IBM’s OPAL – Open Treasure or Hidden Riches?

by Charles Brett, President of C3B Consulting and Publisher of INSIGHT-SPECTRA

IT software customers live in an increasingly expensive world. CIOs worry and worry still more as the escalating cost of software licenses and consequent maintenance consumes a greater and greater portion of their budgets. Towering above even these concerns, in C3B Consulting’s experience, is the trauma and cost of integrating disparate pieces of software, particularly middleware, into operations management.

IBM offers customers one approach to this in the form of an extensive library of over 1850 — often free — ‘integrations’ that can be obtained over the Web. This library rejoices in the name OPAL (standing for Open Process Automation Library), which can be found at www.ibm.com/software/tivoli/opal

It can be argued that OPAL is a hidden jewel which should shine especially brightly in tough economic times. Yet, on another level, OPAL is classic IBM: the jewels are hidden. Try finding what you want, and if you are not already Tivoli-educated (for OPAL is thus far primarily Tivoli-oriented), you may have real problems — even though the solution you need may well be there. The oddity here is that so much of what OPAL offers remains so hidden.

So what are these ‘integrations’ found in IBM’s OPAL? From C3B’s discussions, it appears they are pieces of code or applications which enable two or more pieces of software to work with each with each other, one of these being some part of the Tivoli family of products. Take for example: TelAlert for Tivoli NetView, a tool IT can use to deliver and communicate urgent information and thereby improve the management of work flow processes. TelAlert integrates with Tivoli’s system management framework so that customers have global, secure guaranteed bi-directional notification to multiple devices — including PDAs, Blackberries, IVR and mobiles. Moving such information out to a variety of devices requires multiple protocols which usually means difficulties. Yet a solution is already available in TelAlert.

Indeed, it is this immediate availability that attracts. Yet, what is more significant to C3BC is that these integrations more than just are the work of IBMers; ISVs and partners already provide over 20% of the integrations available. The real and potential benefits of OPAL offerings are, therefore, far-reaching.

According to IBM, integrations are used by end-user customers, as well as by ISVs/SI/business partners and even by the IBM sales force (in the latter case to identify solutions in advance to integration issues that will likely occur once software products have been installed). IBM also indicates that such pre-canned integrations are a significant factor in winning business — and C3BC can believe this: how rare it is to find that an integration solution exists before you encounter it.

Analysis

Despite all the many positives, C3BC remains puzzled. The OPAL concept is broadly excellent but its public manifestation is narrower than one would expect. That ISVs (as well as IBM) have developed integrations clearly suggests recognition of the importance and value of such an integration library.

Yet, at least thus far, even though these integrations are ready and available and low cost (or free, as many are), C3BC believes IBM seems intent on missing an opportunity. Indeed, it seems to C3BC that IBM should more clearly observe the literal meaning of OPAL — the Open Process Automation Library — by opening it to platforms beyond Tivoli. By doing so, OPAL could become a universal library of diverse solutions which are ready to enable integration.

In C3BC’s analysis, this could be a door opener for Tivoli as well as for other Software Group products — and fits well with today’s need to contain and reduce IT costs. With an already impressive number of integrations available, it should be the integrations that are the highlight, the focus of OPAL: after all, simplifying integration issues is what IT users look for. With the increasing importance, and arrival, of the need to integrate technology to support a smarter planet, a greener earth, OPAL could become still more significant.

In medieval times, “the opal was considered a stone that could provide great luck because it was believed to possess all the virtues of each gemstone whose color was represented in the color spectrum of the opal. It was also said to confer the power of invisibility if wrapped in a fresh bay leaf and held in the hand (Source: Wikipedia).” This strikes us as an excellent metaphor for the power and transparency that an integrations library should achieve.

The open question in our mind, remains, will IBM capitalize on what it already possesses and take OPAL further and faster for the benefit of an even wider customer audience — and itself? Or will it keep the jewel of its Open Process Automation Library hidden from all but a limited audience?

About C3B Consulting

Founded in 1988, C3B Consulting  provides  guidance about technology to enterprises and IT vendors. It also produces INSIGHT-SPECTRA with a focus on ‘applying common sense to using technology intelligently’; copies can be obtained by emailing requestcopy@insight-spectra.com

Disclosure: IBM is a client of IT Market Strategy

About cccbrett
Charles Brett is a technology analyst, technology commentator and consultant whose focus is applying common sense to technology for deployment in organizations of all sizes. His company, C3B Consulting, publishes INSIGHT-SPECTRA which this looks at key issues and developments in the management and application of IT (to obtain this, email requestcopy@insight-spectra.com). In 2012 C3B Consulting addiliated with Constellation Research (www.constellationrg.com).

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