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IBM's Steve Mills Talks Software Strategy

Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive of IBM Software Group, sat down this week with CRN Industry Editor Barbara Darrow and Editor in Chief Michael Vizard to discuss IBM's middleware strategy, SMB game plan and the competitive landscape.

CRN: Microsoft last year made a big deal about an upcoming integrated Web application suite and now scrubbed it saying people don't want an integrated suite. It was viewed as an anti-WebSphere move. Why do you think they scrubbed it?
Mills:: You can never tell for sure what's going on there, anymore than they can tell what's going on inside IBM. I think that the issue of middleware at Microsoft in general has always been a controversial topic. They always see the alternative model, characterized by open systems and what evolved over many years in the Unix space to a modular system structure, someone provides the hardware and the operating system, the database comes in separate and other mechanisms. It's a different type of approach to creating a systems architecture and one with well-insulated layers and the ability to snap things in and out. It provides portability, and I think in general they don't like that model [laughs]. Because it obviously creates opportunities for others to come in and disintermediate your control of the stack, as it were.

Microsoft would prefer the operating system to be the anchor point and everything [else] built onto that anchor point. SQL Server does not exist without Windows. It needs native Windows services. The original code base coming in from Sybase was optimized deeply down into Windows. Elements were eliminated. The Windows task management, memory management, other control services are now an interdependent element with SQL Server. And the same thing applies to MSMQ, MTS and other mechanisms that were part of the BackOffice stack, some of which they don't talk about much anymore. [They like] that whole model ... from a business perspective. On the flip side, it means huge quantities of code have to move forward in lockstep, which makes it very challenging to get new things out. We waited forever for Cairo and it never arrived.

I think this is an internal conflict in Microsoft, and I think that the operating system-centric approach seems to win out.

CRN: What did you think of the Microsoft-Sun deal, given all that?
Mills:: I think it was a legal settlement. It's a $2 billion payment, and obviously everyone knows Microsoft has many, many billions of dollars. In the scheme of things and given the range of legal challenges they face, I assume they felt it was a good use of money.

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