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IBM, Lightbend team up on cognitive application development platform

IBM and Lightbend join forces to help bring microservices to IBM's WebSphere platform, with new Scala- and Java-based tools for cognitive application development.

IBM has entered into an extended partnership with Lightbend Inc., the provider of a popular Scala development platform known as the Lightbend Reactive Platform, to bolster IBM's portfolio of tools for building cognitive applications.

IBM has increased its focus of late on delivering artificial intelligence (AI) and cognitive systems to the enterprise. The new partnership with Lightbend extends an existing relationship between the two companies, where IBM will make a minority investment in Lightbend, and the companies will team up to create new cognitive application development products that leverage Lightbend's Scala tools.

Bob Lord, IBM's chief digital officer, said in a statement: "We believe the use of the Lightbend Reactive Platform is essential to building today's modern infrastructures. Lightbend represents IBM's continuous commitment to the Java and Scala communities. Java and Scala are the languages of cognitive and AI development, and cognitive development is the future."

The collaboration between IBM and Lightbend can help enterprise developers accelerate the era of cognitive computing, he added.

Scala for microservices

"Scala, in particular, plays a critical role in IBM's worldview due to its ability to support massive volumes of information and streaming data applications," said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. "For example, modern frameworks supporting big data analytics, including Spark, Kafka and Akka, are all written in Scala. So, IBM's continuing interest in, and support of, Lightbend's efforts makes eminent sense."

Java and Scala are the languages of cognitive and AI development, and cognitive development is the future.
Bob Lordchief digital officer, IBM

For instance, a large number of IBM's enterprise customers on the WebSphere platform have been looking for ways to add functionality and for ways to move that functionality to a more modern architecture, specifically microservices, said Mark Brewer, CEO of Lightbend, based in San Francisco. WebSphere is IBM's Java-based application platform.

"Our platform from Day 1 has been designed to help people build microservices-based systems," he said. "We've already seen customers come to us saying they had apps running on WebSphere and we're looking at adding microservices support."

Products that will come from this partnership will integrate IBM's WebSphere with Lightbend's microservices developer experience tools to assist programmers with cognitive application development.

Scala powers cognitive systems

IBM tapped Lightbend more than a year ago to help with IBM's implementation of Apache Spark and to lead IBM Big Data University's core curriculum in the areas of Scala, reactive programming and Spark.

Joel Horwitz, vice president of IBM's digital business group, said Lightbend has trained over 300 IBM developers on Scala.

Moreover, IBM recently started rolling out the beta version of its Watson Machine Learning service, which enables data scientists and developers to build models from structured and unstructured data and machine learning libraries. A key component of that service is IBM's Cognitive Assistance for Data Science technology, which is written in Scala, Horwitz said.

Both Horwitz and Brewer noted that Scala is the language of cognitive application development, and Lightbend's technology is frequently used as the underpinnings of cognitive applications.

"Whenever somebody is building a machine-learning-based system, they use Scala frequently as the language behind it," Brewer told TheServerSide. "Scala happens to be really good at dealing with large data sets and dealing with data in a native format. A bunch of the machine learning libraries in the market happen to be written in Scala, because they need to be able to process the inbound data as it's happening in real time. That's another area where we shine, with the concept of data in motion or fast data. In the cognitive computing world, that's another requirement -- that you'll be processing that data in real time."

Complete toolchain for the cognitive era

Horwitz said IBM and Lightbend will work together to eventually deliver a complete toolchain for Java and Scala developers to use for building cognitive applications. Scala, a portmanteau of scalable and language, was developed to address some of the criticisms of Java. Scala runs on the Java virtual machine, and Scala source code can be compiled to Java bytecode.

Horwitz further noted that this enhanced collaboration between IBM and Lightbend will create new boilerplate code, in addition to tools and documentation that will help developers build Java- and Scala-based applications on the Lightbend Reactive Platform. Scala is used heavily at many major corporations, including Apple -- which has hundreds of Scala developers -- PayPal, Twitter, Verizon and Walmart.

Chris Webster, an associate fellow at Verizon, said Verizon used Lightbend's Reactive Platform technologies -- including Scala, the Play Framework and Akka -- to build its go90 mobile streaming video service for both video on demand and live-event streaming.

"Overall, the companies' plans should help drive both the evolution and enhancement of cognitive computing and benefit numerous related development activities," King said. "This is a great example of how what might seem like a minor event can result in wide-ranging and highly positive ripple effects for numerous individuals and communities."

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