Information Server products touted by IBM at conference

At IBM's inaugural Information on Demand event, executives dramatically introduced a new "Information Server." The software platform will be the first of its kind, they said.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Big Blue kicked off its first-ever Information On Demand event with an elaborate stage show that included a live band, pyrotechnics, dry ice, colored lights and television personality Wayne Brady rapping about XML and semantics.

Then, approximately 5,000 attendees listened as IBM executives announced several new products and laid out their vision for "taking back control" of information, the theme of the conference. The event was interspersed with customer success stories, including a short presentation by Harley-Davidson Inc.'s chief information officer, who came out on stage riding one of his company's signature motorcycles.

Theatrics aside, the big business problem today is that information is "everywhere" in enterprises, said keynote speaker Ambuj Goyal, general manager of information management at IBM. The average corporate employee spends 70% of his or her time looking for information, he said. Re-use is "a rarity," and too many siloed information and content management repositories exist at companies. The industry is about to experience a fundamental shift in information management, he predicted. Many information technologies exist, such as metadata management, data cleansing and integration tools, but they have not yet been integrated into one platform, he said. With that, Goyal introduced IBM's new "Information Server" software platform, currently in beta and slated for release in November.

"It's the beginning of a new category. We are the first to offer a platform to build higher business value from information," he said.

Information Server will be priced at around $125,000 for a four-CPU configuration and will enable "information as a service," he said. It will include components for data cleansing, profiling, integration and transformation -- all service-oriented architecture (SOA) enabled. The goal is to enable organizations to better integrate disparate data and deliver accurate, cleansed information to people, applications and processes, Goyal said. Information Server will be a foundation for SOAs, providing consistent, re-useable information services and a single source for enterprise master data, he said.

Continuing on the master data theme, Goyal also talked up Websphere Customer Center 7.0, which is tightly integrated with the new Information Server. Master data management (MDM) is not just about a single view of the customer anymore, but also about relationships between entities, he said. To that end, he also mentioned Entity Analytics 4.1, which will extend MDM to unstructured information. Other master data-related announcements included new industry models for healthcare and finance, and new products and services for customer data integration, risk and compliance, as well as threat and fraud intelligence. The keynote also touched on products in the data server line, such as the new IBM Data Warehousing Balanced Configuration Unit for Linux, available in December.

Finally, Goyal touched on upcoming expanded content management products. IBM closed its FileNet acquisition last week, and claims to have a roadmap for enhanced content management products. Though executives were not prepared to share that roadmap, they stressed their intention to preserve existing investments in FileNet and IBM products. The basic concept for the new product will be "transactional-centric businesses processes working with document-centric business processes," Goyal said at a later press conference, citing the need for businesses to better manage activities like mortgage lending that start with a process and culminate with paper documents.

After a flood of information about the new products and services, the audience of customers, IBM employees, press members and analysts absorbed and discussed the news.

The Information Server announcement is not surprising, said Mark Smith, CEO at San Mateo, Calif.-based Ventana Research. It's an evolution of a whole set of technologies that IBM has either built or acquired over the past few years. It's notable that the announcement comes after a nine-month beta test of Information Server involving 75 of IBM's customers, he said. That adds credibility to the news, but Big Blue will still face challenges, Smith added. IBM will need to deliver a product that solves companies' problems without an army of consultants, he said.

"The challenges come down to making it simple and easy for customers to acquire the product, implement and deploy," Smith said. "Many companies have specific point projects. They've got to get in there and get going, and they don't want to necessarily make it a large, enterprise-wide project. [Information Server] is bringing forward a lot of technologies in one platform. IBM has to be very nimble and very agile to allow companies to take that first step forward."

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