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WebSphere Focus: Rationalizing WebSphere tools strategy

While many software products have gained and maintained the WebSphere nameplate, IBM's tools have been an exception. They have been rebranded as IBM Rational tools. In Las Vegas last month, the IBM Rational group showed new tools that link development to administration.

While software product after software product has been tagged with the WebSphere moniker over the years, products in IBM's tools catalog have been something of an exception. Not that they weren't rebranded for a while.

The set of innovative software tools once known as Visual Age [which included a SmallTalk suite that was arguably ahead of its time] was renamed as WebSphere Studio during the early heady Java days to be in line with the WebSphere J2EE application server. Then, last year, these tools were rebranded as IBM Rational Application Developer for WebSphere Software.

IBM agreed to buy Rational Software for more than $2B at the end of 2002 partly because Rational's tools supported multiple platforms. After moving WebSphere Studio into the Rational group, it made sense to come up with naming that worked across several platforms. But the premier tools for WebSphere server development remain intact, now under a slightly different banner.

Last month, IBM re-staged its Rational Software Development Conference in Las Vegas. The news is that IBM Rational has been hooking its testing and developer productivity tools alongside some IBM Tivoli software management offerings. The integrated offerings position IBM to better compete with performance management and testing expert Mercury Interactive Corp., in Mountain View, Calif. For its part, IBM claims its link back from operations to the developer environment outpaces Mercury's links to developer IDEs.

What's on tap?
IBM Problem Resolution Toolkit for Rational Application Developer and IBM Performance Optimization Toolkit for Rational Performance Tester are said to enable a more coherent process for problem identification and resolution. Rational's tools now have new troubleshooting capabilities based on the use of Tivoli's Monitoring for Transaction Performance (TMTP) software for isolating problems in Web servers, J2EE application servers, integration middleware and legacy systems.

The Tivoli software monitors application performance and quality while the application is live, tracing and storing details on performance. The IBM Rational Problem Resolution Toolkit enables developers to access the stored information, so they can isolate the cause of problems down to the source.

The IBM Rational Performance Optimization Toolkit provides data collectors -- again, based on Tivoli software, -- during the testing process. After a problem is identified in the test lab, the toolkit suggests probable causes and resolutions. This is one of the first fruits of IBM's autonomic computing effort to create self-healing systems. Uptake may take a while. Of course, many shops view anything that has to do with Tivoli, if not Rational, as a high-end solution.

The software can "bridge the gap between the development part of IT and the operations part of IT," said Eric Naiburg, marketing manager for IBM Rational desktop products. "The idea is that the kits bring [operations] information to the fingertips of developers," he said. "Now, the developers can get feedback from the test lab. They used to have to step through the code line-by-line. Now, together with [Tivoli's] TMTP, they can pinpoint the problem in the code before it goes into production." Once in production, monitoring can continue, he added.

"What makes us unique is that we can span from requirements into production and back to development. Mercury doesn't have a development environment. With their software I can find a problem but I have to get somebody else to fix it," he said.

The retirement of Rational group manager and company founder Mike Devlin was also announced during the show. Devlin's replacement at Rational will be Danny Sabbah, a long-time IBM Software Group executive who is widely credited with creating a more effectively integrated software portfolio at Big Blue.

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