of federated business models, where there could be one service for credit card verification or a directory of music and video resources. In other words it becomes “reusable” by a variety of constituents and so dramatically escalates in value.

These reusable parts in business terms can become enabled through software in which a consumer service asks a provider for a service (via Simple Object Access Protocol or SOAP) based on access determined by a predefined contractual relationship and a UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery and Integration) registry. SOAs can also support technical services such as database services and caching, or C++ to Java language integration, and so can become building block technologies for integrating management solutions, most notably through CMDB systems. These capabilities (for discovery, or configuration, or performance monitoring, or analysis) can become reusable parts that dramatically escalate in value once they’re leveraged by multiple management applications to support multiple tasks. In the end, a CMDB system is also a process architecture of a kind, derived or inspired (the reality varies) by IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) best practices.

All right. So we’ve gone from reusable parts in business processes to reusable software components to support them, and then in turn to reusable management services enabled through a CMDB system to support improved IT processes.

IBM also discussed another critical linkage, between business processes and IT application architectures and the requirements and tasks associated with them. IBM is working on technologies to better map, link, and ultimately automate these intersections with the goal to align application development and application architectures with business process needs. So to continue with the prior logic, IBM is looking at mapping deconstructed and reconciled business processes (which can be componentized) to IT processes, tasks, and architectural requirements that can be similarly deconstructed and codified and mapped in modular fashion. Capturing and reusing these points of intersection creates new “reusable parts” which can help dramatically in saving time and producing better results when developing new application services.

Now let’s look at Tivoli itself, fresh from a wave of acquisitions that has included Micromuse for network management, Collation for application dependency mapping, MRO Software and CIMS Labs for asset management, help desk and chargeback, and most recently Vallent for wireless management, among other acquisitions. An acquisition from 2003, Think Dynamics, is enabling a new solution, Tivoli Deployment Planner that’s creating a new, “reusable parts” architecture between application requirements for infrastructure resources so that applications can be provisioned more consistently and efficiently.

One question – or challenge – for IBM given all these acquisitions is how to build towards a more optimized, modular, and ultimately more deployable IT management environment given so much heterogeneity from M&As. One possible answer taken from IBM’s own event – “reusable/ extensible parts.”

As already indicated, much of the CMDB phenomenon is about streamlining data gathering and data access through defining which sources of information can be “reusable” by other management applications – so that, say, you don’t have 1,001 intelligent agents warring for data supremacy on top of four different physical topologies acquired by IT buyers at random. To the degree that IBM will be willing to deconstruct and reconstruct its vast management portfolio along a more modularized line of reusable parts (for data gathering, data access, analytics, workflow and automated actions, etc.) will be one of the more telling things to watch in the future. If done well, it will bring greater simplicity and efficiency for both IT and development, and facilitate multi-brand integration.

IBM’s announcement earlier this year of integrating Micromuse’s real-time dashboard and service impact analysis with Tivoli's ITSM portfolio as a means of combining critical service management components from both areas is a good first step in this direction.

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