WebSphere Spins on Its Own

With all the emphasis IBM has placed on Java as the gateway through which all its enterprise environments can be linked, IBM’s latest WebSphere announcements are understandably broad in scope and progressive in nature.

The news regarding IBM’s WebSphere product family is three-fold: to introduce a tiered set of application server offerings, to inform that Net.Commerce will be folded into the WebSphere family and assume WebSphere branding in 1999 and to emphasize the importance of Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) as the unifying factor throughout the WebSphere initiative.

WebSphere – which initially targeted those companies looking to progress beyond static Web publishing – is growing to facilitate the building, management and deployment of corporate Web applications, according to Nigel Beck, program director of marketing management for IBM’s WebSphere product line.

The product line consists of: WebSphere Application Server, a Java servlet-based application deployment environment; WebSphere Performance Pack, a Web facilities management software designed to support rapid growth at high-volume Web sites; and WebSphere Studio, a set of Web application development tools. In late September, WebSphere was also expanded to integrate the transaction processing, Web commerce and distributed component technologies of IBM’s TXSeries, Net.Commerce and Component Broker products, according to Beck.

IBM has further broken down the Application Server component into Standard, Advanced and Enterprise editions, or tiers. The Standard edition – available as part of V4R3 – is designed to provide an open, multi-platform, standards-based Web server deployment platform and Web site management tools and is available for OS/400, OS/390, OS/2, AIX, NT and Sun Solaris.

The Advanced edition – scheduled for availability in 1999 – is targeted toward those who need to add greater legacy application connectivity and need more of an application-programming model, in the form of EJBs, according to Beck.

The Enterprise edition – also scheduled for availability next year – goes beyond the Standard and Advanced offerings to combine TXSeries – IBM’s distributed transactional application environment – with Component Broker, which has distributed object and business process integration capabilities.

WebSphere’s application servers are open to a range of HTTP servers – including Lotus Domino Go and Apache HTTP server, as well as HTTP server offerings from Netscape and Microsoft – although not all Web applications require use of an HTTP server, according to Beck. "The Application Server runs HTTP Java beans, which don’t require an HTTP server," he says.

"EJB will be the unifying application model and delivery server environment for the WebSphere family. This whole announcement is about extending the capabilities of all these products as we bring them together," Beck says. "We’re exhibiting the ability to support enterprise Java beans in varying ways across the range of product lines."

Beck expects to see a lot of activity in the AS/400 space. The WebSphere product line has a broad appeal, he says, adding, "In the AS/400 marketplace, what we’ve been able to do is provide that HTTP server value as part of [OS/400]. By doing that, we can take advantage of some of the unique characteristics of the AS/400 product line."

Software vendors and VARs should be first in line to pick up on WebSphere technology – more so than enterprise users – because the underlying EJB programming model makes WebSphere-developed applications more universally accepted, according to Tim Sloane, an analyst with Aberdeen Group (Boston).

WebSphere technology originally shipped with Lotus Domino and Net.Commerce in order to provide those two solutions with a Java application server, Sloane says. "Now that Domino and Net.Commerce can run Java applications on their own, IBM is releasing WebSphere on its own," he explains.

WebSphere had targeted "Web heads," but now IBM is bringing the product closer to the enterprise, according to Sloane. "With this announcement, IBM has taken a giant step toward delivering the Web application environment to their transaction-oriented customers," he says. "This is pretty significant. Up to this point, Web developers have been working in IBM’s more traditional enterprise environments. Now they can develop within WebSphere – a totally open, Java-based development environment tightly coupled to IBM’s traditional enterprise environments."