IBM Unveils WebSphere

As e-business proliferates, companies are deploying Web application servers that help convert their Web sites from brochureware to enterprise-class application environments. IBM Corp. recently entered this market with WebSphere, which supports servlets, or server-based Java-based applications.

IBM's WebSphere provides the base technology for supporting Web applications, and an accompanying WebSphere Performance Pack is designed to help make Web sites more reliable and scalable, says Michael R. Ensley, Internet server solutions executive with IBM. A developers' toolset will be introduced in the fall.

WebSphere's underlying technologies were part of IBM's recent high-profile Web sites, including the 1998 Nagano Olympic Games and the 1998 Masters golf tournament.

Growth in the application server market is being driven by the growing need to support enterprise-class applications over the Web as well as internally, says Mike Gilpin, vice president and senior analyst at Giga Information Group (Gaithersburg, Md.). "A lot of companies are interested in application server environments that they would use to support both Web and in-house distributed component applications."

The first release of WebSphere Application Server -- which runs on Windows NT, AIX and Sun Solaris -- includes a run-time environment, initial connectors and an HTTP server. WebSphere runs on top of the popular HTTP servers, including Netscape server software, Microsoft IIS, the freeware Apache and Lotus Domino Go Webserver, IBM's Ensley says. The application server supports server-side Java applications that execute inside a Web server and build Web pages dynamically.

Increasingly, Java is being deployed as a server-side environment, Gilpin observes. "There's been a trend toward using Java as a server technology, and away from using it as a client technology," he points out.

IBM's WebSphere Performance Pack is designed to help ISPs and corporate IT departments "prepare for their second Web server," Ensley explains. The performance pack helps reduce Web server congestion, increase content availability, improve Web server performance, and manage round-the-clock availability. The package consists of three components: an enterprise file system, a caching proxy server and a load balancing/server monitoring capability. The complete software will initially be available for AIX and Sun Solaris operating systems. The Windows NT version supports the proxy server and load balancing function, but the enterprise file system is still under development, Ensley says.

IBM plans to extend the WebSphere product line with an integrated toolset for creating dynamic Java applications that can be deployed and managed on a Web site on the Internet, intranet or extranet. These tools will help developers "create Web sites, content and programs," Ensley says.

WebSphere is also being positioned as an environment for deploying Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) components, which IBM began rolling out in the spring. "With WebSphere managing the middle tier of enterprises, and Enterprise JavaBeans providing back-end access, we'll see new sets of large enterprise-scale applications," says Dana Marks, program director of Java technology for IBM.

IBM also announced that it intends to provide EJB support in other middleware in the near future. IBM's VisualAge tools will embrace EJB, which will give developers a common programming model for building server applications. In addition, IBM plans to provide a migration path to EJB for developers who are building applications using IBM's San Francisco business components. The migration path is designed to enable San Francisco components such as general ledger and order management to run on top of EJB-enabled middleware.