Recording significant improvement in scores across the board, IBM came out on top in this year's Annual Report Card in the Middleware category, outscoring rivals Microsoft and Oracle. IBM added more than three points this year to its overall 2011 product innovation score, nearly seven points to its support scores and more than seven points to its partnership scores. Last year, Oracle outscored IBM in nearly every ARC criterion. (Microsoft did not participate in 2011.)
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IBM's middleware products focus on its WebSphere software, including the WebSphere application server and WebSphere Portal Server; integration products such as Cast Iron; and the IBM Business Process Manager (BPM). Earlier this year, market researcher Gartner said IBM is the application infrastructure and middleware market leader with a 32.1 percent share of the $19.4 billion worldwide market.
"It's obviously a very rich product portfolio," said Audrey Dunning, CEO of Summa Technologies, a Pittsburgh-based solution provider that uses WebSphere software in its integration and business process management work. She noted that through savvy acquisitions, IBM has grown the WebSphere line beyond the core application server to include popular integration, BPM and mobile products.
The improved partnership scores stem from changes IBM has been making since late 2009, when there was a growing realization that the vendor wasn't getting the channel performance it needed for its middleware products, said David Wilson, vice president of worldwide WebSphere business partners, general business and enablement. That came after the company received especially low ARC scores that year from partners.
"We made the whole partner channel a priority," he said, noting that IBM began taking the channel into consideration up front when developing products, creating pricing models and even acquiring companies and technologies. The channel "is viewed now as being a competitive advantage for us, as one of our competitive strengths, not just a way to go to market."