A fairy tale in e-business land

After the great revelations made at Fortress AS/400 in June over in the US, it would be a shame if the smooth progress of the...

After the great revelations made at Fortress AS/400 in June over in the US, it would be a shame if the smooth progress of the AS/400 towards winning in the e-business market is held back by lack of clarity.

After the great revelations made at Fortress AS/400 in June over in the US, it would be a shame if the smooth progress of the AS/400 towards winning in the e-business market is held back by lack of clarity. The point is that a much-vaunted alliance with Siebel Software, the fast rising e-business solutions supplier, looks like taking more time than we thought to reach complete matrimonial bliss.

The issue is not a question of whether Siebel and IBM can follow through on the deal over the AS/400 - it just depends on what kind of outcome they really conjure up. And this alliance still remains a major coup for the AS/400 group, signifying the kind of respect the platform deserves. Yet at the almost breathless preview of the alliance in Rochester, there were several less than subtle suggestions that things would progress rather faster and further than they actually have.

One implication was that there would be a native version of the Siebel suite ported onto the AS/400. There was certainly no talk of restricting the 'port' to the outbound Netfinity server working alongside its big brother.

However, this seems to be one of the logical outcomes to expect now, according to the stories spreading around that are rather stronger than rumour. At the very least we can expect this to be the first deliverable, and it may be some time before a native port becomes available. But have we not seen this all before?

Siebel has been likened to the new SAP, still leader of the enterprise resource planning (ERP) market. Taking a leaf from the AS/400's history, let's recount an old romantic tale.

Way back when IBM and SAP got into a conversation about how the R/3 suite of ERP applications could be ported onto the AS/400, SAP was busy doing deals with everyone else, including the other, then separate, server groups at IBM. In fact, SAP's earlier suite had started life on the mainframe. So why not team up with the AS/400 and its healthy market?

No deal a la Siebel was concluded at that time, however, so the two parties put the romance on hold. The years passed by, and the Prince and Princess finally got together again, this time deciding that the OS/400 operating system was not so much a hindrance to union as had been previously thought.

So the happy day took place in Vienna with much fanfare and a coterie of animated early adopter companies in attendance.

Yet the early days of matrimony were rather less than stress free. A skills shortage became immediately apparent when it came to serving both the SAP software and the AS/400 architecture in combination. And IBM had to develop a specialised support unit, offering pre-designated templates to the user base and a lot more holding of hands besides. Lady luck software can be hard to handle.

Of course, times move on. Yet the romance with Siebel is both different and the same in several respects. For starters, the AS/400 has come a long way since Vienna and the client-server message espoused there. Siebel is not quite as monolithic as SAP. Yet Siebel brings its own special challenges.

The Siebel success story has coincided with its origins on the dreaded Windows NT. Is that why the Netfinity might be favoured as a quick hit, with a faster time to market factor?

Any fast growth company will want to cover as many bases as possible, only to perhaps spread itself a little thin. It is to be presumed that IBM really wants a native port and, like SAP, will probably get it one day.

Siebel on Netfinity has to be second best. So does such a deal count as being engaged or living in sin? That's no fairy story, but it does smack of the real world.

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