Hey, Microsoft: IBM Wants Your Midmarket ISVs


Buell Duncan is on a mission. Since taking the reins in January as general manager of IBM Developer Relations, Duncan has been leading the charge to convince thousands of independent software vendors (ISVs),many of them ensconced in the Microsoft-dominated midmarket,to align themselves with Big Blue.

His pitch? It's all about being the most effective partner, one that serves its ISVs the broadest array of customers for their applications. Preaching the wisdom of choosing the "openness" of J2EE and Linux, Duncan seems comfortable courting both the Windows-faithful and those ISVs straddling the fence. And he pulls few punches in knocking the threat posed by Microsoft's .Net as he explains why he believes IBM hands developers a better deal.

"Look at your choice," says Duncan, who most recently helped drive IBM's iSeries server division into the midmarket space. "You can build on .Net and run applications in a Windows-only environment, or you can build on Java and J2EE and support Windows, IBM, HP, Sun and whomever. This is an opportunity that's all about money and economics [for ISVs]."

The bang-for-your-buck message rang loud at IBM's developerWorks Live conference last month, where Duncan and fellow IBM executives delivered a high-volume pitch to ISVs. The show, held in New Orleans, also saw IBM roll out a raft of new initiatives and products across the breadth of its software portfolio. Ever-present were IBM %FCber-themes of on-demand and autonomic computing and Web services.

One of the big takeaways is that IBM is looking to go head- to-head against Microsoft for the attention of midmarket ISVs. All told, IBM plans to commit $500 million to shoring up its presence in the space. To that end, IBM unveiled a new ISV Advantage Program, which showers financial and technical support on a select list of midmarket ISVs who commit to developing on IBM software and systems. Among other perks, developers get matching funds for co-marketing campaigns with IBM, priority access to the IBM Solution Partner centers, and free technical evaluations and porting assistance for their applications.

Among the first ISV partners to the Advantage Program is Intuit Eclipse, a provider of business-management software solutions for wholesale distributors. As part of the deal, Intuit Eclipse will optimize its Distribution Management Solutions (DMS) application suite for IBM's WebSphere Application Server Express. That ERP suite is expected to compete with Microsoft's Great Plains and Navision offerings, according to IBM.

Another new product announced at the show was SpeedStart for Web Services, a software developer's kit featuring a palette of tools and resources aimed at ushering ISVs toward the services-based application programming model.

IBM also unveiled new enterprise modernization tools for zSeries and iSeries developers, so they can update decades-old applications with Web services interfaces and allow older code and data to be integrated with new systems, customers and partners. The tools, dubbed WebSphere Studio Enterprise Developer V5, WebSphere Development Studio for iSeries V5, and WebSphere Host Access Transformation Server V4.02, are based on IBM's Eclipse integrated tools environment. Eclipse also got a face-lift; the R2.1 version of the development platform became available with improved usability and performance features for navigation, editing and debugging, as well as platform support for MacOS X.

For Tivoli developers, the conference takeaway centered around autonomic computing, IBM's much-publicized push for self-monitoring, alerting and healing capabilities within systems. Tivoli rolled out a new autonomic assessment tool and autonomic engines, which the company says will let ISVs incorporate best practices into their applications. These thresholds that an ISV imbues in the application form the basis for self-monitoring and alerting when something goes wrong. Tivoli executives touted these features as big cost-of-ownership reducers and a way to increase ROI for customers.

Taken at a macro level, Big Blue's strategy for winning over developers is three-pronged. First, the company plans to strengthen ties to its 100 top-tier strategic applications partners, such as Siebel, JD Edwards and SAP. Second, IBM is looking to aggressively court midmarket ISVs, including investing money and co-marketing, sales and technical resources in local and regional software development companies. Last, IBM is shoring up support for corporate developers in the enterprise.

It is the midmarket, however, where IBM sees the rubber hitting the road. Chipping away at the Microsoft foundation there is not a simple task.

"The midmarket is very Microsoft-centric, and although it does a lot of dabbling with Java, it is the least-equipped to support both platforms," says Mark Driver, a Minneapolis-based industry analyst at Gartner. Unlike Fortune 1,000 enterprises that typically operate mixed environments, most small-to-midsize companies settle on one platform, and that tends to be Windows, according to Driver. ISVs know that, of course. And while acceptance of Linux offers IBM some chance of gaining more traction here, it won't be an easy sell.

Complicating matters is .Net. Some ISVs contend that the technical improvements Microsoft is delivering with this framework, plus its ease of use, present them with a bottom-line choice that's hard to ignore,particularly when weighed against a more ponderous J2EE environment like WebSphere.

"We can develop and deploy .Net apps into production twice as fast, at a fraction of the cost, that are more performing and just as scalable on hardware," says Tim Huckaby, CEO of InterKnowlogy, an ISV and Microsoft partner.

But IBM is girding for the challenge. In a Jan. 9 internal memo to his Developer Relations team, Duncan said recruiting developers to write applications that "run in an open, nonproprietary environment is essential to the future of our entire company," and that it is "more important than ever to stop .Net."

One way Duncan hopes to sway ISVs is by playing the good partner, something he argues Microsoft and others are not.

"The bottom line is that we want to partner with the developers and ISVs vs. Microsoft or Oracle, whose strategy is to compete with their partners," he says.