IBM is betting that the growth of new network-based data services, and service-oriented architecture in particular, will fuel increased demand for network and systems management services.The company's software group is spending millions on that bet, having grabbed up all 11 companies in the last year alone. Ending 2005 with a bang, IBM said it would acquire network management vendor Micromuse, application-discovery and dependency-mapping software maker Collation, XML networking vendor DataPower and portal-software provider Bowstreet."The large management software vendors realize they need the network piece of the puzzle to get the full picture with SOA, advanced IP, business services and IT service management," says Thomas Mendel, a vice president and research director with Forrester Research.For instance, IBM's pending $865 million Micromuse acquisition will give Big Blue an established network fault- and performance-management technology that far exceeds the capabilities of its own Tivoli NetView. Micromuse's Netcool is a "manager of managers" technology that can collect events and aggregate alerts from countless devices and vendor gear. Even though it's considered less challenging to track than application or service-level performance, for instance, network performance - especially on the large scale that Netcool could handle - is absolutely critical to getting a full picture of IT performance, industry watchers say."Many things can happen - as in go wrong - if they don't get the network element right," Mendel says. Cisco's entry into the management market is proof that the network is being recognized as increasingly critical to the success of applications, business processes and services running across the infrastructure, he adds. Cisco last year said it is looking to expand its proprietary network-monitoring tools into enterprise-scale management products that can tackle multivendor networks, advanced IP applications and business services.In addition to acquiring network management expertise with Micromuse, IBM will also gain access to the company's carrier and service provider customers and be better able to compete with CA and HP. HP's OpenView Network Node Manager software is a popular tool across vertical markets, but historically the vendor's biggest clients have been service providers. CA acquired its way into the service provider market as well through last year's Concord acquisition.Couple these network management gains with the gains from two other purchases - Collation, which provides application-dependency mapping technology, and DataPower, which gives Big Blue application-oriented networking prowess - and observers say IBM will have the technologies necessary to manage advanced IP networks and SOA applications.Before the addition of Collation's mapping technology to IBM's infrastructure-management suite, Big Blue wasn't keeping up with its competition. "Before the Collation acquisition, IBM was lagging [behind] BMC, CA and Mercury in providing a one-stop shop" for infrastructure management, Mendel says. The acquisition confirmed the importance of application-dependency mapping for complete IT service management, but more importantly it gave IBM the tools in-house to deliver an all-in-one tool via the Collation technology and its own Tivoli Business Service Management product.DataPower's XML processing technology will help IBM fill gaps in its broad SOA platform, according to Jason Bloomberg, a senior analyst at ZapThink. DataPower's XML products - the XI50 Integration Device, which streamlines SOA infrastructures; the XA35 XML Accelerator, which offloads XML processing; and the XS40 XML Security Gateway, which helps provide message-level Web-services security - will be added to IBM's WebSphere brand and could help it compete with similar offerings from Cisco Application-Oriented Networking initiative.Bowstreet's tools are another addition to IBM's plans for SOA. They assist IT staff in building composite applications that draw data from multiple internal and external sources, making the process more user-friendly than traditional development environments do. That's something IBM needs in its portal lineup, says Jim Murphy, a research director at AMR Research.Observers say IBM is working to become an all-encompassing provider by acquiring these companies' tools and technologies.Steve Moore, technology leader at Mary Kay Cosmetics in Dallas, says the Micromuse buy makes Tivoli more attractive to him as a network management product. He uses IBM Director System Tools, Micromuse software and other products to manage application and network performance."It does add some interest for us, as IBM has some expanded capability and will also acquire a great [manager of managers] tool with the purchase of Muse. I don't think IBM is at that level," which is probably why Big Blue bought Muse, Moore says.The buy also changes the face of the network management competition. According to The Yankee Group, the IBM acquisition of Micromuse, which is expected to close this quarter, would leave only three network-management vendors - CA, HP and IBM - with revenue greater than $100 million.That scenario doesn't fly with overall industry trends, experts say. "Despite the general trend toward reducing the number of infrastructure-management vendors specifically, many enterprise customers have expressed their concern about going back to single-vendor scenarios," Forrester's Mendel says.