It’s Live! — WebSphere V

IBM took its much ballyhooed new application server live Monday, packed with a number of advancements that are geared to appeal to IT workers seeking advanced Web services features.

As with its DB2 v8.1 package, launched last week, Big Blue’s WebSphere Application Server Version 5 features some souped-up Web service capabilities, as well as the company’s self-healing, self-managing computing capabilities.

Coupled with its WebSphere Studio Version 5 development environment, WebSphere V aims to help enterprises integrate business processes to make transactions among vendors, suppliers and customers more fluid. The linchpin of the Armonk, N.Y. concern’s on-demand computing initiative, WebSphere V will serve as the universal platform for all of IBM’s on-demand software and will tightly integrate with DB2, Tivoli and Lotus, according to Stefan Van Overtveldt, Program Director of WebSphere Technical Marketing at IBM.

Van Overtveldt, who said the product is gunning for market share from rivals Oracle and leader BEA, unveiled two new features.

The first is the Web Services Invocation Framework (WSIF), a technology for developing Web services across network and transport protocols, such as HTTP and instant messaging. The second, Axis 3.0, is a speedy Web services technology that processes Web services SOAP requests three to four times faster than is currently possible.

IBM also spruced Web services support in the Web Services Gateway, which Van Overtveldt said provides a more secure environment across the Internet; a private UDDI repository, which allows a company to search for combine Web services within their organization; and Web services workflow, for developers to build networked applications that link multiple business processes — such as checking approvals, inventory, credit and shipping – as Web services that interact with customers, partners and suppliers. WebSphere V5 is J2EE 1.3-certified and is ready to support the forthcoming J2EE 1.4 specification.

One analyst discussed the bolstered Web services abilities of WebSphere V with Sue Aldrich, Senior Vice President and Senior Consultant for the Patricia Seybold Group, said the new software provides a number of proprietary but very useful infrastructure services that make applications more manageable for developers and IT operations.

“The Web Services Gateway eases the firewall issues, by controlling the message flow on both sides of the firewall and making the firewall transparent,” Aldrich said. WebSphere also optimizes the invocation of Web Services, using a native call rather than a SOAP message when appropriate (ie, within the same server). This transparency also allows developers to use a more generic address for a request to a Web Service, avoiding the problems of hard coding URL’s into their code – a terrible no-no that most teams start out doing, in order to simplify their early efforts.”

WebSphere Version 5 also enables any application in the network-from Macromedia ColdFusion applications to new Java applications to legacy COBOL assets-to be easily generated as Web services that can be composed and choreographed into new applications.

Building on the company’s autonomic computing prowess, Van Overtveldt said “we have made a server that requires minimal involvement [for IT workers],” which helps e-businesses lower the cost of administration and improve response time.

WebSphere V5 offers new autonomic features, including self-configuring features to boost responsiveness by tuning WebSphere for the best performance, or even tuning specific applications based on how they are being used. WebSphere can interact with Tivoli and DB2, to help make the system run better, and cuts the cost of database administration by detecting, diagnosing and resolving problems related to data.

Toward the self-healing end, WebSphere can intuit problematic patterns that indicate future glitches while applications are running so that IT workers can troubleshoot problems with real-time diagnostics that build hooks into the system to capture information when a problem occurs the first time around, without having to recreate the problem for the system administrator.

Now available for download, prices for WebShere V start at $8,000 for a single server configuration or $12,000 to support clustering and failover. WebSphere Version 5 supports Windows, Linux, IBM eServer zSeries and iSeries, AIX, Solaris and HP-UX.

To be sure, BEA isn’t taking the announcement lying down. BEA Systems Chief Marketing Officer Tod Nielsen proclaimed the new WebSphere shows that IBM is “still two years behind BEA WebLogic 7.0.

“WebSphere 5.0 finally includes many features that BEA WebLogic delivered at least 2 releases ago,” Nielsen claimed. “Customers clearly recognize the superiority of the BEA WebLogic product line. For example, in the last quarter alone, BEA won more than 325 head-to-head competitions against WebSphere, including 56 accounts where BEA replaced the incumbent IBM.”

Oracle unleashed its latest 9i Application Server iteration two weeks ago at its OracleWorld conference. Like WebSphere V, Oracle’s product heavily features integration as a main selling point. It boasts of new business process management tools, enhanced support for the J2EE Connector Architecture (JCA) 1.0, Web services support for standard protocols such as Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), RosettaNet, UCCNet and Health Level 7 (HL7).