IBM Adds ‘Traffic Cop’ Feature to WebSphere

IBM Monday unveiled a new grid computing software feature to its WebSphere application server that automatically monitors application workloads and routes traffic from one server to another in order to balance their workloads.

In what the Armonk, N.Y. company has described as a “traffic cop-like” product, the feature allows a cluster consisting of many servers — from dozens to hundreds — to operate as a single environment that adapts to changes on the fly akin. This is akin to grid computing, where disparate computers and systems can become one integrated computing system.

Big Blue said this feature can improve network performance by avoiding missed server connections. Analysts expect to see many such features from IBM in the wake of its company-wide e-business in-demand strategy. Rivals such as Sun Microsystems, HP, Microsoft, Veritas and Computer Associates have embarked on similar strategies.

IBM added the feature to WebSphere because it said current server clusters in data centers often do not handle unexpected workload changes. Because IT managers need to avoid network bottlenecks and keep users connected, they usually plan for great spikes in demand but realize the potential of their servers aren’t reached.

This goes to the heart of a major concern of enterprises needing IT infrastructure today — they want to bolster return-on-investment (ROI) with whatever equipment they do own or plan to buy.

Dan Powers, vice president of grid computing strategy at IBM, said customers had asked for the ability to balance WebSphere workloads in a dynamic fashion, so that’s what IBM provided.

Powers said one example where the “traffic cop tool” might be useful is for a financial company that offers online trading. The company might have risk management software running in parallel fashion. With their business policy, they could take on more workloads when it isn’t busy with online trading.

“The availability of grid computing on the WebSphere platform is the first tangible product to deliver on IBM’s On Demand Operating Environment (ODOE) strategy,” said Summit Strategies analyst Mary Johnston Turner. “ODOE is a multi-year effort to tie all IBM products together in a highly dynamic autonomic operating environment where many decisions about provisioning, workload balancing and resource prioritization across multiple servers and systems can be executed automatically, on the fly, in response to changing business requirements. The WebSphere announcement is a down payment on this ambitious ODOE promise.”

Turner said IBM has been one of the firms leading the charge on moving grid into mainstream commercial applications and IT management solutions.

“But the next 6-12 months will tell us whether anyone outside the high performance technical computing market is following,” she said. “When we see major commercial ISVs and third party hardware companies announcing their support for grid we’ll have proof that IBM is on the right track in betting on grid’s ability to serve the broader commercial market.”

More broadly, Powers said features like the grid computing tool come from IBM’s mainframe experience, where software features of mainframe operating systems help the machines operate as much as 70 percent of their total capacity. He also said customers can expect to see more features added to improve WebSphere’s functionality down the road, including more parallel processes.

Future versions of IBM WebSphere will extend the “traffic cop” capability to disparate parts of a company and coordinate clusters of servers running heterogeneous business applications, rather than just single clusters running a particular application such as online trading.

WebSphere Application Server v5.0.2 enterprise edition is available July 25 for $30,000 per processor, and includes one free year of maintenance and services.

Separately, IBM Monday said it has made some improvements to its iSeries line of eServers, including a 5/8-way option with On/Off Capacity on Demand to the iSeries 870. The new option geared for customers adding transaction workloads or upgrading from AS/400 740 or i830 servers.

In conjunction with that, Big Blue also added two new iSeries servers built for on demand environments: the iSeries for Capacity BackUp and the iSeries for High Availability. The former is designed for companies requiring an off-site, stand-by server for disaster recovery. The latter is targeted at companies that require always-on high availability clustering.