What IBM's Rational Buyout Means to Developers

IBM's $2.1 billion buyout of Rational is official. Rational VP Eric Schurr told IDN what Java and Microsoft developers can expect post-merger. One big focus will be to empower the move from straight developer to "developer-as-integrator." Read the full interview here.

Tags: Developers, IBM, Support, Integration, Microsoft, Platform, Environment,

IBM's $2.1 buyout of Rational became effective last Friday, making the new company name "the Rational Division of IBM." But, aside from the name change, what now happens to one of the leading providers of developer tools to both the Java and the Microsoft camps?

This week, IDN brings you an in-depth interview with Rational vice president Eric Shurr, on how the buyout may change rational -- and the developers that count on the company's products. For now, Shurr told IDN, the plan is to stay-the course, and continue to support their products for both Java and Microsoft developers, notable Rational XDE. In fact, Shurr added, Rational's support for non-Java developers -- Microsoft as well as embedded systems developers -- was a key reason why IBM wanted to buy Rational in the first place.

Further on, Schurr told IDN, it's likely that Rational may help prod IBM's professional services group (IBM Global Services) to begin changing the nature of outsourced integration contracts by empowering in-house developers to be able to better collaborate with hired consultants and integrators. For more on how IBM's buyout of Rational may affect the Java, .Net and other developers, read our interview below.

IDN Interview with
Eric Shurr, Vice President
Rational Division of IBM (formerly Rational Software)

IDN: Bottom line, what would you say were the big reasons why IBM wanted to acquire Rational?

Schurr: We've always supported a heterogeneous development world, and we will continue to do that. I know that's a little hard for people to understand that [now that we're] a part of IBM. But frankly, our support for .NET and other environments is part of the reason that IBM wanted us. The world is not just Java and .NET—there's also an embedded community that builds very specialized software for real-time and embedded devices and systems. Our leadership in that area was also something that was attractive to IBM. IBM doesn't typically have a big play in that space, but now they have more of an entre.

IDN: Now that Rational is a "division of IBM," will Rational be able to support both J2EE and .NET developers equally, with the same level of code expertise, and support for code generation?

Schurr: Yes, that is our intention. Certainly, you'll have the same level of support today. And we will continue to provide the level of support appropriate to the changing demands of the [.NET] platform and the technology provided by Microsoft.

IDN: Can you be specific?

Schurr: No, because I can't predict what's going to happen. But let me say it this way: Our products from a .NET support [point of view] are designed to complement Microsoft Visual Studio. So we put things in our product that you don't find in Visual Studio to complement Visual Studio, and that's the kind of strategy we will continue to do.

IDN: For years, Rational has built a reputation of being a fair and honest provider of tools to developers from both sides -- Java and Microsoft. Doesn't the acquisition mean the end of that reputation -- and business model?

Schurr: You know, some people read this acquisition as a battle against Microsoft, but one of the things to remember is that a huge part of IBM's e-business-on-demand strategy is about integration. And if you're going to integrate applications and business processes, you have to be able to do that across a variety of platforms. The fact that we support .NET is a bonus to IBM's offering.

IDN: Some developers are concerned about some signals otherwise. For instance, at VS-Live last year, Rational was a highly visible Microsoft partner. This year, there was much less visibility from Rational.

Schurr: I can understand why people attending the show might read something into it. We didn't change our plans for VS-Live one bit because of this IBM acquisition. We put a lot of push into last year's VS-Live because of the big announcement of .NET. We were all working very hard for a lot of publicity. This year, we didn't have anything to announce and there wasn't the same kind of overall fanfare as there was at last year's show.

IDN: Let's talk a little about your behind-the-scenes relations with Microsoft. Are your NDAs (Non Disclosure Agreements) with Microsoft over code, product plans and other important elements still in place?

Schurr: I don't know. I honestly don't know. But I haven't been part of any discussions about that.

IDN: How about co-marketing? With the merger now in place, are you precluded from any Microsoft-Rational co-branding?

Schurr: We have continued our joint-marketing discussions with Microsoft, and we have done it with the blessing of IBM in general.

IDN: Your earlier press releases did say that you would continue to support 'heterogeneous' environments., but it didn't explicitly say what you would support, or how deeply?

Schurr: Yeah, I guess it doesn't say that, but you can't say everything in a press release that people hope you will say, so, let me say it this way: If there is .NET development going on in the world we want to, will, continue to support it.

IDN: For either .NET or Java/J2EE, does Rational have a product road-map that can be shared with the developer community?

Schurr: I wish I could say, 'Yes,' But actually, the answer is 'No.' We have for quite some time not published any product road-maps. The financial accounting standards give us pause to talk about futures, as well as the [trouble] with revenue recognition, so we can't really talk about future directions or promises on what we're doing. We haven't done that.

IDN: What kinds of product changes do you expect from the merger?

Schurr: We have no planned product cancellations or major modifications as a result of this announcement

IDN: Can you make any specific comments on the future of XDE, your development environment for .NET, for instance?

Schurr: Obviously, as part of IBM, we will continue to provide support for the J2EE environment, but we'll also continue to provide support for the .NET environment. With Rational XDE announced last year, we have offerings for .NET developers, and we have every intention to continue that product. Beyond that, I don't know that it's very fruitful to talk about specific products that support .NET. We built a software development platform that contains support for different technology sets. We oftentimes don't even break the product out by platform.

IDN: What exactly does that mean?

Schurr: You'll be able to use our tools to support development of .NET applications. {A developer] will buy Visual Studio from Microsoft -- which is where they get the programming language and compilers that create the .NET runtime stuff -- and they will surround that with our product to support the development.

IDN: In modeling, can Rational support both J2EE and .NET with a single product -- without further development for each platform? Doesn't a J2EE developer look at modeling with a different view than a .NET developer?

Schurr: No, I don't think so. The act of modeling is the same on both platforms. What changes is when you get down to the implementation of the model. The code that the modeling tool generates has to be different, and there will be elements of the model that will be different, depending on the implementation platform, but the basic approach to modeling and the final tool you use can be identical.

IDN: So, let's talk a bit more about the impact on the developer's role in integration from the merger. Is it fair to say that the purchase signals that IBM is interested in looking at the developer-as-integrator?

Schurr: Absolutely.

IDN: In other words, IBM now says that the in-house developer can be an instrument of integration, and not just those consultants who work for IBM Global Services or other system integrators? Is that a fair comment?

Schurr: Absolutely.

IDN: Rational and IBM have had a different approach to their consulting and integration businesses. How do you see that changing after the merger?

Schurr: First, Rational as a division of IBM will continue to work with major SIs (system integrators) as well as IBM. I think it will be easier on the IBM side, but in no way do we intend to bias ourselves.

IDN: And what about your services businesses? How might any changes there affect the in-house developer?

Schurr: Rational has had, and will continue to have, a service component of its offering. In IBM parlance, it will now be called 'Lab Services, ' meaning services that come from headquarters labs That will not be part of IGS [IBM Global Services]. Our services offerings have always been focused on skills development and knowledge transfer, so we don't outsource work for people; we don't go in and do your architecture design or do your testing -- we help people accelerate their implementation of our 'Best Practices' on our tools. That's directly in line with helping to empower the developer to do his own integration -- just what you're talking about.

IDN: Do you expect this Rational philosophy to begin to percolate into IBM's IGS way of consulting? In other words, might your tools make it easier for IGS to get in-house developers more involved with integration consulting projects?

Schurr: Let me say that in different wording. We work with IGS and other SIs, so that when they engage in a project with an organization, they apply our tools. That has two benefits: It makes the SI more efficient and accurate at delivering the result. Secondly, the tools can remain with the customer and, with the appropriate amount of training, the customer team can leverage the benefit of the solution and help them do their own integration and development work.

IDN: But many SIs want to do all the work and charge for it. They don't really see themselves as educators, do they?

Schurr: I think probably the [customer's] engagement model with IGS may be a little different from the engagement model with Rational Lab Services from IBM. Our engagement model is entirely about knowledge transfer and skills development. The IGS model is a little more biased, I think, toward outsourcing. And doing [integration] for you.

IDN: So that's the point. Do you see an opportunity for Rational's skills transfer approach to become part of the IGS outsourcing approach as time goes on?

Schurr: Yes. We hope by being part of IBM, it increases the percentages that IGS does that includes a Rational component. This notion of having the SIs do work with the right kind of tools and empower the developer, this is not just an IGS story. It's also Accenture and many others.

IDN: But, if you call for a case study, you get info on how they did something -- not how they trained in-house developers to do something?

Schurr: Well, that's right. That's their primary focus, but, you know, there is a macro-level shift going on. Ten years ago, if you went to the SIs (and by the way we did) and said, 'You should use our tools to improve the efficiency of the way you do projects, ' they would laugh at you. This is because back then, increased efficiency wasn't important. What was important was the big long contract. But as the competitive environment has changed, it's now more important to get value for your money, so all of the SIs have come to us and said, 'We'd like to use your product to improve the efficiency with which we do our projects.' The next step in this shift has got to be this :'As an added value to the customer, we're also going to empower the customer in learning how to use the tools we use.

IDN: As Rational's core components and tools exist today, are they strong enough for IGS to use them in such a way and feel comfortable that they haven't left their customers with too much to learn or tools that are incomplete?

Schurr: I can't speak for IGS' model going forward, but if IGS or any other SI wanted to make part of their value proposition the idea that they will empower the customer with Best Practices and tools to do some integration jobs for themselves, our products would be perfect for that.

IDN: Does Rational need to get more visible in some standards committees that IBM is involved with (OASIS, W3C, WS-I for example) to make sure that standards being discussed today for web services, wireless and embedded systems are easier for developers to implement?

Schurr: I'm just thinking how to answer that. I've never connected the dots between the thought of empowering the developer to do his own integration and setting standards.

IDN: Well, for example: WS-I (Web Services Interoperability Organization) just came out with a Basic Profile to help developers build with SOAP and WSDLs, and even included sample code, because there were too many ways to build code that complied with the standards -- but yet wouldn't work with one another?

Schurr: We think that is true of the vast majority of standards and technologies in the market. J2EE and .Net are both very complex, and if you just say here is the spec for those platforms and here is a line editor, go ahead and build and application, you're dead. That's why, Rational, IBM and lots of other companies are putting so much energy into building better and better tools.