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IBM Releases WebSphere 5.0

IBM Corp. this week officially released version 5.0 of WebSphere Application Server (WAS). With full support for existing Web services standards, compliance with J2EE 1.3, a new workflow engine, and a bevy of Web-to-host connectivity options, Big Blue says that WAS 5.0 marks a major upgrade of its Web application server platform.

In addition, says Stefan Van Overtveldt, IBM's director of WebSphere technical marketing, WAS 5.0 comprises a key lynchpin in Big Blue’s e-business on demand computing strategy. “This is really the software infrastructure in IBM to support this notion of e-business on demand, and basically, e-business on demand … is about linking business processes together.”

To that end, WAS 5.0 incorporates “new autonomic, or self-healing, technologies that allow the web server itself to dynamically adjust its configuration based on the services that it’s running,” Van Overtveldt says.

Highlights of WAS’ autonomic technologies include a facility that can generate a tuning guideline for administrators, along with predictive failure analysis capabilities that allow the application server to monitor its processes and which can alert an administrator in the event of a potential problem scenario.

Van Overtveldt says that WAS 5.0 will ship with stronger support for Web services standards. For example, the new revision of WAS incorporates “Axis,” a high-performance SOAP parser originally developed by IBM and donated to the Apache open source development project. WAS 5.0 also provides support for the Web services invocation framework (WSIF), which allows Web services to communicate over protocols other than HTTP, such as IIOP or JMS. “We could go so far as to have Web services flow over an instant messaging backbone,” Van Overtveldt explains.

WAS 5.0 ships with a private UDDI repository, along with a Web services gateway that enables secure and managed external Web services interactions. “Basically, the way that this works is if you have an external web services request for an application, it will communicate with the gateway, which will do authentication and authorization of the request.

Earlier, IBM disclosed that WAS 5.0 would be outfitted with a new workflow engine that enables workflows between J2EE applications and Web services. WAS 5.0's workflow engine boasts a technology that IBM calls "compensation,” enabling it to recover from errors encountered during a workflow sequence. WAS 5.0 is a J2EE 1.3 certified application server.

No Clear Leader in J2EE App Server Marketplace

Despite quite a bit of hype from IBM and arch-rival BEA Systems, says William Zachmann, president of consultancy Canopus Research Inc., it’s difficult to determine which -- if any -- vendor is currently the dominant player in the market for J2EE application servers. “IBM has sponsored some research that suggests that [it] is eating BEA’s lunch. BEA has done the same to IBM. To the best that I can determine, BEA is probably still slightly ahead. They’re both able to produce research to back up their claims.”

For example, market research firm Gartner indicated in May that BEA Systems was the leader in 2001 with 34 percent of the J2EE application server market—followed by IBM, with 31 percent. Gartner noted, however, that WebSphere saw significant revenue growth in 2001 (71 percent), compared with BEA Systems’ WebLogic, which grew its revenues at a 23 percent clip.

Consultancy Giga Information Group, on the other hand, found that WebSphere captured 34 percent of the revenues in the J2EE application server market. Giga also found that BEA Systems held 34 percent of the market, but indicated that the latter’s share had shrunk from a high of 36 percent in 2000.

Besides, argues Josh Walker, an analyst with consultancy Forrester Research, the dispute over bragging rights in the J2EE application server space is beside the point. Forrester recently surveyed nearly 30 reference customers supplied by IBM, BEA and Oracle and reviewed dozens of case studies provided by all three vendors. The upshot, writes Walker in a new report, is that even reference customers are today deploying J2EE Web application servers as little more than “glorified Web servers and legacy links.”

In IBM’s case, Walker indicates, “the applications [that WebSphere customers] are building still rely primarily on products like the AS/400 and MQSeries. In most cases, the application server is used simply to build the presentation layer, and it does not serve as the transaction engine.”

The issue, Walker speculates, is that vendors aren’t providing productive integrated development environments (IDEs) for use with their Web application server platforms.

He notes, however, that IBM has taken some steps in the right direction, first with the establishment of the open source Eclipse development project—on which Big Blue’s WebSphere Studio Application Developer (WSAD) is based—and secondly with its acquisition of vendors CrossWorlds and Holosofx in the business process integration and workflow management spaces.

For his part, Van Overtveldt points out that IBM delayed the release of WAS 5.0 because it wanted to first ship the new Eclipse-based WSAD IDE. Big Blue delivered WSAD 5.0 in September. Eclipse describes a common development framework to which ISVs and IT organizations can write plug-ins.

Loren Abdulezer, president and CEO of Web services consultancy and integration firm Evolving Technologies Corp., says that one of the reasons he originally selected WebSphere over BEA Systems’ WebLogic was because he felt that it offered a more robust development environment. “If you look at WebSphere versus WebLogic, they’re both good products, both full-featured, and they have the same performance characteristics. Because of WebSphere Studio, we just felt that IBM had the better end-to-end approach, from development to deployment.”

Now that the Eclipse technologies have been incorporated in WSAD, Abdulezer suggests, IBM’s IDE has gotten even better. “We kind of look at WebSphere and WebSphere Studio almost in the same breath. There’s very nice integration between them, plus, with [WSAD 5.0] we’re heavily threaded into the Eclipse model of application development.”

It’s unclear what impact WAS 5.0 will have in a sluggish market for J2EE application servers. During the current economic downturn, J2EE application server revenue growth has slowed considerably. In 2001, for example, Gartner found that J2EE application server revenues grew at a 20 percent clip. In 2000, on the other hand, revenues grew 92 percent.

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.