Websphere Is Well Aware of Surroundings

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Continuing its quest to become the mobile infrastructure provider of choice, IBM will unveil on Tuesday a new version of its WebSphere Everyplace Access middleware product and a packaged solution designed to help enterprises from small to large rapidly deploy infrastructure to support their mobile workers.

With WebSphere Everyplace Access (WEA), IBM aims to create a uniform, extensible architecture for deploying mobile capabilities that can be tightly integrated with existing core infrastructure. It provides support for personal information management (PIM), embedded databases, and Web content. The platform also provides a set of tools for developing mobile applications and accessing core order entry, field service, repair, inventory, insurance claims processing and supply chain systems.

The new version, WEA 4.3, adds a number of new features in location-aware services, intelligent notification, device management, e-mail push and instant messaging. It also boasts enhanced integration with WebSphere Portal for remote portlet access, database synchronization and offline forms, a development toolkit to create, emulate, test and debug applications, and support for cell phones, smart phones, and the Palm, Pocket PC, embedded Linux and Symbian operating systems. Rodney Adkins, general manager of IBM's Pervasive Computing division, said the product now supports more than 90 percent of handheld platforms.

"Pervasive computing, from an IBM perspective, is really about having access to information your way," Adkins told internetnews.com. "We've been really focused on extending the IT infrastructure to new devices."

IBM is highlighting the new Intelligent Notification Services (INS), which allow the system to proactively notify mobile employees of new information or events triggered from email, supply chain, news feeds or enterprise systems. INS utilizes a scalable publish-subscribe engine that monitors multiple information sources for user-specified matches. The user can decide to have the alerts pushed to a cell phone, pager or PDA.

For instance, an INS-enabled supply chain application could issue a "Stock-Out Alert" when inventory reaches critical levels. IBM said the same notification engine could be used to alert emergency response teams of emergency conditions, account executives of customer orders, or field service personnel of a machine outage.

IBM said it has also made strides in location-aware services, which can dynamically incorporate mapping, routing and information directories within applications through GPS. Adkins said retailers could use the capabilities to push in-store promotions to customers, while the system could also be used to re-route crews for emergency response or to reschedule field service and deliveries.

The new improvements are incremental, Adam Zawel, director of Wireless/Mobile Enterprise & Commerce, at research firm The Yankee Group, told internetnews.com. However, he noted that the improvements and refinements continue to cement Big Blue's leadership position in mobile computing.

"We believe that almost any company can benefit from the right mobile strategy and IBM is in the position to put all the pieces together," Zawel said.

The United States Air Force is looking to IBM to provide these new capabilties in order to streamline its aircraft maintenance operations. The Air Force Material Center at Hill Air Force Base, in Ogden, Utah, has turned to Big Blue to overhaul the way it manages worldwide logistical support for the repair, replacement and maintenance of components for the U.S.'s fleet of F-16, A-10, and C-130 planes.

The base will use WEA 4.3, WebSphere Everyplace Connection Manager (WECM) and AIX eServers to provide its logistics managers with real-time on-demand wireless access to its Automated Manifest Tracking System (AMTS). The AMTS system helps Air Force depots track and account for the delivery and distribution of parts between its worldwide bases and the Defense Logistics Agency.

While the initial deployment is through Hill Air Force Base, Adkins said IBM hopes to win future Air Force contracts based on Hill's results.

"We evaluated several products on the market very carefully and selected IBM based on its industry expertise at providing an open, integrated, secure end-to-end wireless solution that we expect to save the Air Force millions of dollars each year," said Myron Anderson, provisional IT director, Hill Air Force Base. "Our requirements for high-grade security, device independence and flexibility were highly demanding. The WebSphere platform offers FIPS-compliant encryption, fast implementation, immediate email access across a range of devices and a programming model for legacy applications like AMTS."

IBM is looking to extend those capabilties to the private sector as well, and has created a package dubbed the Mobile Office Entry Jumpstart to help it make that sell. The Jumpstart package -- which Adkins said is a perfect solution for both small and medium enterprises as well as large enterprises looking to start small before growing -- includes IBM eServers, WEA 4.3, WECM, IBM services, and Palm Tungsten devices. The package is priced at under $100,000, depending on the number of users (the package supports up to 50).

"The initial offering has been packaged with Palm and Sprint," Adkins said. "I think it is ideally priced and targeted for small business environments, but I think this offering can apply to large enterprises that want to start small and grow fast."

Yankee's Zawel agreed, noting that IBM can bolster its leadership position in mobile computing by adding attractive offerings for smaller businesses and wireless carriers to its already strong large enterprise presence.

"For just $100K they can put the different pieces together and you can have something up and running. It's very compelling," Zawel said.

The WECM software enables seamless roaming between wireline connections, public wireless local area network (PWLAN) hotspots and existing public wireless connections. Lucent is working with the company to integrate WECM with its offerings, and IBM's Jumpstart package will include up to 50 aircards provided by carriers that support cdma2000 1XRTT networks.

However, IBM said WEA 4.3 does not yet run on Linux servers, though the forthcoming WEA 5.0 will likely add that capability.

"Most of the environments we've been installing these types of products on need some of the scale and robustness that AIX provides," Adkins said.

Still, Zawel said that Yankee Group positions IBM as the leader in the space, despite competition from other enterprise infrastructure providers like Sun Microsystems , Microsoft , BEA Systems , and Oracle . Yankee also gives IBM the lead among systems integrators working on the wireless front, including Accenture , Hewlett-Packard and BearingPoint .

"They're doing very well on both fronts," Zawel said of IBM. "We've ranked them as number one."

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